As teachers, we have all had experiences with an “elephant in the room.” Often it’s tension between teachers and administrators over a new directive being handed down. But sometimes it’s tension between two teachers that don’t see eye to eye on an issue. So how does a future educational leader address such an issue in a productive way? No teacher wants to feel attacked or judged, but sometimes issues need to be dealt with so that all parties involved can move forward. As Marceta Reilly writes in her article “Saying What You Mean Without Being Mean,” “without feedback, we educators really don’t know whether our own perception of our performance is accurate or whether we’re truly having the impact we desire.”
Reilly notes that there are two important factors in delivering potentially contentious feedback – the content and the relationship. Both factors need to be present if the feedback has a chance of going over positively. Reilly writes that if a colleague focuses too much on the content (what needs to change), the recipient of the message will likely become defensive about their actions rather than focused on making positive changes. On the other hand, if a colleague focuses too much on the relationship piece, the discussion might come across too “warm and fuzzy” and lack a focus on changes that do need to be made.
All of this has made me think a lot about the importance of establishing genuine relationships with colleagues and staff from the outset. Without an established (and positive!) relationship, how can the focus be on anything other than content? The only alternative would be to attempt to fake a relationship for the sake of delivering a potentially negative message to try to mitigate its effects. The issue with that, however, is that faking it is easy to identify. The recipient of criticism might even take this fake attempt at being relational worse than if the message was strictly content. Future leaders have an obligation to build real relationships with colleagues and staff because it affects their ability to deliver important messages to teachers about improving their practice.