Educational Leadership


Earlier this week I came across an article by David Weedmark on “dealing with setbacks,” and it got me thinking about setbacks in my own life. I found myself moving through my days preoccupied by memories of failed efforts. As a leader attempting to effect tech-based change in an established organization, it often seems as though I am more familiar with failures than with successes. 

Yesterday, I had a job interview, and one of the questions focused on how I deal with failures. Again, I found myself reflecting on situations in which I’ve invested considerable time, effort, and energy into a venture only to see it fail. I responded to the interview question quickly, and I pointed out that I have the ability to see the positive, that I roll with the punches, and that I learn from such experiences. However, in retrospect, I don’t believe that I gave the question proper attention - either in consideration or in answer. On the surface, this question seems to be focused on my character - how do I deal with the situation? Setbacks, however, are of more value than revealing my ability to adapt. I realized that failures take a prominent place in my memories because of what they have added to my life and learning. 

In my experience, success can be fleeting and temporary. The successful adoption of an initiative, implementation of a policy, or practical use of technology often end up seeming like a bit of a flash in the pan. They are great when they happen, but all too quickly, my mind looks for what is next. The setbacks are different. They prompt reflection, reconsideration, and remixing. They stick with me. The setbacks are where I have gained the most profound and impactful understanding. After the initial blow to the ego that failure brings, my mind races to evaluate what went wrong. I want to look at the situation through different lenses in order to understand what has happened. Dealing with setbacks has strengthened my knowledge and character. Failures are not something to avoid or to toss aside as simply something to bounce back from. They are something to be appreciated.  

Now, I am left thinking: How do we teach students and teachers to view setbacks as something to embrace and draw from rather than fear?

On the same side.

The other day I met with a mother who was concerned about the academic performance of her son. She had been upset by the progress report she had received earlier in the week detailing her son’s struggles in several of his core classes. The mother had called the school the previous day in a panic and requested a meeting with one of the school administrators. While on the phone, she conveyed her disappointment with what she felt was a lack of communication from the school’s side. When she arrived to our meeting she was visibly concerned and frustrated with the situation.

In preparing for the meeting I found myself reflecting on an article from Toastmasters I had come across late last week. The article spoke to the dynamics of seating arrangements in meetings. Now, I am not a body language expert, but I can appreciate the effects that different table and chair arrangements can have on meetings. For instance, I can’t tell you how often I have found myself disengaged in a meeting simply because the set up of the room was not conducive to two-way communication. Often, due to time constraints and the hectic nature of my day, I find myself seated across from a concerned parent at a desk or conference table or seated in conference chairs facing said parent. I decided to take a cue from the article and set up two seats on the same side of the conference table in my office for this meeting in an attempt to help establish a sense of partnership.

I directed the mother to the conference table and took a seat beside her. Placing the student’s file, transcripts and anecdotal notes in front of us, I made a point to emphasize that we were on the same side and that we were facing the problem together. I was surprised with how quickly a sense of collaboration was established as the mother and I were quickly able to work together to identify the issues her son was facing. We put the question of his academic achievement in front of us as we discussed his study habits, reviewed past grades, considered teacher commentary, and examined his current progress report. From there we shared a legal pad, passing it back and forth, and developed a plan for addressing the central issues of organization, peer tutoring, and teacher communication that we jointly identified as most important. In the end we exchanged contact information and, together, set two dates for follow up. 

In reflecting on the meeting later, I was struck by its collaborative and productive nature. I would encourage teachers and administrators to take a cue from Toastmasters and think through the physical arrangement of their next meeting. Being mindful of the dynamics of seating position can help cultivate collaboration and establish teamwork before the meeting even begins.