Friday, September 25, 2009

Heart and Head are not Mutually Exclusive

I think my courses thus far are doing a good job of helping me develop a better sense of what an administrator has to consider when making even the seemingly simplest of decisions. It's not really news to me, but practicing that perspective and making it the primary filter will be my challenge.  I am not sure changing roles like this after 18 years in direct practice was a good idea!  But I am up for it.  I think.

It is my belief that in all this administrator muck and emphasis on crossing t's and dotting i's, there is a HUGE need to explore one's interpersonal skills.  Which I believe to be crucial to effective, healthy, supportive leadership.  Which I believe helps one sift through all the nuances of human nature.  Which I believe is the essence of managing people.  Which is essential to demonstrating support.

I just read an article published by CEC about the effects of a lack of administrative support on special educators.  That one factor is the biggest contributor to special education teacher attrition.  Think about that.  We special education teachers work with the most difficult in our schools.  We love it, we thrive on it, our work feeds us.  We were born to do it.  We can't help ourselves.  Right?  The kids don't drive us out.  Unsupportive leadership does.  

So what does that look like?

By now you have all read about my rhythmic loom project.  A big deal.  A BIG deal.  Three TV stations, and several interviews, publications, and presentations documented that this is a BIG deal.  Did a single member of my special education leadership team initiate acknowledgement of it?  Nope.  Not one.  The first year my building principal barely acknowledged it. Our new principal last year was a huge supporter, protector and promoter, an genuine fan.  A prominent school board member is a huge fan and follower and has even hooked us up to a research center in our state.  Those supports and fans are great...but the fact there is no attention paid by my own department is devastating.

When another EBD teacher suffered a few broken toes from a student in her program, did a special education administrator offer support or comfort?  Nope.  She said, "Well, that's just part of the job.  You knew what you were signing up for."  Really.  That happened.  

When an AUT teacher has 15 kids in her program ranging from K-6 on all points on the spectrum, including a few that are not toilet trained and a few that are runners has chest pains which necessitate several doctor and hospital visits, did any leader in her district reach out, see that she was being asked to do the impossible, help her with solutions, empathize, sympathize, show support?  Nope.  Will she be gone in a year?  Yep.

When special education teachers don't get preps or lunch or potty time, does leadership note that and insist that teacher gets down time? Nope.  Most often they are just glad the teacher is doing what they are doing and honestly, it is commonly expected.

When special educators are laid off, programs are cut, or teachers are moved from one certification area they love and are really good at to another area they have little interest or experience in, is that showing support?  When you tell them to quit crying and that in tough times, good teachers just get creative and make it work, or to just suck it up and be glad they have a job, is that OK?  Is it respectful? Is it professional?  No.

Is an end of the week email from a special education leader to all of his teachers simply saying, "Good work this week!  Enjoy our well deserved weekend!"  along with a stupid smiley face and cheery, cutesy moving graphic genuine support?  No.  It is insulting.  We all wanted to shove that moving graphic right up his pooper.  Those weekly emails showed no support.  They were an afterthought.  A way for him to feel like he connected with us.  The man could not tell you a thing about how your week really went.

Stacking intense middle school EBD kids in an already crowded program and expecting the teacher to make it work is bad enough, but to bring a severe EBD student back to the home school out of a day treatment program before he was ready all because the district wanted to save some cash is the kid and the teacher.  To bully that teacher and tell her she WILL make it work with what she has or else, is is the kid and the teacher.  To keep telling the teacher after several days of the teacher being physically and verbally attacked by this student causes irreparable the kid and the teacher.  In the end she was driven away in an ambulance never to return to her classroom.  And she was a gifted EBD teacher.  It has taken over a year of therapy while on disability for PTSD to get to the place where she can sleep, not cry all day and actually engage in good girlfriend chats again.

The missing element in all of these examples is the human one.  What is so threatening about reaching out and being kind, human, understanding, appreciative?  What is so damn hard about being human, demonstrating human qualities, appreciating that we are all human.

One leadership theorist came to the conclusion that to be effective you have to lead with hands, heart, and head.  A balance of the three.  Somehow, all the special education leaders I have worked with have lead with the head only.  They have all been so guarded, so aloof, so distanced, that they served no purpose for me.  If you can't support me, just stay out of my way.  But know that by not supporting me, you are chasing me away.  And you need me.  

If I become an administrator I hope to be able to keep that balance.  As a teacher, I think I do.  I use my head and analytic abilities while considering the human factor.  I only come to action when I am able to keep both those as part of the solution. 

1 comment:

Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.