Friday, January 31, 2020

7 Benefits of Apologizing to Your Students

No one is perfect. Not one of us. But if we're not careful, we can fall into the trap of thinking we have to act perfect. 

I find it puzzling how students sometimes have the idea that teachers/principals/educators are somehow above making mistake or should be above making mistakes. 

I remember when I was teaching 9th grade English how students would jump at the chance to point it out if I misspelled a word on the white board, as if I was suddenly an incompetent teacher. They would express shock and dismay that I would make such a mistake.

But without question, I made my fair share of mistakes, and I learned that it was best to admit them and help dispel the myth that teachers don't make mistakes.

But a bigger issue than spelling errors is how we show up in our relationships with our students. And guess what, we're still imperfect. We make mistakes in how we treat others sometimes too. And when we do, the right thing to do, and the most effective thing to do, is to admit our mistakes and apologize for them.

As a principal now, I try to model apologizing to our staff and to our students when I don't meet the mark. I've made more than my share of mistakes. It might be a small thing or it might be something bigger. It might have been overlooked or there might be hurt feelings. Regardless, it's hard to go wrong with a sincere apology.

Here are 7 reasons to apologize or express regret...

1. Shows You're Human

Kids sometimes think their teachers are above making mistakes. But kids need to know we're human too. We are doing the best we can, and we're going to make mistakes. Positive human behavior involves admitting mistakes.

2. Creates a Healthy Example

When students see us apologize and show regret for our actions, it helps them feel more confident to do the same. We get a clearer picture of how things really are when we are honest about our mistakes.

3. Shows Ownership of a Mistake

Students will be more likely to take risks if they know the teacher admits and takes ownership of his or her own mistakes in this classroom.

4. Builds Connection

When you admit mistakes, it makes your relationships stronger because students feel they can trust you.

5. Increases Your Influence

Some people fear admitting a mistake because they think other people will use it against them. But the opposite is usually true. When we admit mistakes, we appear smarter, more confident, and more sincere and that creates allies.

6. Shows You Care

People who won't admit mistakes are often self-focused and want to protect themselves rather than show they care about others. Admitting a mistake is a selfless decision.

7. Develops a Growth Mindset

When you have a growth mindset, you view mistakes as part of learning. Admitting a mistake and apologizing for it, if it hurt someone, is important to be able to move past it and learn from it.

How do you feel relationships are made stronger by apologizing? Can you apologize too much? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Importance of Accepting Different Perspectives

We all see things differently. That's something I continue to learn as an educator and in every other area of life too. I used to get upset if someone expressed an idea I didn't agree with. It would frustrate me to no end if they took a position that seemed unreasonable to me. 

But I've learned that another person's perspective is something they have ownership over, not me. And my job is to listen and try to understand where they're coming from.

And maybe, if they're an open minded person, just maybe they'll be interested in my perspective too.

But be careful. Beware of the person who sets himself up as an authority. Beware of the person who believes he has cornered the truth. Beware of the person who has nothing left to learn.

When a person defines his or her belief as the only reality, that is dangerous indeed. Watch out for the person who has that type of blindness, who believes their perspective is the only one. 

They might say things like...

"I know for a fact..."

"You're wrong."

"You just don't get it."

"You should really do your homework on that."

"That doesn't matter."

"No one agrees with you."

"That never works."

"If you think/believe that, you must be a...moron, racist, tree-hugger, redneck, baby-killer or some other insult." 

It's never healthy to think I can impose my ideas, my opinions, my values, or my beliefs on another person. Our students need to learn to discuss ideas without being dismissive, condescending, or just plain rude. 

Being kind, being caring, being a person of empathy and understanding is more important than being right.

How are you helping your students be more accepting of people who have different ideas, opinions, backgrounds, etc.? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 24, 2020

11 Phrases to Effectively Respond to Complaining

Whether you're a teacher or a principal, or have another role as an educator, you probably have interactions on a daily basis that involve complaints coming your way. The complaints might come from students, parents, or colleagues. These interactions can be difficult to handle and can really be a drain on energy and progress.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting every time someone brings up a problem, that it's unhelpful complaining. There are definitely complaints, or concerns, that bring light to legitimate issues and the messenger has an honest desire to make things better. Complaints can help us grow and improve.

And then there are complaints that have other, less desirable motives. I think we've all observed unhelpful complaining behaviors. Some people seem to find fault in everything and everyone and cast negative energy upon anyone who will listen. Blaming and complaining are often behaviors used to avoid personal responsibility.

But regardless of the intentions of the complaint, how can we best handle them when they come our way? How can we treat the person with dignity and respect, while still maintaining healthy boundaries? Here are some phrases I've used that have been helpful to me. 

1. "Go on. I'm listening."

It's never helpful for someone to feel like they aren't being heard or understood. So don't be dismissive or uncaring about a complaint when it is expressed. You may feel it is unfair or unhelpful or not a big deal, but hear the person out. Ask lots of questions. Try to understand where they are coming from before you draw conclusions.

2. "Let me see if I got that."

After the person shares what's on their mind, pause to gather your thoughts and then paraphrase what you've heard them say. Sometimes we jump right into "fix-it" mode without really listening to the other person or checking to see if we actually have all of the information. 

3. "Is there more?"

After you paraphrase your understanding back to the person, you can ask again, "Did I get that?" Listen to their response. After it seems that part is fully understood, ask "Is there more?" See what else they might share. You want to really explore what they are communicating and make sure they fully express their thoughts.

4. "I can see you feel..."

This phrase is essential. Help the person recognize the emotion they are feeling in the situation. I can validate their perception of the facts of the situation all day, but the real issue is often how the person feels. Something has bumped into their feelings and until they have the opportunity to express that, no solution is going to be good enough. Often, when they express their feelings and feel heard, the original complaint turns out to be a non-issue. After you make an attempt to name the feeling, check in with them again. "I can see you feel angry/sad about this situation. Is that right?"

5. "What would you like to see happen next?"

After you fully understand the problem and the feelings involved too, talk with the person about possible solutions. Ask them for feedback, "What would you like to see happen in this situation?" If they suggest there is something you can do to resolve it, just keep in mind it's okay to say no or explore other possibilities. Just because they want to see a certain thing happen doesn't mean it's wise, prudent, or fair. The leader may have to help make that decision.

6. "Thank you..."

Complaining can bring a surge of negative energy to an interaction. So after you listen and understand, one way to shift the energy is to complement the person who is bringing the complaint. "Thank you for sharing that perspective. I can see you love and care deeply for your child." 

7. "What did they say when you discussed this with them?"

One thing I always try to avoid is allowing people to skip the chain of command. For example, if a parent is complaining about a situation with a teacher, I will ask, "What did the teacher have to say when you made them aware of the problem?" Most of the time, they never talked with the teacher at all. 

8. "What steps have you taken to try to solve the problem?"

This is a good place to start with exploring possible solutions and reminding the person they have personal power and responsibility in this situation. When I'm working with students, they sometimes act as if there is 100% nothing they can do to solve the problem. They want someone or something outside of themselves to change without ever looking in the mirror. Of course, they can't control what's outside of them, even if they want to. And to be fair, plenty of adults can have this same type of unhealthy thinking.

9. "Does it make sense to discuss this problem more right now?"

Sometimes in meetings or in one-on-one situations, people want to discuss problems that no one who is currently in the conversation has the power to solve. For example, we might complain about issues that involve students, parents, other educators, state mandates, etc. But, let's keep the conversation focused on the people in the room. What are we going to do about this problem? If there is a need to partner with others in addressing the problem, invite them to the next meeting.

10. "I'm not comfortable..."

colleagues will complain/gossip about other colleagues to a third-party. This triangulation is not healthy and destroys culture. This question can help redirect the person back to the person they are complaining about. "I'm not comfortable discussing this person behind his or her back. I want you to know I would do the same for you. I value you and wouldn't allow someone to speak badly about you behind your back." Of course, if the person is reporting something that is unsafe, illegal, or harmful to kids that's a different type of conversation.

11. "I'm willing to discuss this with you however long it takes until we get this resolved."

When someone brings a sincere complaint about a situation, they may feel like they are being silenced or dismissed if they don't get the immediate response they wanted. But leaders want to stay in dialogue. Leaders want to stand firm on the ideas without becoming adversaries with the individual. It's important to avoid being cast as an opponent. When you tell the person you want to see this resolved to everyone's satisfaction, it shows you value a solution that they can feel good about too. 

What other tips or ideas do you have for dealing with complaining in a productive and positive way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Monday, January 6, 2020

Is It Possible to Have Too Much Empathy?

I recently finished reading A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by by Edwin Friedman. The author shared a number of leadership insights that were helpful to me or at least pushed my thinking.

But one of his positions knocked me back just a little. He builds a case that supports personal responsibility and rails against empathy. I was nodding my head on the personal responsibility ideas but was somewhat puzzled by the anti-empathy ideas. 

Friedman sets forth that empathy is a force that results in a lack of proper relational boundaries. He says empathy deprives organizations of progress and shifts power to the least emotionally healthy members. He says that empathy enables poor behavior and results in a failure to expect the least emotionally healthy members of an organization, or family, or relationship to grow. 

Those all seemed like bold claims to me. I generally view empathy as a good thing, a really good thing. But as I studied his position more carefully and reflected on the many examples he provided, I could also relate to how empathy gone too far can result in enabling dynamics. 

Or, taking empathy too far might result in my sacrificing my principles, beliefs, or convictions to soothe or satisfy another person's emotions or ideas.

So how can we define and practice empathy in healthy ways? How can we keep empathy from going too far?

A healthy sort of empathy is about carefully understanding the perspective of another person. One of my favorite quotes is from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

Healthy empathy is about being open to another person's experience and perspective, to almost vicariously share in his or her perspective to understand it thoroughly. It's about understanding their thoughts and feelings.

But healthy empathy does not require you to agree with the position of another person, in matters of opinion. When I empathize, I can understand exactly where you're coming from and why you feel a certain way, and completely validate what you're experiencing, while also maintaining my ability to be true to myself, my ideals, and my responsibilities as a leader.

Friedman also provided an interesting distinction between hurt and harm, in matters of leadership interactions. He says that fair and effective leadership may sometimes result in hurt feelings. We're not going to like every decision the leader makes. And that our hurts are often an opportunity to grow emotionally through the experience. He would say that progress will demand some hurts along the way.

But harm crosses moral or ethical boundaries. Leaders should do no harm. They should be expected to act in ways that are honest, caring, selfless, and upright. 

The confusion I've noticed is that often when someone feels hurt, there is a belief that the individual or the organization has harmed them. But these are two different things.

What do you think? Is it possible to have too much empathy? What are your thoughts on keeping healthy boundaries while also showing empathy to others? Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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