Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting the Last Word

“A ruler can be persuaded through patience, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.”
Proverbs 25:15 HCSB

Who evaluates you at the end of each school year? For me it was an assistant principal, and he wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. He’s a stickler for the rules, not that teachers should have trouble with following rules, but his harsh observance of them could make a grown up teacher feel like a small child. When he was a teacher, Mr. Wilson taught science, and I could see how his love for process and procedure eventually blossomed into a sometimes intimidating strict adherence to protocol. I understood him. I took the time to. Would he ever take the time to understand me and maybe even cut me some slack for my less than perfectly executed lessons or nowhere near row-perfect students?

I’ve watched as other teachers under his evaluative eye came away from their encounters teary-eyed or fit-to-be-tied angry. I’ve heard their mutterings about unfair treatment or a strong desire to convince him that he’s overlooked one of their stellar accomplishments in the classroom. The back room complaining eventually found its way to the assistant principal’s ears, and he was usually then not open to extending grace to his teachers. After all, a school is a small community through which rumors, gossip, and even secrets spread as quickly and completely as a fire on an oil slick.

Not everyone speaks the same language. We may all be speaking the same language of our country, but that doesn’t mean we’re understood. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages is a great example of how powerful non verbal communication is for relationships – any relationships. Since education is all about relationship, building better relationships with our colleagues would contribute greatly to our common goal of meeting the needs of the students in our care.

Is my assistant principal someone who responds well to “words”? Does he value words of affirmation? It doesn’t seem so. I’ve discovered from my own interaction with him that he does value acts of service. When teachers do more than is expected of them without coercion or obligation, this not only pleases him but elevates that teacher in his eyes. The problem comes when you have a teacher who values words of affirmation matched with an administrator who, as you can see by this example, values acts of service instead.

The teacher who came out of his office teary-eyed expected that this assistant principal would see things her way and change his way of thinking in her favor. But we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves. It’s our job to persuade our leaders. By the virtue of how we live our lives and execute the tasks given us, we can persuade others to our way of thinking – as long as it is in their best interest.

Teachable Moment
Get to know your administrators as people first so that you can understand their language. Only then can you communicate in a way that makes sense to both of you.