This isn't a complaint. It's the reality of the life of a school administrator. We are the problem solvers, the peace keepers, the crisis responders. In any given day, I will usher crying students, angry parents and frustrated teachers across the threshold of my office. As I walk the hallways at break and lunch, I am bombarded by questions and queries, complaints and conflicts. When my email dings or my phone rings at eleven o'clock at night, it's rarely good news.
So in the midst of what can sometimes feel like a sea of negativity, it is even more essential that I maintain a positive mindset and strength-based approach to leadership.
I have developed the following strategies to assist me in this approach:
1. Assume the best. I try to begin every conversation with a parent or teacher with the assumption that they want the best for their child/student. We all want our children to be successful. It's our approach to achieving this success that might cause misunderstandings and conflict.
2. Shift the focus. Education in general can be very deficit based. We tend to focus on what needs improvement rather than what is going well. As such, many conversations are focussed on identifying problems rather than finding solutions. Instead, I do my best to re-frame obstacles as opportunities. I have learned to embrace challenges as an impetus for change.
3. Listen more, talk less. More often than not, people just need an opportunity to vent. Sometimes my most effective "problem solving" approach is to simply listen and let individuals sort through their thoughts until they discover their own solutions.
4. Don't take it personally. While I am sometimes the target of anger and frustration, I have learned that it is rarely about me. In my role as a school administrator, I may represent an individual's previous negative experiences rather than their current reality. I remind myself that everyone has a story, a context, and I do my best to maintain a calm and professional demeanour in the face of heightened emotions.
I'm not pretending that any of this is easy. If I am tired, or sick, or overwhelmed by the stressors of my day, I can find myself pulled in to the negativity. It is a conscious effort to maintain positivity in the midst of challenges. Some days are more difficult than others. Some days I fail. But I do my best to extend the same patience and understanding to myself as I do to others. And I try again the next day...