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Maybe I'm Just a Chicken...

I hate confrontation.

People who know me think that it's absolutely hilarious that I have the job that I have, especially since I encounter confrontation and conflict practically on a daily basis. I'm not laughing about that, trust me - especially when it comes to having those "courageous" conversations, whether it's with a teacher on staff or a parent. I've been thinking about the reasons why perhaps some administrators experience a little anxiety over the prospect of having these kinds of conversations and I've narrowed down my educated guesses to the following, in no particular order:

1. the need to be liked
2. fear of the unknown, namely the reaction of the individual
3. the desire to avoid the involvement of the union
4. physical and mental exhaustion
5. trying to find "the right time"
6. second guessing of one's own judgment

If we don't have these conversations, the repercussions are worse, I think than any of the reasons listed. Personally, it's not worth the risk to one's own credibility to not have these conversations. Especially in the case of having courageous conversations with teachers, the rest of the staff need to know that as a leader in the school who is committed to a specific vision, you are going to be consistent and see that vision through with integrity and authenticity. They need to see that the purpose of these conversations is to get everyone on board in the best interest of kids and for the sake of cohesion as a school team. I think that administrators also have to be open to the possibility that having these conversations may unearth some valuable information and insight that need to be considered and may actually cause a shift or revision or reshaping of the vision. I would imagine that doesn't happen quite so often, especially since a good leader get input in crafting the vision in the first place so that all the players are vested.

I'm in my fifth year as a Vice Principal and I was asked if it gets easier having these conversations. I don't think it does. The reality is that in front of me is another human being and no two will react in the same way or be equally responsive to what I have to say. Each time feels like the first time in that sense. I'll admit - I don't want to be the reason why someone's day is ruined, no matter how supportive I am committed to being. No one likes being called to the office. BUT as time goes on and my own confidence with my professional knowledge grows and  I establish my credibility with staff, I know I have no choice but to have these kinds of conversations when the need arises. I always rehearse or discuss "the plan" with my principal first. Two heads are better than one. He reviews the list of concerns or issues that I need to address and provides advice on how to best approach some of those concerns if I'm unsure. Being new on staff, his insight is invaluable. Sometimes, he sits in on those conversations, depending on the circumstances. I've learned that the best place to have those conversations is away from my desk and rather, at a round table and in closer proximity. When speaking, I stick to the facts - incidents, dates and times - and avoid generalities and universalizing statements. I don't write anything during the meeting (although once it's over, I will quickly document a summary of outcomes for my own memory). The more casual the presentation, the more at ease the individual is. I genuinely want people to know that am there to support them, despite the "us and them" dynamic that sometimes arises in our profession.

So I've concluded that perhaps I'm not a chicken. I still want to be liked but I really want people to know and feel and believe and see that I am there for support, not to throw anyone under the proverbial bus.


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