By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
We bet you weren't taught in your undergraduate courses how to connect effectively with your administrator. Chances are you never attended a seminar that delivered helpful communication skills for work relationships either. If you didn't learn these important techniques early in your teaching career, the odds are that your skill level has remained about the same. Not to worry. Following is a cram course in how to connect effectively with your administrator.
1. Do not take this relationship for granted. Know that your relationship with your administrator will have a huge impact on your level of job satisfaction and ability to accomplish your professional goals. Treat it seriously. Consider these tips and put them into practice regularly.
2. Figure out the best times to communicate. Ask, "If I have questions, when is the best time to meet with you?" This question positions you as someone concerned about her busy schedule. It also ups the odds that you will get full attention when you do meet.
3. Work at "relationshipping" with your administrator on a personal and professional level. Inquire about family, hobbies, and spare time activities. Show an interest without prying.
4. Do ask their opinion.
- "I'm looking for another perspective on Common Core. I would value your opinion."
- "Any ideas on how to get some fourth-grade reading material into the hands of two of my second graders?"
Seeking opinion serves two purposes. One, it says to the other person, "I value you, I care about what you think, and I am interested in learning." Second, seeking opinions communicates that you are not afraid to ask for help and enter into solution seeking.
5. Share good news that affects your students.
- "I want to tell you about Arturo. He just worked in his group for thirty minutes and was cooperative, helpful and encouraging. I'm excited about his growth and wanted you to know."
- "Connie passed the chapter test! Her score means she is now passing the class. She is eligible to play in the soccer game tomorrow, but more important, she is learning how to apply herself and work to achieve a goal. I am super excited for her."
6. No one in the field of education gets enough praise. This includes your administrator. Give descriptive and appreciative praise rather than praise that evaluates.
- Replace "I think you are doing a good job" with "Backing me up in front of Mr. Wilson gives me the support I need to help his child. Thank you for that."
- "That was an excellent staff meeting" gives no useful information. Describe with, "I liked it that everyone got an opportunity to express themselves. I felt valued by the process."
Praise can be delivered in a handwritten note left on his desk, face-to-face verbally, or in an e-mail sent electronically.
7. Ask for feedback. Your administrator is not physic and cannot see inside your head. If you are not feeling appreciated, ask for appreciation. "I'm feeling really bummed out. The lesson I spent all Sunday creating bombed. Jason is still blurting out in class. I feel like I'm hopelessly behind in my professional reading. I need some encouragement. I'd like to hear a few things you think I do well so I can keep these last few days in perspective."
8. Give a warning if you are going to vent. Better yet, ask for permission. Tell your administrator, "I'm having a terrible, no-good day, and I need to vent. Are you up to listening to a five-minute rant?" In this way you inform them of the verbal storm that is about to be unleashed. It will help them assume the listening stance and witness the forthcoming deluge without taking it personally.
9. There are times when it's best to keep silent. Those times include:
- When your administrator is attempting to make a point.
- When it looks like he might explode in anger.
- At moments of high stress.
- When you might say something you wish later you hadn't said.
- When you are observing a student engrossed in his work.
- When you are so angry you feel like you could burst.
- When you are seriously attempting to understand.
- If she is talking with a parent or colleague.
- When he looks really busy.
10. Make a BE choice. Decide before your conversation how you want to BE in an important meeting. If you are going to discuss an evaluation review that you don't agree with, decide how you want to BE during the conversation. You could choose to be confrontational, thorough, efficient, factual, empathetic, firm, assertive, or some other state of BEing of your choice. Don’t leave how you choose to BE to chance. How do you want to BE if you decide to make your feelings known about a policy you do not agree with? One that helped three of your students?
11. You may have heard the belief, "It's easier to beg forgiveness than to get permission." That might be true in some instances, and your professional life will unfold more smoothly if you get permission first. We recommend you go to your administrator, explain your idea or plan, give your rationale, and ask if she will support you or back you up on it. If you do not have support, it’s better to know that ahead of time than to find out when you have angry parents on your tail.
12. Eliminate "Yes, but . . ." from your language patterns. When you are about to use this phrase, ask yourself: Is it more important to counter my administrator’s point of view right now, or to help him feel understood? Is it more important to get my view across at this moment, or to understand how my administrator feels? If you decide that understanding your administrator is the more important goal, summarize in words what you think you have heard so far. Summarizing and paraphrasing validate the other person and help them feel appreciated.
13. There are times when you absolutely know you are right about something. In relationships, being right doesn't work. Being right, or acting as if you are right, creates emotional separation and distance. We recommend the following phrases.
- "Could be."
- "I don't think so, but you might be correct."
- "There is a chance you could be right."
- "I definitely disagree, and your way could be the right one."
14. Push the delete button on the phrase "I told you so." Do not use it again, ever.
15. Mistakes and misunderstanding occur in every relationship. Mistakes happen for a reason: so we can learn from them, grow, and move on wiser and better able to handle what comes our way. "What can we learn from this?" is a gentle reminder to focus on solution seeking. Put an end to faultfinding and judging one another. Get on the same side, facing the problem with "What can we learn from this?"
Remember, you and your administrator are on the same side, helping children grow and evolve into the people they were meant to be. You can move toward that goal best when you are regularly connecting with your administrator in emotionally healthy ways.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for their newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.