Book Study on Relating and Communicating. Great Book!

I have been reading the book “If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on My Face” by Alan Alda.  Its about the science of relating and communicating, and I find it fascinating.   I’ve chosen to savor this book, one or two chapters at a time, so I can learn and really let each part sink in.   I think its really helping me in my job, training me to be a better listener, empathizer, and communicator.

For example, he writes about using the strategy “yes, and”.  Instead of shooting down an idea, really listen to it, repeat the general idea of it (that’s the “yes”), and add your spin on it.  It could be a tweak, an observation, a question, but never just shooting it down.  I tried this at work, and it ended up being a very productive conversation with a teacher on how to do what she wanted to do, but she was open to advice about how to do it.

Its all about being tuned in vs tough.  Here’s another thing I’ve learned from this book so far.  In the past, I’d used the compliment sandwich. You know, where you meet for a post observation, pay a compliment, offer a suggestion for improvement, and end with a compliment.   Instead, I’m going to try the “tuned in” approach: “Mrs. Smith, the way you handled __________ was excellent.  Now I want you to apply that level of skill to doing _______________”.  I think this could work!

Stay tuned, I’ll write more about this later.  I haven’t been this excited about a book that can help me at work for a while!



Women and Leadership

I’ve been a school leader for almost a decade.  During this time, I’m slowly becoming aware of a network that I naively didn’t realize existed.  Shoot, I was always at work until sundown, then too tired to go anywhere but home to my family.  I didn’t pay much attention to anyone else’s social life, and I made friends with people just because we liked each other, not work related at all.  Then I noticed that it appeared that the men I worked with knew things before I did. They’d heard it through their network.  The network is exclusively men who are local school leaders.  Its not a formal club, but they meet…in a restaurant, over for a football game, lunch, or happy hour.  Playing sports, like tennis or biking.  And they meet often.

Recently, instead of sitting back and complaining its a “mans world” or some other cliche to throw around, I decided to try to support the other women in this profession.  We tried, not very successfully, to meet for coffee or lunch or happy hour.  More often than not, it is cancelled because of a last minute work assignment or a family duty.  I think I need to keep trying.  This job needs all the support we can give each other.

Along the same kind of line,  today I heard our pastor talk about leadership in the church being exclusively for men.  I respect the Bible and its teachings, but when do we interpret in the cultural context of the time and adapt it to current US culture and when do we apply the doctrine literally?   Has our culture changed?  I thought so, but today I’m not so sure.

I’ve never been a bra burning angry feminist…but I’m frustrated today.

Leading in a small town

Its tricky being a leader in a small community.  On the one hand, its kind of  nice when I see parents and students and they smile at me.  On the other hand, if I accept the praise, I’d better be ready to accept the judgement.  Can I go out and have a glass of wine with dinner?  What church do I decide to attend?  Should I open up to anyone (NO!).

I’m still learning to navigate this little county where I’ve served in two schools so far.  I wish we could collaborate more with other leaders, even just to vent and problem solved together.  Because out in public, I keep that smile on my face, no matter what.

Holding your head high

An administrator friend used to often tell me, when I got my doctorate and people made snide comments about it, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game”.

This week, I read something even more relevant and timely for me.  I don’t know the source, it was on a Pinterest post: “Talking with quiet confidence will always beat screaming with obvious insecurity.”

Here’s to quiet confidence.  May I hold my head up high this week and lead my school confidently and well.

Social Media Nastiness

I’ve officially been dragged through the mud on social media this week. I know I shouldn’t have read them, I’m not “connected” to those parents on this media site, but a co-worker printed out the comments made by some parents in my school that were just plain nasty and I read them.  They are not even close to the truth.  I read page after page of replies, surprised at some of the parents who contributed. Most were parents who I had taken a lot of time to try to solve their problems or discipline their child.  A few were even spouses of our staff.

The thing is, I can’t fight back.  Nothing I can do will erase those nasty hateful comments.  Do people believe them?  Do they know the person posting is really off the charts?  That she screams obscene, racist, elitist remarks into my ear when I call her? Have I lost the trust of our community after working so hard for years to build relationships?

Central office, I’ve been told, have reviewed my report and are impressed with how I handled the situation.  It still stings.

It is frustrating to have our names dragged through the mud when we are working so hard.  This is really just a vent, I suppose.  I will go to work next week with the same smile on my face that’s always there to greet the parents each morning.  I will work hard to keep every child safe and learning.  I will keep organizing that bear of a state test with what feels like a mountain of testing accommodation settings.

Most of all, I will work for the best of our parents, and try hard not to spread the nastiness that a few put out there this week.  Love always wins.  Right?

Scary Principal

I sat in our 4 year old Preschool classroom the other day, visiting and chatting with the students.  A little girl came up to me and said, “Do you know my brother, Seth?” (name changed for the blog).  She told me all about how he was hit in the head by a ROCK on the playground, and that the boy who hit him had to go to the PRINCIPAL’S office.  I said, yes, that boy had to come and talk to me.  “YOU?”  she said, looking very surprised.  I said yes, when students make choices they shouldn’t make, they have to come and see me and face a consequence.   She pointed towards the office, asking, “Isn’t there someone scarier in there?”

My reputation preceeds me!  I feel sometimes like OZ from the movie, a mysterious entity that “you don’t want to have to talk to her”.


Some of my Hispanic students told their teachers they are afraid.  Afraid of the “raids”.  When our guidance counselor asked them what that meant, they said that people were going to come into their house and take their father away.

I got stopped at a road block the other day, on a rural road.  Our van was full of school administrators, and the side of the van said the name of our district. The state officer looked at the driver’s license and registration, then stuck his head in to look at each of our faces.  I looked outside and saw a family standing next to their car.  Two men, a woman, and a baby.  They looked Hispanic, and they were looking away from the line of cars, the woman swaying back and forth, rocking her baby.

The perspectives of 6 year olds

Our students often echo what they hear at home.  This week,on the days after the election results, some of our Hispanic students voiced that they were probably going to have to move to Mexico now.  The older students seemed sad.  The younger students just stated it with excitement like a daily news sharing.  One African American 6 year old wanted to join in and said, well, then she was going to have to go to Africa.

I’m not trained for this part.

The most surprising thing about my job is when the adults that I manage come in to my office to tell me their personal struggles, and look to me for advice.  I have no idea what to tell them when they share that their spouse is leaving them, their child is in trouble, their sibling drinks too much, their sister is dying.  I see their hurt, shock, panic, anger, and just listen.  When they press for advice, the best I can think of to say is to take care of themselves, and do what they would advise their best friend to do if they were in that same situation.

This is, and probably always will be, such unfamiliar territory. I thought when I took this job that I would make an impact on children. I didn’t think about the adults other than inspiring and guiding them to be better teachers.   Even if I can relate, I’m sure they don’t want to know my struggles, that’s not why they are coming to me.  After they leave, I feel their burden and pray.

Then I have to think about the students that are in their charge, and watch them closely, to make sure they are still able to do their jobs.  That’s the other thing: choosing between a teacher’s welfare and the welfare of the students.  Of course, the children come first, but its not easy, especially if it is a stellar teacher.  So I listen, provide support, keep an eye out, pray, and sometimes shut my office door and cry.