Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

October 5, 2016

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

I read comic books. I’ve read them since I was in the first grade and, though I tried to give them up my freshman year of college, the effort to “grow up” didn’t take. I have moved into the 21st century in my collecting and no longer buy physical issues, but purchase my comics electronically and access them via my iPad. Pretty cool stuff.

batmansketchOne of the major tropes in traditional, superhero comic books is villains do bad things that heroes have to address. What works out great for the heroes is that these bad things villains do normally happen in sequences. The Joker causes Batman trouble for a few issues, then Two-Face, then the Riddler. Rarely do they overlap in their assaults.

How kind of them. It gives good old Batman a chance to recover from one crisis and plan for the next.

I have found in my career that rarely are the circumstances of crisis so kind. I never got to choose when the crisis hit.

When the waters are troubled, when things challenge our institutions, when tragedy comes or bad things happen, inevitably our students, families and colleagues look around them for stability. They look around them for leadership.

They look to us.

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

It’s not just about having crisis plans though, if you don’t have them, you’d better get them put together quickly and, if you don’t have an ongoing process of review, you’d better develop one. Crisis plans are important, without question. However, they are steps in processes. They are ladders to climb and guidelines to follow. They help center and routinize and react.

They don’t help lead.

Bracketing the debate about whether leaders are born, not made, there is little doubt that most good leaders share similar qualities and one of those is preparation. Most good leaders are prepared and they are ready.

But how can we be prepared for what we don’t know is coming?

There are ways.

Leaders anticipate events. They anticipate the good but, perhaps more importantly, they anticipate the bad, the challenging, the tragic. When good comes, it’s smiles all around. Good is an easy place from which to lead. Bad, on the other hand, is not. It is a challenging place from which to lead – perhaps the most challenging. Teachers who anticipate the cheating, the loss of their own cool, the bad behaviors in their classrooms are not surprised when these things (and others) occur. They are ready because they knew they were coming. Administrators who know they will have to dismiss employees, confront their own errors in judgement, handle difficult parents and other negative scenarios do not collapse from their shock at having to address these kinds of events because they anticipated them.

In order to be ready for crisis, excellent leaders visualize what’s coming. What will it feel like when a student directs their negative energy at me? What will it feel like when a teacher has such a terrific lapse in judgement that they have to be dismissed? What will it feel like when there is a death in our community? We can think through specific events before they happen. And we should.

Athletes and actors rehearse. They learn their parts and, through the exercise, they improve. Why do we not emphasize this sort of activity for ourselves? We can role play events before they happen. In schools, we are going to confront terrible events and we can name the scenarios: discipline issues in our classrooms, irrational staff members, irate parents, suicidal students. The list is significant. How much better might we be at handling these issues if we brought together other leaders in the schools and played out these scenes. Have someone play the role of the teacher whose lapses in judgement require probation or dismal or have them play the unhinged parent or the grieving family. Have them take on the character of a social worker coming to the school to interview a kid or of a kid who’s reporting a sexual assault. Do what you can to make it seem real. Don’t let the crisis be the first time you’ve considered what you will say and how you will be effected – how you will react. Role play the challenges of which you can think. In this way, you face the issues before they come and work through them.

I wish the crises I face were more like the Joker, Two Face and the Riddler. I wish they came on predictable schedules and were heralded by maniacal proclamations. My crises are not like this and I am not like Batman.

What I can be and hope, more often than not, I am is prepared. If we anticipate, visualize and game plan, we can lead through crisis even though we don’t get to choose when it hits.