Let’s seek to understand first before passing judgement

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With a number of high profile decisions getting significant media attention in recent months from the UK’s Brexit through to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit through the US national anthem, the speed at which people publicly react to such decisions has really hit home and made me question what this means for us as school leaders.

With 24 hour news reporting and access to social media from widespread locations, our ability to both view the reactions of others to events, as well as air our own thoughts, is incredibly significant. Reaction to recent events and decisions has led me to question whether mass media and social media is actually making us less careful and dare I say it, less smart, in how we discuss important matters.

The fact that we can instantly see, read or hear the reaction of others, as well as immediately contribute to the discourse concerning a decision, event or issue, perhaps does not give us enough time to carefully think before we engage with the subject matter. The urge to post a comment, keep the TV on, or follow the various news feeds makes us vulnerable to entering conversation that we may not be yet ready for. You only have to look at what has been said on both sides of the Brexit and Kaepernick debates to see where the issue lies, no matter who may be right or wrong.

Immediate reaction by so many leads to things being said that are completely unwarranted and, oftentimes, misguided, reflecting badly on some of those who post and speak out too quickly. How many times do we now see people having to apologise after they have spoken too soon with a poor choice of words, perhaps not fairly reflecting their real thoughts nor giving them the time to give a more considered response. The example of coach Jim Harbaugh illustrates this point very well.

What I am getting at is that we need time to take stock of the situation and, more importantly, take the necessary time to seek to understand before we pass judgement. Speaking out too soon, confronting an issue without giving it the significant prior thought that it deserves can do irreversible damage that could, with care, be avoided. Once our words are out, they are out and so difficult to take back.

As school leaders we have to be mindful of the role that we play in modelling not only appropriate behaviour in our response to provocative situations both in our school building and outside of it, we also have to play a leading role in coaching our colleagues and students in our need to better understand the context of the situation in advance of delivering our thoughts in whatever forum we choose to.

It is too easy for us to pass judgement without thought of the consequences of our swift reaction. It is much harder to take the necessary time to appraise matters before contributing our thoughts but, then again, that is where the best leaders often shine as they value the importance of understanding others no matter who they may be.

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