The principal’s office was a scary place when I was a kid. If you were sent there, you were very likely to be yelled at, and it could be a daunting place for a kid.
I did not want to be seen as this type of principal by my students. Although many of them were scared to ever be sent to the office, I did my best to not make judgments, but let them work through their own problems. Here were the two questions I asked:
- Why are you here?
- What would you do if you were me?
That simple. I would wait for a long time for the answer to the first, but what was an important was that kids learned to focus on themselves, than focusing on me. They would walk me through it, and after that was done, their thoughts on what should happen were often way worse than anything that I would have suggested.
The hope of this process is kids would learn to deal with themselves when I wasn’t around. What many people believe is that this might be soft on kids. This is actually far from truth. My expectations for students were extremely high, but often many of our students that get into these situations, need a gentle hand, instead of harsh consequences. The focus is developing students not only as learners, but as people.
Yet there are still many educators that lead with fear. The focus is on compliance, not engagement, or empowerment. It is simply, “Do as I say”, or “because I said so”, mentality. This approach is short-sighted. Does it focus on you short term, and ignore students long term? Will kids be able to learn on their own after your class? Will they be inspired to continue learning? They might have done well in your class that year, but your impact is often seen long after your time with kids.
I have seen administrators do this as well, and almost wear it as a badge of honour. Again, the vision is short-sighted. Again, this doesn’t mean that you should be friends with your staff, or that you don’t have high expectations. But teachers that live in a culture of fear, often create a culture of fear within their classrooms. This quote from, “Five Characteristics of Fear Based Leaders“, is quite powerful:
People who feel bad often try to make the people around them feel even worse. A grade-school teacher has a lot of power and control over the kids in his or her classroom. Likewise, a manager or supervisor has a lot of power over the people in his or her department.
Is this the culture we want to trickle down into our learning environments?
We have to remember who serves whom in education. I have long believed that the higher you go up in any organization, the more people you serve not the other way around. We all serve students, and our focus should not only be on this moment, but how they will develop as people long term. This is definitely easier said than done, but it is still important to do.
If we don’t thrive in a culture of fear, what in the world would make us think that our students would either?
(Here is the second episode of #LeadMoment talking about the above.)