It is so frustrating. You handle a situation with a parent. A few days go by and one of your teachers tells you that you didn’t handle the situation appropriately. Or worse- they just complain causing more dissatisfaction among other teachers. Naturally, your blood pressure increases. Are you offended? Angry? Hurt? Confused? All of the above? This is all too common.
When I was a store manager I had the task of calling every customer who left a negative review for my store. I hated that part of my job. It ruined my day. Listening to the recording and reading what people said was so disheartening. I worked hard and really tried to make sure everyone had a good experience. My staff worked hard and really cared. The problem was that these complaints were over things I had no control over. Policies, staffing levels, warranties from manufacturers, what someone’s ex-husband did or didn’t do.... I can’t work magic.
One day, a mentor of mine reminded me that feedback is a gift. It is the customer caring enough to tell me something was wrong and then giving me the chance to fix it. When I re-framed the complaints into second chances, I quickly began to see how their feedback, which was not always nice or friendly, was really a way to make amends and improve my skills as a manager.
I started by recognizing that although I couldn’t control policies, I could control how they were communicated. Even though I couldn’t control the manufacturer’s warranty, I could help customers navigate how to fix their product. And although often people’s ex’s can be vindictive and sometimes outright evil, I could listen and agree with how horrible it was. Soon, my customer satisfaction scores went up - a lot.
Here’s what I learned and how it applies to teachers.
It isn’t personal
I say this a lot in education. It keeps me sane. It is just as true here. The feedback isn’t personal. Instead, it is an opportunity for you to get better.
It is often the case that the teacher doesn’t have all of the information or know how you arrived at a decision. What they do know is the outcome and how they feel about it.
Instead of getting angry or hurt, thank the teacher for coming to you. This is your chance to build upon your relationship with that teacher, improve your leadership, and improve your teacher’s skills. Just like when I worked with customer complaints- a complaint handled appropriately creates loyalty.
Clarify the complaint
It’s pretty clear when someone is upset. What isn’t always clear is why. As an administrator, you known this when it comes to students. Sometimes we forget, the same is true for adults.
Ask your teacher why they feel your decision was not appropriate for the situation. Don’t interrupt. Let them tell you that you never listen or consider the teachers. They might tell you that you don’t really care about this or that. When they finish talking, invite them to tell you more. This is important! Ask, “What else do I need to know about the situation to make a better decision?” The open ended question invites the teacher to tell you what is really bugging them. This is gold.
Thank them again
Your teacher just opened up to you and they might even feel bad or guilty. Don’ derail your progress here. Thank the teacher for giving you more valuable information, their point of view. Let them know you value constructive dissent and want to be the best administrators you can. After all, you are on the same team with the dame goals.
Get their input
Now is the time to gently bring up the information (or hypothetical if you cannot get into specifics) that the teacher did not know. Remember, they are still vulnerable from opening up so this is not the time to make them feel bad. Instead, make them feel empowered by asking their advice on handling then situation. Let the, know what you were faced with (or something similar) and ask what they think would be appropriate and why.
Agree on next steps
Typically a teacher recognizes they were in the wrong and apologizes or they get defensive. Give them a way to save face and improve the situation by agreeing on what to do if a similar situation happens again. What action will each of you take? For you, it could be a quick follow up conversation with the teacher before making a decision with a parent to make sure you have all of the information (the teacher will feel heard). For them, it could be better communication of a problem before you need to meet with a parent.
The end can be awkward. Avoid awkward endings by celebrating the success you just created. Tell them how happy you are are with what you accomplishes and look forward to better collaboration. Whatever you end with, make it personal and authentic.
Tell me in the comments below. How has this worked for you?