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Mentoring Matters for Superintendents: November

Leadership-life Fit:

Amid all of the “doing” of leadership, see how a focus on “being” or “mindfulness” can help us to be more effective and less stressed.

Additionally, check out this video interview with Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, in which he discusses Focus, his new book about attention—mindfulness.

Active Listening:

Is it possible to listen too well? Missouri principal Thomas Hoerr says, “yes,” in an article in this month’s Educational Leadership. Hoerr acknowledges the value in surveying stakeholders, engaging in many informal conversations, and collecting other data that help to inform leadership of the public’s perception and attitude regarding certain issues. However, he offers four caveats for listening to help leaders avoid unintended consequences of “listening too much”:

  1. “Recognize the smoke without assuming there’s a fire,” Hoerr states. Attending too much to a vocal minority may result in the perception that this minority is more powerful and influential than it really is.
  2. Move forward with a decision when you have the support you need from those with influence and a sufficient number of others. Listening and waiting too long can result in failure to launch.
  3. Be aware of the impact of good listening techniques like eye contact, affirmative nodding, and a singular focus on the speaker, all of which can be interpreted by the speaker and others as agreement. Be clear about your position.
  4. Recognize that if you are easily approachable, people can become very comfortable in their willingness to share frustrations and unhappiness with you. Hoerr suggests agreeing on the purpose of the communication by saying up front, “Before you go any further, is there something you want me to do or is this just for me to know?”

Hoerr concludes with a final reflection: “Am I asking the right questions and listening enough, or am I listening too much?”

Hoerr, T. R. (2013). Can you listen too well? Educational Leadership, 71(3), 86-87.

Saving the Board Meeting Headed South:

When the unanticipated public comment challenges a board decision or a practice within the district, board meetings can take a turn for the worse. It is often up to the superintendent to set the ship aright. How can he/she accomplish this task regardless of the what? Ryan Donlan, assistant professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University, discusses five strategies for turning the tide of a board meeting headed in the wrong direction in this month’s School Administrator.

  1. Listening – Tune in to what is being said and how it is being said. Note body language and facial expression so that you can respond to the public’s concern in a way that communicates you understand their perspective.
  2. Shifting – Your language should reflect your desire to be one with the community. Meet them where they are rather than expect them to be where you are. Shift from your world to theirs.
  3. Targeting – Watch for attacks of criticism and blame from a disgruntled patron as they can be indications of unmet psychological needs. Respond to such people with recognition of their work, their beliefs, or them personally. Donlan suggests you might recognize someone’s conviction by saying, “Mr. Jones, we trust that you will help us recognize inequity when it exists, and we respect that. Thank you.”
  4. Affirming – Frustrated, upset people, whether these people be your board members or constituents, need affirmation. Superintendents can accomplish this by publicly recognizing the authority of the school board while simultaneously acknowledging the community’s right to elect its school board members.
  5. Leading – Superintendents are challenged to move people toward the vision of school improvement. Donlan explains that people want to believe in something and someone, which places superintendents in an ideal position to solicit input from multiple perspectives to create a win-win situation.

Read the full article

Donlan, R. (2013). When board meetings go south. School Administrator, 10(70), 11.

Navigating Negativity:

Are you dealing with a “helpful complainer” or a “malcontent complainer”? View this slideshare to understand the difference and identify strategies for navigating negativity in your district.

November/December Monthly Checklist: 

These lists are intended as a guide and are likely not all-inclusive! Process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that need to be addressed.