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For Administrators

How To Transform the Leadership Office From a Complaint Department to a Solution Zone

By The Room 241 Team January 30, 2018

The school leader’s office door is always open — often for complaints. When the door is wide open to negativity, it can bleed into school culture and weigh everyone down. But it’s possible to start building a positive and resilient school culture starting in those everyday office visits. Through the art of mindful listening, you can transform the school leader’s office from the complaint department to a solution zone!

Step 1: Make People Feel Heard

Often when people are stressed, they really need to feel heard. It’s the nature of educators to jump into problem-solving mode, but when a visitor comes to your office with an issue, try to begin by just listening. Make a conscious effort not to interrupt or react. This encourages mindful listening. According to Psychology Today, “Mindful listening is about being fully present when interacting with others.” It means turning off our desire to react, give in to distracting thoughts, or to prioritize our own emotions in the moment.

Mindful listening asks that the listener intentionally refrain from interjecting, considering their own responses, or emoting body language that could deter the speaker from sharing. We all know that when a visitor comes to your office in an emotional state, like a disgruntled parent, it can be easy to let your emotions take over instead of truly hearing them out. Mindful listening takes practice and may feel strange at first. Need help getting started? Check out the mindful listening sentence starter below:

“Thank you for coming to see me today. You have my full attention and I’m listening.”

Step 2: Ask “Did I Understand You Correctly?”

After your visitor is done speaking, take a calming deep breath together. Now it’s time to assure your visitor that you’ve heard everything they’ve shared. Ask, “Did I understand everything correctly?” Then repeat their major points, ensuring that you’ve fully taken in everything they’ve brought up. This slows things down, helps assuage any frenetic energy they may have, and lets your visitor know that you were fully present and focused on their words. You may notice a shift in your visitor’s body language and feel a calmer energy take over as they begin to realize they were heard.  Try saying something like this:

“Thank you for sharing that with me. I just want to make sure that I understand everything correctly… First you said…. Then you said…. Finally, you noted…. Did I hear everything you wanted to share?”

Step 3: Ask “What Do You Need?”

Once you have confirmed that you’ve heard everything, it’s time to find out what your visitor needs. Do they seek advice? A resolution? Permission? Help? Ideas? This puts the responsibility on your visitor to come to you with solutions in mind and not just complaints. Asking this question shifts the conversation away from the problem and toward possible resolutions. Here’s an idea on how to start:

“Ok, I hear your concerns. Looking ahead, what do you need?/What steps would you like to take on this issue?/What is the best outcome you can envision on this issue?/ How can I/this school best assist you on this issue?”

Step 4: Empower Your Teachers

As a school leader, it isn’t sustainable for you to be the sole provider of creative solutions or authority. Build a network of empowered teacher leaders, so that you have an extended web of support for both yourself and your instructors. Remember that you can’t solve every problem and it’s advisable not to. Empower your teachers to make use of a distributed leadership structure and to generate solutions on their own. If your visitor is unwilling or unable to posit any solutions in the meeting, encourage them to take some time to do so. Ask them to give it some thought, consult their colleagues, and come back with ideas:

“As I greatly trust your professional ability, and the support network we have at this school, I encourage you to consult your colleagues and consider some possible solutions for this issue and we can reconvene together on _________________ to talk it over together.”

Step 5: Take Time to Process

Schools move fast, but sometimes it’s best to take a breath before jumping into a decision. Quick reactions often unintentionally impact something else. If this issue requires that you get involved or come up with a solution, give yourself the time to do so while simultaneously reassuring your visitor that you will respond by a certain time. You can express this by saying something like:

“Thank you for coming to me with your concerns, as well as your ideas for how to move forward. I am going to think on this/look into this and I will get back to you with my thoughts by _________________.”

Step 6: Check Back In

To make your staff feel valued and to ensure the long-term sustainability of your resolutions, make sure to check back in with your visitors after some time has gone by. While it may seem tempting to just leave things alone, it’s critical to establish that you are more than just an in-the-moment complaint department. Show your school community that you are a school leader who truly cares about their success and that you are invested in the outcomes of your staff’s decisions. Check to see if the solutions you discussed are in place, and assess whether they are effective. See if any further interventions or supports are needed. Let your staff members know that you not only heard their concerns, but had a deep interest in the results of their creative solutions.

Want to learn more about mindful communication for school leadership? Check these out:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Leading With Teacher Emotions in Mind

The Five Keys to Mindful Communication: Using Deep Listening and Mindful Speech to Strengthen Relationships, Heal Conflicts, and Accomplish Your Goals

The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School 

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