3 Ideas for Dealing with “Pushback” on Your Ideas in Education

Author: George Couros
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On the #Drawn2Teach book study happening now over on Instagram, Josh Stumpenhorst asked the following question:

“For this week’s topic, I want you to think about how you develop leadership in your buildings/work. How do you promote others to lead? This is important to focus on whether we try to “control” our people, or “unleash” their talents. What are some of the things that you do that make this happen?”

This year, as I have been focusing a bit on growing teacher leadership, I have (re-)learned two lessons about developing leadership.


Lesson one started about more than one year ago. A teacher, we’ll call her Gladys, asked me if she should apply for the newly vacated position of Director of Curriculum for the district. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a fairly wide-ranging teaching experience. She’d proved willing and able to take on some building and district leadership roles. Go for it. But, wait. If Gladys were to go to central office, then she wouldn’t be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. I kept my reservations to myself and encouraged her to apply. More qualified applicants came forward and Gladys did not get the job. We dodged that one – this time.


That brings us to this past June. Upon the sudden departure of another district principal, the superintendent asked what I thought about Gladys becoming principal. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a great attitude and ability to see the big picture. Through the last year, she’d taken on even more of a leadership role in the building. But wait, if Gladys were to go be a principal, then she wouldn’t be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. This time, I shared my reservations. Gladys proved to be the most qualified candidate and got the job. No dodging this time.


A lesson from my old photography days (you know, with film), crept back into my mind. When you develop the negative (the film), it is in service of a positive (the print). Not exactly sure what that means, but the point is clear: when you actively work to develop a teacher into a teacher-leader, sometimes it works really well the teacher-leader wants to become a leader-leader.


The second lesson from the leadership darkroom, you can’t always be certain of what will develop once you start processing. Hmm.


With these two lessons, back under my belt, I enter this school year right back at it. I am actively working with a teacher or two to develop their leadership. They may move on or develop into something I don’t expect. I can handle that. Both lessons were part of why I loved developing photographs, and both lessons are why I love developing leaders.


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Here was the response I gave on Instagram:

Instead of answering this question with the idea that had pushback (because I have had a ton), I want to focus more on answering what I have shifted my thinking on for this context.

First of all, assume positive intent of the other person you are working within education. If you think you are the only one trying to do good things for students, you already have a disconnect.  You can meaningfully move more people forward through “influence” than you can “power”.  For influence, people need to know you value them and their contributions.

Secondly, the best answers are usually somewhere in the middle. Not always, but rarely do extremes work for our students. Find the places where you agree and work from there.

Finally, try to find a solution moving forward that leads to action. Too often people hate meetings because they are all about talking and little about action. What are the things you are going to try and come back with to share with one another the next time you connect? There needs to be accountability in creating solutions, not just discussing them.

As my friend Joe Sanfelippo always says, we are all in this together.

Source: George Couros

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3 Ideas for Dealing with “Pushback” on Your Ideas in Education
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