The Problem With Passion
I absolutely love what I do! As the principal of Sigler Elementary I lead with passion. In fact, I have written about my leadership style before and I encourage you to read more about it here.
According to Clifton’s Strengthsfinder my top strength is competition followed closely by being a relator. Partner that with my “orange” personality and you have an extremely passionate, competitive principal who wants to make everyone happy. Anyone relate with me? Some of you are laughing, “A principal who wants to please everyone! Good Luck.” I agree…
I count on my passion to carry me through the parts of my job I do not get excited about. You know…the items that are farthest removed from leading and connecting with students and teachers. As passionate as I am, I want to share the problem with passion.
Recently within the halls of #SiglerNation extreme student behavior has been a topic of conversation. Specifically, how we “as a campus” respond to said extreme behavior. (My personality strengths, equate this concern to, “How Mr. Arend responds to extreme behavior.”)
This concern is not necessarily a new one. We are charged with educating students who have some legitimate obstacles to overcome. We love them. We want to educate and empower students to be better tomorrow than they were the day before, but that can be easier said than done.
Knowing the current practices were not addressing the most immediate needs, I posed a question last month to our leadership group. “How do we utilize reflections without them being a punitive resource?” (Feel free to click on “reflections” to see what they look like)
While my question had the best of intentions and was meant to help us solve a problem I was witnessing, hindsight tells me my intentions were misguided. What helped me realize this was the group of amazing leaders who expressed their sincere concerns regarding the extreme behavior in their classrooms and my perceived inability to help them. The concerns kept coming. My passion kept burning. In my best attempt to solve their problems, I could not help but feel each of their concerns was aimed at me.
The problem with passion in this case was I was too invested in the process. My personality and philosophy on behavior was prohibiting me from seeing things through the teacher’s eyes. I needed a different approach, knowing in one month’s time this conversation was going to continue. I could not endure another meeting in which I felt as if each critique and concern was aimed directly at me and my inability to solve the problems.
I needed a protocol.
Protocols are still fairly new to me and it was through my experience with the Principal Visioning Institute that I truly experienced the power of protocols. I am not sure what took me so long to find protocols, but it’s like we say in Texas, “I am not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. When I found out about protocols is not important. What is important is that I have a resource and I need to use it more often.
I spent the next several weeks and days reflecting on my previous experience and carried my School Reform Initiative protocol book with me wherever I went, including one evening at my local Jimmy Johns.
With a protocol picked out and rehearsed more times than I could count I was ready for my next meeting. This time I was ready to facilitate a conversation not lead by asking my question.
I am now a week removed from our leadership meeting where I used the “Ping-Pong Protocol” and I wanted to share what I learned about using protocols and about myself.
Protocols Allowed My Passion to Be Removed
Utilizing the Ping Pong Protocol allowed me to take a step back. In doing so, my level of involvement declined because I was not so emotionally invested. I was able to listen. I was able to understand. What I had previously taken on as personal failure, I was now able to hear objectively and as a true concern shared from a group of leaders who shared my passion.
Protocols Allowed the Voices to Be Heard
I had previously been the one to ask the question and it was not my question to ask. The first step in the Ping Pong Protocol was to have teacher share out their most pressing concerns. As teachers shared out, it became evident what “our” focus question needed to be. Not “my” focus question, but “our” focus question. By having an “our” instead of a “my” the me versus them potential was void and we were all working towards a common need. While we were not able to address all the questions that were raised, they were voiced, recorded and heard.
Protocols Allowed Conversation
Prior to using the protocol, the conversation was one way. I posed the question and the responses all came to me or what I felt was “at” me. Using the Ping Pong Protocol, the responses were shared with one another and this was after teachers had the opportunity to reflect on how the question we were addressing specifically impacted them and their teams. It was through listening to the conversation my empathy increased, my level of understanding deepened and my emotional investment felt safe because the conversation was not “at me”. Rather it was with me.
The protocol did not end as I desired, but the time we spent discussing a shared concern was exponentially more productive than the previous month’s time together. More importantly, the feedback I received from some of the leaders who experienced the protocol was very positive. They expressed some reservations entering the meeting after the first conversation, but were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the second meeting and the process they were able to go through.
You can only imagine how that feedback made this “principal who wants to everyone happy” feel.
I am in my seventh year as a principal and while there are things I know I do well, there are so many more I know I can improve upon. While my passion for serving our students and teachers continues to burn hot, I now know how to avoid the problem with passion. Utilizing protocols helps remove “my” passion or preconceived agenda from the conversation and allows “our” voices to unify and work together to find solutions to concerns “we” have.
Here is to continued growth in my passionate leadership.
Matt Arend is the principal of #SiglerNation or Sigler Elementary in Plano ISD. You can follow Sigler Elementary on Facebook and Twitter and follow Matt at on Twitter @matthew_arend.