As an educator, I have certainly received my fair share of criticism and some of it has surely been deserved. Some has probably been unfair. Some has been my own fault.
Over the years, I have learned to accept the criticism as part of my job. I have also become aware of ten surefire ways to fuel the critics’ fires.
Make bad decisions.This is probably too obvious and we all make mistakes. The remedy is equally clear – make good decisions.
Go solo. Keeping stakeholders out of the decision-making process virtually ensures disagreement, misunderstanding, and frustration. We must intentionally find ways to involve others in decisions whenever possible.
Be Indecisive. The failure to make decisions is an effective tool to frustrate people and bring about criticism. There are times when a decision simply has to be made and we need to step up and make it.
Make snap decisions. Emergencies require us to make decisions quickly, but emergencies should not be the norm. In most cases, we have time to consider multiple factors and multiple perspectives prior to deciding. The result is usually a better decision that people can accept and support.
Waver. If a decision is made properly, we should be able to stick to it, at least until we are presented with new information. If not, we haven’t been diligent in making the decision in the first place. Changing our mind or sharing our uncertainty opens the door for doubt from others. Of course, there are time when we need to reverse our stance. When this happens, we need to do so with conviction and we need to be prepared to explain the details that led us to change our opinion.
Claim infallibility. Every effective educator I have worked with is human. We make mistakes. We cannot be afraid to admit it when we do. Accept that we are not perfect, apologize when appropriate, ask forgiveness when necessary, and move on.
Deny responsibility. As leaders in our classrooms and schools, we must accept responsibility for our actions and our decisions. As uncomfortable as it can be, people are relying on us to make good decisions and we must stand by them.
Keep secrets. Failing to share the right information with the right people at the right time leads to misunderstanding and confusion. The remedy is to thoroughly communicate. The more impactful the decision, the more important communication becomes.
Short sightedness. Leaders must look beyond the immediate and make decisions that account for both current and future realities. Failure to do so creates confusion and often invites increased criticism.
Hide behind policies. Policies address generalities and should guide our decisions.They should protect and support our work and we must use policies to inform our decisions, but we cannot use them to shield ourselves from criticism.
Working in the public eye ensures people are watching. Some are waiting to pounce on our next misstep (we will have them). Most are willing to accept our decisions, as long as they trust we are making them with good intent.
The number one way to extinguish the critics’ fires is to to establish trust. Building trust happens over time and trust grows as people come to believe in the decisions we make.
We will never make everybody happy. However, by avoiding these ten ways to fuel critics’ fires, we can create an environment of trust: one in which people are more likely to look to accept and understand decisions than they are to question and criticize them. In doing so, we can lead our classrooms and schools in a way that allows the greatest number of people to be comfortable, strive for success, and enjoy the school experience.
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