Leading with Empathy in Schools

shutterstock_235165915

One of the things I encourage teachers to do when they consider the impact of their actions on student learning is to look at themselves through the eyes of the student. This can make all the difference in changing practice and improving learning outcomes for students. In many ways, it is part of a shift from a teacher-centered approach to learning towards a more student-centered approach.

As educational leaders, I question whether we do the same with many of our decisions that impact on teachers and the expectations that we have of them. In our role as school leaders in many shapes and forms, I assume we strive for the same goal in our schools – to create the best educational experience possible.

In fact, many educational and governmental bodies that schools are held accountable to are also trying to do the same thing. At times, it may not look like it, as we disagree with certain initiatives and become frustrated with many idealistic views of education, right or wrong, that we feel are simply unattainable with the resources that we have our disposal.

We have our ideals too, as leaders in our schools. We have a romantic vision for what our school should look like if it were to function perfectly. This vision most likely includes teachers that are at the very top of their game, passionate about education and constantly engaging and challenging students to learn. The students reciprocate the teachers’ efforts and love school; they see its relevance and have a joy of learning that makes them want to come to school each day.

Achieving that vision is hard work. To be truthful, we may never get there and our work will never be complete, as there is always something else to improve. Probably, lots of things to still improve. Yet we still try but we get upset along the way when those we lead are not meeting our expectations; some teachers may not be getting to where we want them to be.

I have often wondered, while we can always guide teachers in how to be better, perhaps we are not doing enough to create the conditions for them to be successful?

Of great concern to me is that, as leaders, we can so often forget what it is like to be the teacher on the full teaching load. We may remember it fondly, that feeling of being fresh out of College and in our first teaching job, enthusiastic and committing ourselves to everything that we could to support students. Though, we may forget that we may not have had a family then or the conditions in our schools were very different. We may think that it was easy to ‘just’ be a teacher and this guides us in the decisions we make that get passed down to teachers.

Much frustration exists in many schools from teachers that feel that education administrators “do not know what it is like…they do not understand.” It is these words that need to guide us when we think about new initiatives in our schools, changes that we wish to make and expectations that we want to set. Are we giving our teachers every chance to be as good as we want them to be?

We need to look at improving our schools a little more through the eyes of our teachers, become more connected with the reality of what we are asking them to do and then put in place the proper support rather than simply expect change and improvement.

Granted, there are varying levels of motivation among teaching faculty and some are more frustrating to work with than others. School improvement does cut both ways, it is a partnership and leaders in schools do, at times, need better support from their staff than they may be getting. That said, we chose to lead and must do so with an emotional maturity that begins with looking at our own actions when our expectations are not being met and our utopian vision for education is not being realized. That is real leadership.

2 thoughts on “Leading with Empathy in Schools

  1. Pingback: You can’t lead where you won’t go | Ed Leader

  2. Pingback: The battle to find time in schools – we need to consider teacher efficacy | Ed Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s