Lessons Learned Along the Way... Continued
You Can Be Both Tough and Kind!
Editor's Note: In the last issue of On Target, NJASA Treasurer Dr. Janet L. Fike, Chief Education Officer, Morris-Union Jointure Commission, authored an article titled, "Lessons Learned Along the Way..." She invited the readership to respond and we are thankful to Dr. Annette Giaquinto for her "Lessons Learned Along the Way..."
As education leaders, our skillsets and styles are shaped and influenced by many factors including formal education, ongoing professional development, on-the-job training, mentor relationships, and our overall life experiences. For me, one of the greatest sources of inspiration was my mother who passed away six years ago. Mom came from a very small town in upstate Pennsylvania and traveled to Philadelphia to attend St. Agnes Nursing School. There she met my dad and began her career. Long before the term “superwoman” was coined, my mom was just that – a loving wife to my dad, caring mother of two, devoted caretaker for her parents and in-laws, and working woman as a respected registered nurse. While my Mom never held a formal leadership role, the way she lived her life emulated qualities that contribute to effective leadership. It is an honor to share two such lessons with you.
Lesson: Risks are often rewarded, especially if they are thoughtful in nature and supported by others.
Our school districts and our own performances are evaluated formally and informally through varied lenses and by many people. It is often our own self-assessment, however, that brings forth growth. Related to growth is the concept of risk-taking. Staying in our comfort zones can impede progress and while we may not fail, we likely will not grow and neither will our schools and students. Of course, we must use our professional judgement so that our risks are reasonable and within the realm of possibility. Risks take many forms such as leading conversations about race and equity; leaving a long-time position for a new district; challenging an influential community or board member about an issue; implementing change that is necessary but will be resisted. Whether or not to take such risks is truly an individual decision, based on your own circumstances – that of your school community and your family life. The risk my Mom took was leaving the safety of a coal-mining town for a bustling city …the reward was meeting her love of sixty years and enjoying a wonderful family and outstanding career.
Lesson: You can be both tough and kind!
This is a quality I saw in my Mom as a parent and nurse and, interesting enough, have also seen in the very best school nurses. From my experiences, the ability to be tough and kind is important for successful leaders, perhaps women in particular. As leaders, we set high expectations for our staff and students. To set the path for success, we employ collaborative decision-making and provide training and resources. Through formal and informal observation, we assess the staff member’s progress and provide feedback and further guidance and interventions when needed. Despite our efforts, we can all think of a time when a staff member performed poorly or recall an isolated incident when a staff member made a mistake. It is in these situations that the “tough and kind” approach can make a difference. Being direct in explaining the concern and holding the individual accountable are types of toughness. Standing by a decision when the union backs the teacher or the person pleads for another chance requires toughness. Yet, being tough does not require mean. We can maintain our high expectations while also being kind in our language and approach. When we see the staff member outside of this situation or formal meeting, we can still say hello, ask about their families, offer to help them, and the like. Like my Mom and other nurses, we can provide the medical treatment that may be tough for the patient while doing so with kindness and compassion. This dual-approach does not take away from our leadership or professionalism; rather, it shows others that we balance high expectations with strong support.