This morning, I visited my place of worship as we continued to work through a series called Blind Spots. Today, specifically, we focused on “The Least” ; this didn’t equate to people that actually ARE the least, but sometimes people to which we show value the least. Sometimes this includes people that are marginalized by society in general. Often times, they are people that we physically see and simply don’t take time to acknowledge. We saw a clip of a Saturday Night Live game show in which the contestant could identify a celebrity but did not know the name of his doorman of 6 years. Now, admittedly, I have a hard time NOT connecting my experiences outside of my principal role to my principal role, my graduate school studies, or my school community as a whole, and this message connected to my professional life in an instant. (Sure, at times it could be a balance issue, but more often I chose to think it is because I really am passionate about my work and reflective by nature. Right?! Right.)
As I listened then and in the time that’s followed, images of different people came to mind, along with the notion that as school leaders, we need to be SO mindful of people that might be in our own or our school community’s blind spots. First, I thought to those more marginalized by society, specifically a particular family in which one parent was a registered sex offender. I began to work more closely with this family as we addressed the needs of their child. I was initially met with distrust, anger, and the assumption that I was judging them for past actions. Over time, we built a relationship based on the common goal of supporting that child. As a principal, that involved both building my own relationship with the parents and facilitating others in doing so despite their own perspective and preconceived notions.
Next I thought of people, like the doorman on SNL, that I clearly know and don’t always take the time to see. Images of our cafeteria staff and some of our special education support team came to mind here; these are often people who come and go during the course of the day and don’t take part in most of our staff meetings and other functions. I’ve come to use my calendar as an accountability tool where I track appointments and schedule follow-up with parents. Taking that further now, I’ve already put that visit to our cafeteria staff on Tuesday’s calendar, along with double checking the list of special education itinerants that will be in my building over the course of the year. Again, seeing a need as a leader to make that acknowledgement part of our culture, we’ll talk about it as a building leadership team at our meeting Wednesday morning. That conversation will start with me being honest about my own need to do better here, and I must challenge myself to grow past the one simple check-in that will serve as a starting point.
When I look even closer, I think about a conversation with my secretary last spring. She and I get along well and she is truly a wonderful, compassionate person. During the summer months, she and I are the only ones in the school office and I believe we do a good job of checking in and collaborating. After some concerns and tough thinking last spring, it was time to sit down and talk. I realized that despite the fact that I saw her every day, I didn’t do as well REALLY seeing her. The office, and our school in general, is a bustling place, and she was often in my blind spot. Fortunately, we had a great, candid talk as we moved into the summer months, and I started this year with an awareness of keeping that relationship a priority. Again, it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch; like any interpersonal relationship, it takes work, time and the willingness to acknowledge when we can do better.
Who is in your blind spot? As a leader, how do you help others see people in theirs? How do you convince those used to being left in a blind spot that they do matter and have value? Join me in committing to do better as you reflect on the start of school.