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Know Thy Impact

Recently I had a dialogue with a friend about the impact others have on us and the fact that we really do not know how our words, behaviours or experiences change a person. In particular we talked about how we are negatively impacted at times by situations or people in our work that we face.

As an administrator you spend a lot of time dealing with difficult problems and even people. I know I wrote in my blog earlier about how crisis situations impact administrators but beyond the crisis their are daily interactions that also take their toll.

We know that the students we serve can be challenging. So much is being written and attention focused on student mental health and well being. How can we as educators create supportive, safe and nurturing environments for all of our students? There is no doubt in my mind that this is fundamental to what we do as principals but there can be a cost at times. The cost of balancing the needs of one child against the needs of all students is difficult for administrators. These dilemmas wear on us and challenge us to find creative and innovative solutions that support the individual student, peers, teacher and parent. These situations impact how we manage our buildings and often leave us feeling vulnerable and frustrated because we want to do as much as possible to support every child’s success.

Parents can also be challenging. I had a colleague recently who was very upset because a parent assumed they had negative intentions and felt justified in treating them in a disrespectful and confrontational manner. We are told as administrators often to “seek first to understand then to be understood.” That can be very challenging when you have a parent that storms into your office screaming, swearing and demanding answers to a question or situation you may have no knowledge of at the time. It is difficult when your sole purpose as an administrator is to do all that you can to create a safe, healthy and nurturing environment for all and a parent assumes otherwise and really questions your integrity. I have personally been in situations that I have felt unsafe emotionally, psychologically and even physically with parents. I have been threatened with violence, legal action and slander more times than I care to remember. These situations are very stressful for administrators and impact how we function in both the short and long term in our jobs.

As administrators we are either classified as good or bad leaders. If your staff trust and believe in you then they follow and things go along well until they don’t. Trust as leaders is fragile and can be broken very easily. Although it is part of our jobs to supervise, support and evaluate staff holding them accountable is difficult. High expectations followed by courageous conversations are not always well received and can damage the trust we have worked so hard to build. This can be isolating for administrators especially when staff band together to support a colleague who they feel has been mistreated. As an administrator you cannot tell you side of the story or share events or information about the situation so staff only get one side of the situation which is usually based in emotion. Not being able to share all of the information with staff only adds to the mistrust and creates a cycle of negativity that requires a lot of energy and work to break.

A lack of resources has a huge impact on leaders as well. These resources can be financial, human or even environmental. I know one of the first things EVERY principal I know does as soon as their alarm goes off is to check what staff are going to be away for the day. As we take those phone calls, check emails or the online reporting system we cross our fingers that their will be someone to fill the open jobs. What happens if that is not the case? As administrators you immediately go into problem solving mode. What classes can I cancel? Who can I get to cover duties? How can I rearrange schedules? What support staff can I ask to support? How do I maintain the collective agreement and still guarantee the health, safety and well being of our students and staff? What will I do if the job does not get filled? Who can I call? This all occurs often between 6-7 am each morning while we prepare for work and by the time we get to work we are already operating at a 9 out of 10 for our stress level. Not having the resources to do the job is a huge barrier to success and leaves administrators feeling vulnerable.

I do not write this as a complaint about how difficult the job of an administrator is but instead as a request for all of us to be more mindful of how what we say and do effects others. Every administrator I know is in the job because they want to make a positive difference in the lives of children. There is no greater joy than watching our students flourish. I wonder how much better we would be collectively if we all worked together. What could we accomplish if we had the trust and support of parents, the resources we needed to best do the job and the assumed positive intentions about one another?

Take some time this week no matter what you do or where you work and reflect on all the ways your behaviour, words and interactions impact others. Is there anything you could do differently to lift others up?

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