Thursday, March 5, 2015

Owning Mistakes as a Educational Leader

Everybody makes mistakes. We live in a world where the reality is that everyone makes mistakes. The true measure of a person, especially an educational leader, is how you handle the situation after the mistake. One of the things I truly believe in is the fact that it is important to own a mistake. To admit to it, to accept it, and to take corrective action. I have two examples of this from the current school year.

The first one was during an assembly. I made a comment that was a joke, but unfortunately the joke embarrassed a faculty member in public. It was a poor choice on my part. Many people would have simply left the matter, but I knew that I needed to apologize for my small, thoughtless act in order for the faculty to understand my integrity and to build trust. Many people, after embarrassing someone in public, will apologize in a private venue. I personal don't find that acceptable. I believe if the mistake was made publicly, then the apology should be public as well. When I approached the teacher and asked about the situation, he told me that he felt uncomfortable during the assembly because of my comment. I apologized then and I apologized in front of the entire faculty at the next full faculty meeting.

The second event occurred more recently. Our Student-Parent Handbook is in need of some major revision. I was about to begin the task of revising, when a teacher pointed out that the current handbook states that students are not allowed to have mobile devices on campus. Now on a walk around campus on any given day, you can easily find multiple mobile devices in use. I felt that the inconsistency between the handbook and the reality needed some form of action quite quickly. I addressed the matter with the faculty and discovered that the teachers were all over the map on the issue: some didn't mind mobile devices and even had students use them in class, some were indifferent to mobile devices, and another group were completely against mobile devices being on campus. I believe my personal feelings on mobile devices are well documented on this blog, but for the record, I love them. But as a group, we needed to come up with something we could live with, so we arrived at 7:30am-3:40pm mobile devices could only be used with teacher permission. Our class begin at 7:45am and ends at 2:45pm, but we have an after school program that runs until 3:40pm. The program is our National Honor Society mentoring program where our NHS members help elementary and middle school students with homework. Several teachers were concerned because having a high school student in charge of policing another student can be a tricky affair. The no mobile devices without permission until 3:40pm would help the high school students, because they can simply say to their mentees, "The rule says no mobile devices." Being a little gung-ho, I put the rule into action... Without consulting the Board of Directors on the matter. And that is where I made a mistake. Especially for me, because I feel that I also have a well documented history on this blog of being completely in favor of democratic decision making. So I apologized for my rash action to the entire BOD, which is as it should be.

I believe that owning a mistake and then taking corrective action actually builds trust. People see the integrity of the person who owns their mistake and tries to correct the problem. And in our school, one of our Expected Schoolwide Learning Results is Integrity. If the leader of the school cannot demonstrate integrity, how are students going to learn about it? We have to model the correct path for students and we need to be a source of inspiration for our faculty and staff.