Authority and Initiative, III

It seems that yesterday’s post – and the Google+ thread where we discussed it in some detail – sparked a lot of interest and thought!  When I wrote  and published it, I was really concerned about the indirect effects of those frustrating meetings on my students and on me.  I was very tired when I came home on Monday, but my tiredness didn’t stem from the hard work I’d done in that morning session with my Latin-teacher colleagues.  It came from a whole series of frustrations later in the day:

  • A whole-group session that seemed completely purposeless (“listen to the webinar and take notes so we can discuss it ” turned into “Oops, we don’t have time for the discussion – or the end of the webinar”)
  • A series of school-based meetings that were clearly as frustrating for the presenters as they were for the recipients
  • Comments from colleagues about the (perceived) indignities they’d suffered in their morning sessions
  • A strong sense that my colleagues were near the breaking point of frustration as (from their perspective) they kept being asked to “do more and more things.”

If anyone had time to make the bigger picture clear , that frustration might have given way to appreciation for the well-designed new tools that were being presented, a toolset that could significantly reduce their workload and increase their sense of accomplishment.  But unfortunately there “wasn’t time” to reveal the big picture.  So the perceived message wasn’t “these are helpful tools to decrease your workload.”  It was “these are things you’re being made to do because The Boss says so, and they’re hard and confusing and take a lot of time.”

Even folks who really like authority would dislike that message!

So I was afraid my students would suffer – not from anything direct or intentional, but because they’d start their day with tired, overwhelmed, frustrated teachers.  It’s hard to set a positive tone when you feel that way, and all too easy to set a negative tone.  I was afraid that negativity would infect my late-morning and afternoon classes – and that fear left me feeling tired, negative, and frustrated.

I’m glad I was mostly wrong!

As it turns out, it was a very pleasant day in my face-to-face teaching world, despite a few negative moments.  And I think it related to my own use of authority and initiative.  I can’t control or directly influence my colleagues‘ attitudes, but I can create a positive emotional tone in my own classroom.  And as Laura Gibbs pointed out in her Google+ comment, sometimes that’s enough.  I can’t control my students’ prior experiences, but I can take initiative – and use the positional authority I have as their teacher and the relational authority I’ve earned with them – to defuse toxic situations early.

So I did.  And as Stephen Covey pointed out years ago, when you focus on your Circle of Influence – the stuff you can actually control – your influence grows.  But when you focus on your Circle of Concern – the things that bother you, but that you can’t really do anything about – your influence shrinks.  That’s what happened in my classes on Tuesday, and I’m deeply grateful.

On Tuesday morning, I felt constrained by fear, but by the afternoon, hope and gratitude were restored.  Fear is a powerful emotion – and when it overwhelms us, we focus on the unknown, uncontrollable “stuff” in our Circle of Concern, decreasing our power and influence at the very moment when we need them most.  And fear also encourages us to hold on to old forms of authority and to punish or ignore those who take initiative in new, different ways.

But the only way out of fearful situations is through – and as several people pointed out to me Tuesday afternoon, we already have the resources we need; we just don’t know what they are.  (More about my afternoon in tomorrow’s post; this is getting kind of long!)  What resources do you see for addressing the vital, but fearful issues you face?  And how can you bring your authority and initiative to bear?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Wednesday was a good, but fairly uneventful day in my face-to-face teaching world.  Surprisingly uneventful, in fact, because the morning brought our annual Community Service Fair, when representatives from all sorts of community organizations come and talk with students about volunteer opportunities.  I was happy to see how engaged and serious my students were as they visited the tables and talked with the representatives, and I was also happy that the modest amount of gamification that someone added a few years ago (a “community service passport” that gets stamped by a representative from each organization) wasn’t interfering with most students’ intrinsic interest.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m suspicious of artificially-imposed game mechanisms! […]


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