Is Playing it Safe Always the Best Choice?

“…in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 24:6

This message is for consultants, mentors, and colleagues who are working with school leaders who struggle to listen to suggestions. In your role, you can be an essential part of providing opportunities for the leader to be guided towards safety. As you already know educational leadership is a dynamic position. The research is clear about how effective principals can support the conditions for teachers to increase student achievement. However, this same role is also loaded with dangers. Whether it is attacks by teachers/unions, families, central office, community, or going “viral” on social media for some school-related snafu. The job is far from easy. So, your position as a mentor/consultant/colleague can provide the insight needed for the leader to safely navigate their environment. You can help the leader engage in thinking that can save their career or at least guide them to a safe landing if it is time to move on to a new school/district or career change. Now, all of this is predicated on working with a willing leader. As the trite saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. However, despite the resistance sometimes experienced I still believe it’s worth trying to support people and remaining optimistic about the ability of people to change.  

TRRAC(Trust-Relationship-Reality-Approach-Cultural Awareness) is a framework to add to your toolkit as you engage the non-listening leader. It is designed as a self-reflection tool for you to sharpen your strategy as you enter into your role.

Trust- I have often heard trust takes time to develop and can end quickly if a perceived misstep is experienced.

Is it expected of you to report in detail the conversations you are having with the principal to the organization that hired you? If this answer is yes, stop here because there is a conflict of interest, and an unsafe environment is now created. For everyone else, let’s continue. Are you showing up in your role as a trustworthy person?  Any verbal or non-verbal cues coming from the leader that can inform you regarding how you are being assessed? 

Relationships- Folks who support leaders should value healthy relationships.

What do relationships mean to you? How do you utilize relationships to empower, build connectedness, and add value to the leadership capacity of the person you are assigned to?

Reality- Grounding your guidance in real life can be exactly what the leader needs.

Be aware that some consultants or assigned mentors sometimes can be more interested in submitting the invoice, having job security, or doing compliance-level work rather than discussing the uncomfortable actions and behaviors coming from the leader. Are you communicating what the leader “wants” to hear or “needs” to hear? Do have the interest or will to ask questions or make statements that point out areas of growth in the leader? How are you surfacing the leader’s realities? Possible sentence stems: How… or How___perceiving your leadership..  If the leader is transparent about their struggles, how do you move beyond compliance driven conversations, and pivot to probe more about their experiences? Playing it safe and avoiding the “real” stuff may work for you, but not necessarily for the career of the leader.

Approach- The approach can impact the outcome.

How does your personality impact your engagement with the leader? Are you familiar with emotional intelligence? If so, how do you apply it to the approach you are taking with the leader? How well do you listen to someone who is not an active listener? What resources do you have that you can refer to before, during, and after your connections? Who do you turn to for seeking feedback regarding how you are showing up in your role? When you consider the personality of the leader what is the best way to begin conversations that matter?

Cultural Awareness- “We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we can’t go.” Malcolm X

It once said we carry ourselves wherever we go. So, who are you? How does your background/culture impact you in your role? What were the values taught to you by your family and the community during your youth? Which values are currently present in your professional life?  How do you identify yourself regarding race, gender, belief systems, etc.? What were you taught and continue to believe about different racial group(s)/other identities that the leader identifies with? How does your cultural background help or possibly become a barrier to your ability to be able to navigate a leader through the difficulties of the principalship? How are you surfacing the leader’s cultural values and how are these ways of being impacting their career? Is the leader culturally responsive to the socio political environment they are leading within?

As you move forward, remember you can be a part of the principal’s network that provides feedback to encourage professional safety. Of course, the choice is yours. This blog is crafted to be a catalyst for change so consider finding additional resources and experiences that can continue to build your abilities.

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