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How Principals Deal with Difficult Situations

How Principals Deal with Difficult Situations

Kelly Christopherson

I’ve often been asked how I can deal with a student a number of times without allowing what has gone on in the past affect each new encounter. Along the same lines, I sometimes have people tell me that they don’t want to disclose a student’s name for fear of repercussions that might take place because of what is being said. Both of these situations, and many others, came to mind recently. How do administrators deal with all the things that happen without it letting them affect them?

We are in this because of the children. Underlying all that we do is the idea that we want what is best for all of the students that walk through the doors each day. A recent comment on the principals page reads:

There are reasons why people yell at us, why kids are mad at us, and why we are criticized. A sensitive person will look for the underlying reasons and the hidden agendas. A person who has turned off his feelings for the sake of self-preservation is at risk of missing what others may need in terms of help or attitude adjustments. This is the kind of person who becomes cold, jaded, and insensitive in other areas of life, as well. Those are not desirable qualities of an effective school administrator. -by Dave Sherman

This is, really, where one needs to do some deep self-reflection. Although no one likes to be called names, yelled at and a host of other things, it is being able to see beyond that and glean the small bits of truth that will help an administrator become better. Over my career as an administrator, I’ve made some mistakes but my goal is to learn from each of them in order not to make that particular mistake again. The same goes when someone is upset or mad because of something I’ve done or decided. It is part of what I do that requires me to reflect on the situation to see what exactly I might do next time to create a different ending to the situation. My goal, always, is to create a win-win situation. It doesn’t always happen and it might take a few tries to come to a place where the two sides can begin to see a win-win taking place.

So how am I able to deal with all these situations without letting what has happened before colour the present situation? Mostly, by making each day a new one, by moving on from a situation once it has been dealt with and not allowing it to tarnish the present. I’m learning each day just like each of the students, I hope, and trying to do better. That means that I don’t have all the answers all the time. It also means that, as I learn more, I see how I have done things and know that there must be a change in order to address what is happening. I am a work in progress!

I also know that many of the students can ‘t do this and for many of them, they will continue to hold onto their feelings long after something has taken place. This also means that if I have to meet with them again, I must be aware that most likely, I’ll have to also deal with what happened in the past, as well as, what is happening right now. This can be difficult and, as I learn, I become better at focusing on the moment – dealing with what is happening and working to bring all those involved into the “NOW” so that the situation doesn’t become a rehashing of previous meetings.

As many of the people who commented on the principals page entry stated, it does take a certain person to be able to allow some of the things to just flush away. It can be learned over time but you have to understand that early on in your career. One of my greatest mistakes was trying to make everyone happy. It just doesn’t work and not only is there a possibility that most of the people involved won’t be happy but I’ll also be miserable and that is not the way I want to spend my life.

As an administrator, we are given a number of things for which we must be responsible. We are tasked with many different areas to supervise and watch over. We encounter the spectrum of personalities and must learn to work with each in a manner that demonstrates our desire to build the best school community that we can. Sometimes we make mistakes and they dog us but that is the nature of what we do. Turning off our feelings won’t eliminate these but learning to see the grains of sand and turn them into pearls is something that administrators should be trying to accomplish. Wanting the best for all students is paramount as we deal with the many different things that cross our paths. Learning to not take what happens personally is important but retaining that sense of self is crucial to maintaining the balance needed when making difficult decisions. Because we are tasked with dealing with all the people involved in education, to some degree, administrators have a role unlike any other in education. It is not one that is easy, is often misunderstood and sometimes involves having to make decisions that are not popular. I’m still trying to find that combination of being able to make difficult decisions and being popular. It hasn’t happened yet. I do know that the more I learn to listen to all members of the learning community, the easier it is to have conversations that move toward win-win.

One of things that I tell students when dealing with a difficult situation is that I’m not a principal to be popular which is absolutely true. I choose to be a principal because I of my belief that the present and future are sitting in the classrooms of our schools and there needs to be someone who can make the difficult decisions that will help them learn and grow, see the world in a new way and be challenged to be their best. Sometimes I do have to leave my feelings at the door. Sometimes I do have to accept that I won’t be liked because of the decisions I have to make, that sometimes I will be called names and there will be things said about me. But, there are times when I can see changes and I hear from students what they’ve learned and I am affirmed in what I’m doing. Those aren’t always that often but when they happen they strengthen my conviction about why I chose to be an administrator.

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