Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

My mentor Larry Creedon told me often that people -- students, teachers, parents -- need to feel that they have been heard. He pointed out that this was extremely important to remember as an educator, but especially if you are an administrator. I was reminded of this lesson during my Montana School Law course I took last spring. To be honest, the course didn't cover any different information than the one I took from Arkansas State University. We all know that states require people to take the state version of a course to keep university professors in jobs, so there is no reason to get into the whole "why did I have to take school law twice?" discussion at this point. It is just life; it is simply the way things are in this world of ours. But I digress... Anyway... My School Law professor, Dr. Matt, said the same thing, but he had a very clever way of expressing it. His comment was, "Seek first to understand; then be understood." I really liked the way this expression caught me, because it was emphasizing that what you are really trying to do with the person is understand them. Hear his/her thoughts and concerns. Notice how Professor Matt didn't say, listen to what they say and then defend yourself or comment back. It was seek first to understand and then be understood. In other words, you don't have to agree with each other, but you do need to understand each other. This is a very important concept, because many times there cannot be an agreement, but there can be understanding. With understanding, there can be common ground discovered and explored, but neither side has to win or lose. All too often communication becomes about winning and losing rather than understanding and seeking shared beliefs and ideas. My goal this year is to practice the concept of seek first to understand and then be understood while I am communicating with parents, students, and teachers.