Without a doubt, one of the hardest things to do as a School Leader is to have a courageous conversation with a teacher or staff member. However, these conversations are needed to move the school forward, to strengthen the school culture, and to raise the level of teaching and learning in any school. Challenging the status quo, asking tough questions, and digging into unhealthy attitudes and behaviors for the betterment of students is an important skillset for all School Leaders. Below are seven keys that I have found helpful when the need for a courageous conversation comes up.
Do It Now! - I can remember as a young School Leader putting off the difficult conversation hoping it would go away or that maybe someone else would intervene on my behalf. I found that this only made it worse and more intimidating. Now, after years as serving as a School Leader, I work to have the "courageous conversation" sooner rather than later.
Remain Calm! Nothing can halt the progress made in a "courageous conversation" more than the School Leader losing their temper, being sarcastic, or making snide remarks. Regardless of the topic or message, it's important to be professional, respectful, and representative of the behavior that you would like to see from your teachers.
Team Work - Many times, these conversations are best with a colleague by your side listening and taking notes. By doing this, you document and memorialize the meeting and you have a witness to support what you shared. Perhaps it's an assistant principal, dean of students, or even another principal from within the district that can support you with this.
Just the Facts! This can be a hard one, but it's important that you stick to the facts. Too often we like to interject our own opinions, feelings, and emotions into the conversation. By sticking to the facts, the conversation focuses on the behavior that needs changed, the action that needs to take place, or the attitude that needs adjustment.
Mission Control! Never move away from the focus of doing what is best for students. When we begin to compromise this mission of doing what's best for students, to appease adults, we slowly chisel away at the mission of serving All Students, No Matter What!
Let It Go! Again, as a young School Leader these conversations would stick with me long after they took place. I learned that I was carrying the baggage of these conversations home with me and it began to impact my level of joy in my role as School Leader. Now I focus on putting these conversations into perspective, realizing that we all need a "courageous conversation" at some point, and moving onto the next task.
Stay Close! Don't shy away from the person after the "courageous conversation." Treat them as you treat your best staff member. Respect them, honor them, and embrace them as a key team member. We always say leadership is about relationships, this is where that mantra becomes a reality. Set clear expectations, expect positive results, and let them know that you believe in them and that they can change their behavior/attitude/action.
Remember, these “courageous conversations” are not easy, but they are worth it to improve your school culture. If you want to talk through a “Courageous Conversation” that you need to have with a team member and you would like some feedback or support, please feel free to Vox me (drbillziegler) or Tweet Message me (@drbillziegler).
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." - Winston Churchill