Leading with Empathy

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Often schools can be difficult places to lead. There are so many demands on our administrators and there are constant conflicts and struggles in the lives of staff and students. It is even more conflictual with all that has happened with the multi-dimensional impact of COVID-19. It is important that schools be a safe place for staff and students and that takes intentionality on the part of its leadership. 

In a recent article in Edutopia, Paige Tutt provides information to administrators in how to build a school culture that prioritizes understanding the experiences and perspectives of others in their school. Here are some excerpts from this article:

Empathetic leadership, born from an authentic understanding of teachers’ needs, is an essential component of expert school leadership. It’s a mindset that principals and teachers say should inform decision-making and help establish a schoolwide culture of purpose and respect.

When Darcy Bakkegard’s assistant principal delivered especially insightful feedback during a mid-year class evaluation,“it was a transformative moment. I had no idea I was especially good at something as a teacher,” Bakkegard recalls. “She not only forced me to reflect on what I had done, but also helped me become even more strategic about what I’d always done on instinct. She helped me to believe in myself as an educator.”

At the Friends School of Baltimore, principal Steve McManus hones his empathy skills by teaching one class each semester, writes Elizabeth Heubeck in an article for Education Week. It’s a practice that, while tough to fit into his administrative schedule, allows McManus to keep his “practical teaching skills sharp,” connect with students, and “build trusting and empathetic relationships with teaching staff,” Heubeck writes. It’s also a rich source of information for the leadership decisions McManus makes throughout the school year.

For many principals, of course, taking on a class each year may not work but you might consider teaching a class every few years. Meanwhile, there are other ways to build the skills of empathetic leadership. We scoured the Edutopia archives and found an inspiring set of ideas.

The article suggests 6 helpful ways for leaders to create empathy in their school environment.  Here is the link to the rest of the article.

I think the points are well conceived and may help our leaders help teachers and staff to become more attuned to their needs and the needs of their students. The role of our school staff is so important to the growth and lives of our students. The empathy of leaders may be a catalyst to help create healthy environments for those who teach our children.

Gerry Vassar


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