Let’s face it. We are all vulnerable. We are all susceptible to being attacked, whether physically or emotionally, through violence or through words. I have received my fair share of criticism throughout my tenure over the last twenty years as a school administrator. Admittedly, some of it was deserved and I would like to think some of it not so deserved.
Regardless, I have learned from my battle wounds that I must own my own moments.
I have a confession to make. As I begin to write this post I am already feeling a bit nervous, but not exactly sure why? I never professed to have a monopoly on what it takes to be a successful principal. I do, however, believe that leaders must maintain exceptionally high standards and expectations for not only their staff and students, but for themselves as well. For me personally, expecting anything less is unacceptable. The greater the expectations we place on ourselves, the more substantial the opportunity to open ourselves to more serious inquiry. It is in these moments of uncertainty that we must find the courage to embrace our own vulnerability rather than hide from the scrutiny that is sure to come our way.
So therefore, I choose to embrace my vulnerability rather than hide from it.
I presume that we have all faced this type of immense criticism at one time or another, whether the source was a student, parent, colleague, or even supervisor. If you are like most individuals I am sure it caused a bit of consternation. For most, words or actions that attack our professional work are hard to swallow. Critiques that question our (good) intentions can sometimes be even more difficult to accept. And comments that question our integrity can sometimes sting so badly it causes us to pause and reflect on whether or not what we do is all worth it in the end, especially when those words come to us anonymously.
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene Brown
Over the years I can count on one hand the number of anonymous letters that were sent to me by someone who in their eyes I had wronged. Each time I opened the letter and read the harsh words that were written about me, it created a lump in my throat. And when I’d finished reading the letter, I would wonder why I put myself through so much misery. After all, I had been mentored to ignore such anonymous letters and to cast them aside as just “crazy talk” by a disgruntled person. I recall one letter that called me every derogatory and racist name in the book there is to describe someone of Mexican descent. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should be furious or whether or I should feel sorry for whoever authored such a letter that the only way they could feel better about themselves was to pen such horrible things about someone else. As I reflect back on those letters I will reveal to you that I never shared them with my family. I would like to say it was because I didn’t see a need to share such ugly comments with them because I didn’t want to worry them that perhaps someone would want to hurt me. But honestly, I was also somewhat embarrassed and maybe even afraid to admit that the truth was someone out there despised me to the “nth” degree.
And why? I am not sure I will ever know.
A couple of months ago I received a message from a friend of mine who shared a comment with me that was tagged to him on twitter. Although it had been years since someone had anonymously attacked me as a person, this felt different. It had not come to me in an envelope in the privacy of my own home or office. No, this was shared on social media for the entire world to see by an anonymous tweeter named @DoenutJane. Suddenly, I felt that same lump in my throat that I had experienced in years past. But this time, it lasted only for a split second and then it went away.
And here is why (Over the past couple of months, similar tweets have popped up on #IAedchat, our state chat that I moderate on Sunday evenings).
I made the decision not to let this this anonymous tweet define me or control me or stop me from being the type of leader I want to be. Those who know me well will tell you I am passionate about what I do and that I am unquestionably committed to providing the best experiences for our students and our school community. For many of us in leadership positions we are prone to expecting anything less than someone’s best and that sometimes leads to potential future problems if addressed. Holding others accountable for professional excellence opens us up for greater scrutiny. And sometimes that criticism it deserved and well, sometimes it is not.
The fact is that is not for us to determine whether or not we believe the feedback we receive is fair or not. As leaders, that is the path we have chosen and we must recognize that we are responsible for modeling what we expect from others and that is admitting that we don’t always get it right and when the criticism comes, let us not be fools by not taking time to reflect and make the necessary changes in order to grow.
I know that if I want to strive to have the greatest impact on others that I possibly can, I must accept that I will undoubtedly open myself up to greater criticism and greater scrutiny in my role as a high school principal. I cannot and will not allow such harsh words to control me or my attitude about the work we do as educators in our schools. Our work is too important, too great to not allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
I am ready to embrace my vulnerability and own my moments.
Even it if comes in the form of an anonymous tweet.
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” – Criss Jami