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Are You Listening?

An essential part of leadership and managing your direct reports is intentional listening. When you listen carefully to your people, you…

  • Learn about the person
  • Build trust with the person
  • Understand more about the content/issue/circumstance
  • Position yourself to collaborate and problem solve
  • Ask better questions that lead to uncovering the real problem
  • Respond instead of react 
  • Realize you might be wrong

These are just some of the advantages of intentional listening. 

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, speaks about various types of approaches to communication in his conversation with Dan Harris on The Ten Percent Happier Podcast. Grant describes the preacher, the politician, the prosecutor, and the scientist. He defines the preacher mode as wanting to persuade because we have already found the truth, the politician is campaigning for approval, the prosecutor mode is about proving the other person wrong and the scientist has a curious approach and wants to learn. 

Finding Joy

Are you finding joy in your work? Does it matter? I answer with a resounding ‘YES!’

A few years back, I was chatting with my nephew who was teaching middle school students. He was at a crossroad wondering whether to keep launching his career in education or pivot towards a career in law. There were many things to consider. Both his parents and grandfather pursued the law as a career. He considered the financial sustainability of a career in education in the U.S.A. There was the matter of time to think about as well. How much time did he want to spend in graduate school and working his way through a profession? There was definitely a lot to consider in both these choices.

As the conversation went on, I asked him one question: What brings you joy about working with middle school kids? His eyes lit up as he talked about how each child’s personality and story was different which brought something dynamic to the classroom each day.

Leaders: Inclusivity Matters

Inclusivity matters.

Do you have an inclusive workplace? 

Do your employees feel welcome each day? 

Do they have a sense of belonging in the community?

Inclusivity matters. When people don’t feel a sense of belonging, they feel excluded, their performance goes down, and it impacts their health and well-being. According to Professor Binna Kandola in his book, Free To Soar, Race and Well Being in Organisations, “A sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace is vital for all employees’ well-being, yet the default state that minorities find themselves in is exclusion.”

The leader is the catalyst. They play a key role in creating an inclusive workplace. This intentional work can create more positive work environments for all employees and help typically marginalized employees feel included which can lead to better performance and increased health and well being. Think of your workplace as a classroom with you as the teacher.

Beginner’s Mindset in Leadership

The beginner’s mindset can be an essential tool when approaching leadership. What is the beginner’s mindset? When you approach leadership as a beginner, you see possibility and free yourself of imagined restrictions. You embrace the idea that you do not know everything. You show humility and listen intentionally to your collaborators. You see yourself as a learner and not solely as the holder of knowledge. You ask questions from a position of inquiry, rather than a position of certainty: I wonder, what if, how might we?

The beginner’s mindset invites a sense of wonder that we often see in our children. You look at things as though you are seeing them for the first time. This allows you to find inspiration and see the awe in the seemingly ordinary. 

The “I don’t know mind’ allows us to embrace being uncomfortable and the unknown. This year more than any other has taught us to expect the unexpected.

Making Resolutions or Setting Intentions?

The tragic events at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. further highlighted the rampant racism, injustices, and inequities that have plagued this nation. There are few moments in school leadership where there is absolute clarity of right and wrong. Now is the time to take a close look at who you are, your values, your aspirations, your hopes, dreams, and intentions. What you do and what you say matters and should be grounded in an understanding of our human interconnectedness. 

Every new year, we try in our personal and professional lives to start anew, making resolutions and promises to ourselves about how we will be different and who we will become. We make exercise and diet goals. We promise to spend more time with loved ones and be more productive and efficient at work. By February, we tire out and have dropped all resolve to accomplish our new tasks. What if instead of creating these long to-do lists each new year, we think of our intentions and start from there? 

Making Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Making decisions as a leader can be complicated. Sometimes, we try to make everyone happy. Other times, we feel constrained by time and other factors, making a decision in a vacuum. Although these are unprecedented times, decision making is a constant in all organizations and especially crucial in organizations that involve children and families. Setting intentions, establishing goals, considering equity and inclusion issues, bringing in other voices, and reflecting are all crucial elements of a strong decision-making process. 

Below are some questions to consider as you navigate this year of constant and fast-paced decision making.

  • How do I identify the decision that needs to be made?
  • Have I established my intentions and referred back to my intention as I make this decision? Your intentions may be: holding the child at the center of the work and upholding the mission of the organization.
  • What are my year-long goals and how do I align with them? 

Challenging Conversations: An Opportunity, Not a Burden

The happenings of the world are causing increased anxiety in so many of us. Schools are creating plans, backup plans, and backup plans for those backup plans. The landscape of education has changed and so have the rhythms of the typical communication flow. Educators and administrators are overwhelmed with emails, texts, and zoom meetings in addition to all their regular daily work. Educators and leaders need to be more responsive, thoughtful, and empathic than ever before and simultaneously manage heightened communication both in volume, intensity, and urgency than ever. As remote learning, hybrid models, and all the procedures involved are new to families and schools, we all are experiencing shifting expectations and managing a lot of disappointment. We are having challenging conversations.

Challenging conversations in schools have many components: the emotions, the intentions, the actual matter to be discussed, the existing relationship amongst the people and of course the child at the center of the discussion.

Managing Communication Overload

Relationships are the most important part of schools whether remote or in person. Therefore, it is vital to keep on top of communications as a way to build responsive and trusting relationships, especially during these uncertain times. When a parent is struggling with supporting their child with remote learning and their communication to the school has not been answered within 24 hours, their trust in the school may dwindle and their anxiety may increase. If a teacher who is unsure about a tech issue on SeeSaw, does not hear back from the Tech Director right away, their ability to teach is compromised. All the inner workings of a classroom and a school are more transparent than ever as parents sit beside their children in the virtual classroom and listen in on their day. Parents are being asked to do more than ever to support their child’s learning. All this leads to more questions which lead to more emails and the dreaded ever-increasing red number next to the mail icon.

Black Lives Matter, Brown Silence Hurts

PRI Educational Consulting is committed to supporting Black educational leaders, teachers, and staff and collaborating with schools and educators to develop anti-racist curriculum and resources for the K-12 grades.  As I watch the news each day, I am sickened in my heart, mind, and body by the injustices directed towards the Black community.  Like millions of other Americans, I am pained and outraged by the deaths of Black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others due to the systemic racism in our country.  With a grieving heart and a receptive mind, I stand with and support the Black community in the ongoing fight towards justice and towards that more perfect union outlined in the Preamble to the United States Constitution. Black lives matter. Through thoughtful and intentional curriculum design and coaching, marginalized students can be seen, heard, and guided to reach their full potential.

As a South Asian immigrant, I acknowledge that I benefit from the work of activists, predominantly Black but also White, who fought so bravely for centuries and still continue to fight for civil rights in critical areas including voting, housing, education, employment, and marriage. 

Truths or Contradictions

While reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown,  I was struck by this idea that we can embrace seemingly opposing qualities to become daring leaders. Brown talks about having a strong back and soft front to be a daring leader. She goes on to say that you can stay grounded in your confidence, setting boundaries and stay vulnerable and curious at the same time. The idea of being strong and soft can seem like opposites or even contradictions. This idea of holding two opposite ideas together and both can be true and valid is so valuable not just to being a leader but also to being human.

More recently in my career, I have realized that you do not have to stick to the binary of certain qualities. You can be both strong and soft, tough and caring, scared and brave, structured and flexible. As a beginning teacher, I believed more so in the binary.