Teach & Serve
No. 22 * January 13, 2016
Related Content from And There Came A Day:
- Teach & Serve No. 21 – #OneSong
- Teach & Serve No. 20 – “Do or Do Not… Wait, Isn’t There a Try?”
- Teach & Serve No. 19 – “You’re All Star Cast”
- Teach & Serve No. 18 – “Do the Undone”
Is What I am about to Do Helpful?
We are leaders. We are public figures. And, no matter whether we believe it’s fair or not, we are held to a higher standard.
When I think back to the twenty-three years I spent in high school as a teacher and administrator, I remember many an afternoon drive home (and, at various times in my history in a school, I lived well over half an hour away from work) during which I had LONG conversations with people who were not in my car. I would talk to the principals who may have upset me by making a decision with which I did not agree. I would chat with the department chairs whose policies made it impossible for me to do my job well and to be the best teacher I could be. I would talk to the students who pushed every and all of my buttons during the day. I would have conversation after conversation, often thinking “I wish I’d said that” and sometimes, in the case of conversations I repeated ad infinitum in my head, I would convince myself I had, in fact, come up with the perfect rejoinder in the moment.
But only one person I can think of has ever been able to recreate the circumstances surrounding a conversation to get to actually use such a rejoinder, and it didn’t go so well for him:
The bottom line on these kinds of conversations is that, most likely, what I thought I wanted to say was, in the end, better left unsaid.
As teachers, educators and administrators, we are called upon to make decisions – all kinds of decisions – sometimes with time to ponder and consider, sometimes in a split second. As educators, we encounter people all day long. Some of them come to us at their best and some at their worst. Most come to us somewhere in between. They come to us with questions, with concerns, with often with emotion. They come to us with challenges that, perhaps, they want us to solve or challenges that they are putting to us.
And they find us, because we are human, in whatever state we happen to be in at the time. We might be up or down, happy or sad, relaxed or keyed up. What I discovered in my years in schools is that it rarely mattered (or, rather, it only mattered to an empathetic person) what my condition was in being approached or how I felt. No, when someone wanted something, wanted to talk, wanted to confront, their moment was now no matter how I felt about it.
Okay, that’s fine – especially for administrators – because what am I doing in school leadership if I am not as available, physically and emotionally as I can be, to help, to aid, to assist? I would argue that, if being available to those around you isn’t in your top 3 goals as a teacher or administrator, you should consider another line of work.
In some instances, those contacts are terrific. I am not writing about those here. I am writing about the ones that are not terrific, the ones that get under our skin, the ones that truly bother us and leave us having phantom conversations in the car on the way home.
We get upset. We’re human. We get overwhelmed. We entitled. We get frustrated. Okay, wait… here’s where we need to be careful.
Because we can get so into our history of “I should have said this” that, in a trying moment, we might actually say it or something like it. We can get so upset that we feel justified. We can get so overwhelmed we give ourselves a pass. We can get so frustrated that we might cross a line that cannot be uncrossed or burn a bridge that cannot be rebuilt.
And we are confronted by such perils dozens of times a day.
We must be careful. We are leaders. We are public figures. And, no matter whether we believe it’s fair or not, we are held to a higher standard.
In the heat of the moment or an hour later or in our car on the way home or as we’re about to press “send” on that email, there is a simple question to ask: is what I am about to do helpful?
Is what I am about to do helpful?
If not, I would argue it shouldn’t be done. If what I am about to do is not constructive, I need to discard the thought. If what I am about to say only tears down with no possibility of building up, it’s the wrong way to go. If how I am about to act destroys, I must take pause. I am an educator. I build. I don’t destroy.
Is what I am about to do helpful?
Good question to ask.