Life is funny. I have spent the last month talking to administrators and instructional leaders about the importance of strategic conversations with teachers. I have urged them to commit to speaking the truth and to remaining engaged even when it is difficult. And, I have been adamant that they try to work with every person on their staff and not give up on anyone.
Easier said than done. As I have found out this month in my own work on school boards and some of the schools I serve, practicing what I preach is pretty hard. It is a lot easier to avoid strategic conversations and work around some people than it is dealing with them. It is a lot easier to outmaneuver some people than it is to hold them accountable for doing the right thing. It is a lot easier to give up on them and get rid of them than it is to work with them and help them get better at what they do. Speaking the truth is hard. Remaining engaged and persisting with difficult colleagues is even harder.
So why do it? Why not just get rid of difficult people or find a way to work around them? Isn’t the work we do too important to be derailed by an individual? One monkey shouldn’t stop the whole show, right?
Well, yes and no. Our work is too important to be derailed by one individual, but our work can only find success when every individual becomes engaged in the ideals and the vision that drives what we do. And, I firmly believe that getting rid of the individuals who for the moment seem to be in our way undermines our work. It sends a message that the work is more important than the people involved in it, when the people – the children and the adults – are our work. They are at the very heart of what we do and why we do it.
That is a very lofty ideal that often feels unrealistic in the face of the very harsh reality of some people and the baggage they bring into schools. It is hard not to get frustrated with colleagues who are more concerned about their own agendas than they are about helping the students or who refuse to change or try something new even when they recognize that doing so is in the best interest of the kids. And, when things get really frustrating, it’s hard not to take it personally.
I was talking to one of my favorite principals the other day and we were discussing the frustrations of doing this work. I was venting about how hard it was and how frustrated I was with several individuals who I thought were getting in the way of the work and I was starting to take their resistance personally. His advice to me was this: “It’s not about you. And, it is your job to keep anyone else from making it about them either.”
And he’s right. This work is not about you or any one individual. It’s about the collective good. It’s about all of us. And, the way that we get the work done is to maintain a laser-like focus on the ideals that drive the work rather than the people who try to impede it.
Given the importance of this work, we cannot afford to avoid the difficult conversations. We cannot avoid speaking the truth and remaining engaged even when it hurts. We cannot avoid the discomfort and frustration of continuing to work with our colleagues when life would be much easier for us if we just worked around them. Because this work is not about you or your personal comfort. It’s about something much more important and it is worth a few moments of frustration and discomfort to see it through.