The Deep End: Care and Accountability

October 11, 2017

I spent some time with teacher leaders over the last 2 weeks. Many are new, and find themselves swimming in The Deep End for the first time. One of the challenges they may have in their new role is to both be collegial with their colleagues and at the same time making sure all of them get their work done. It is a tricky balance. Many say teachers are nurturing. Teachers got into the business to support the development of children. So it is doubly hard for some when they become teacher leaders and now are asked to work with adults and then to hold them responsible too! I have worked with some who cannot reconcile the roles. For them, it is just too challenging.

It is possible to be assertive in your role as a leader and to show humility and concern. It isn’t an either/or proposition. It is a yes/and moment. It is possible to show both care and accountability. Think of it as a seesaw or a level in construction. We move too far in the direction of accountability and our colleague tips off the other side. Being too caring and we tip-off and take ourselves down by not speaking up and most likely doing the work yourself. Instead, we need to understand that both are doable – care and accountability.

How do we do both?

Clarity first. Are you sure that everyone involved is aware of the expectations? Sometimes, we think we are being explicit, but perhaps we need to offer more specificity; about deadlines, responsibilities, roles, projects, etc. We often gloss over the details and simply say, “Get it done.” Or “figure it out and get back to me,” without explaining what should be done and what the timelines are. We are much clearer with students. Adults should just know better, right? Not always.

Coach second. Don’t jump to anger. Become allocentric and other-focused. Ask questions, such as “Given this is something that we need to get done, do you need any supports?” “Is there something I can do to help you move this forward?” Seeing how the challenge is being seen by the other person and what the obstacles are might help others move forward.

After a few coaching moments, move toward direct statements, and continue to consider how you can be both humane and growth-producing in this conversation. State your concern with facts and watch your adjectives and adverbs. Did I really need to say the person is “deliberately” doing this action or that the person is “too obsessive?” Be ready with some answers of what should happen next and how you can help.

What if you have been clear with expectations, you have come to conversations with a coaching stance and then you have spoken up in humane and growth producing ways, and it still isn’t working? Might you need to bring in someone else? Might it be better heard from another colleague? Or might someone listen to someone in a different position and with more authority? Sometimes you alone as teacher leader might not be the right person for the conversation.

A perfect outcome may not always be possible. You have shown care all the way through. Accountability has been scaled up over a few conversations. Maybe it just isn’t your conversation to have or you need to seek guidance from others who have more responsibility. You haven’t failed. You worked both ends of the polarity as best you as you could. Some conversations require another step beyond you, and that is okay. The good news is you didn’t tip the scale and send someone flying with extra accountability and you didn’t let them off the hook with too much empathy. The balancing act is a tricky thing to hit correctly.

The good news is that you are dealing with professionals. Generally speaking, if you treat teachers like professionals, they will act like professionals. You have demonstrated compassion while remembering to lay out instructions in a thorough manner. And a little bit of confidence goes a long way – confidence in yourself and your abilities, and confidence in your teachers to want to work things out in a professional, positive manner. These are the tools that you need. So don’t worry. Just jump in and start paddling. That’s what swimming in The Deep End is all about.

This post was originally published on the edCircuit blog where Jennifer is a featured columnist.

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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