Teachers and Admin: Seek First to Understand

I had a conversation yesterday with my principal about a new strategy for our Advisory program.

At least, I think I did….?

We were talking. We shared ideas. But, I don’t think we really heard each other. When we both summarized our thoughts at the conclusion of the talk, the messages were very different.

My principal concluded with “So, you’re focusing on the executive functioning piece, and using frequent repetition to underscore the importance and deepen understanding. Nice.”

I summarized with “So, we have this great new activity called Failure Fridays where we get together with the students and share stories of how we epically failed at something. It will be awesome!”

As soon as we finished talking and began walking away from each other, I realized that we were approaching a single concept from two distinct altitudes.

And I get it – principals are responsible for an entire division and have to see things from the big-picture perspective. On the other hand, I was thinking solely at a nuts and bolts level – a.k.a. how my colleagues and I can quickly and easily implement an idea into our classrooms right now.

So, what’s the problem with teachers and principals having distinct POVs?

I suppose nothing….as long as both groups recognize these differences exist and then work to bridge them.

For instance, as a teacher sharing an idea with an administrator, I could provide additional context. I could explicitly connect the idea to school-wide goals or initiatives, like collaboration and student engagement. Next I could explain how my team is swamped with beginning-of-year details and we are in need of easy-to-implement and engaging activities. Then, after this bridging, I explain the idea.

In other words, if I want my principal to understand me, I need to learn to think and to speak administrator.

And, this is true the other way around. My principal needs to learn how to speak and think like a teacher. For instance, explaining why a new initiative connects to overall organizational objectives is cool. But, breaking down how this initiative will roll out, what resources and help I will receive, and how it will look in a classroom? Now you’re speakin’ my language!

In the words of Dr. Stephen Covey, all of us in education need to practice a little: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Ed X!

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