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I had breakfast with a dear friend the other day, and he said something that really hit me hard. He was talking to me about his first job as a principal at an elementary school. As a new principal, he had to observe all the teachers in his building. He was observing a teacher one day…and this lady had been a teacher in this particular school for 15+ years.
She was a pro. The kids and parents LOVED her.
As he was observing, he noticed the kids were super engaged with her lessons and he could tell they genuinely loved being in her classroom. However, he got distracted by how the desks in the room were structured (or not). Some kids were at desks…some were sitting on the floor…some were standing. But, there wasn’t any consistency or structure with the desks, and it bothered him.
So, he made a note to ask the teacher about it. Her response was simple. She asked him, “Were the kids learning, you think?” Yes was his reply. “Were the kids happy and engaged in the lesson?” Again, yes was the reply. “So, is there really a problem?” He left her classroom a little perplexed and didn’t know how to feel about her response.
He went to his mentor, who happened to be his boss, and told him about the exchange with this teacher. His mentor then responded with a conversation about principles and preferences. The principle in this instance was this: kids were learning, kids were happy. Overall, parents were happy…and this teacher consistently had high academic outcomes with her students. The preference of how kids were to be seated was just that – a preference of sitting at a desk…or on the floor or whatever worked for that kid. The principle of any issue should be your focus. Are kids learning and happy? YES. Then, who the heck cares if they’re sitting in a chair or wiggling on the floor? Don’t start a battle over a seating arrangement…totally NOT worth it.
So, I try to apply that to my own life. What are those things that we get hung up on that REALLY are more preference-oriented? I prefer to get to the office early and hunker down before everyone arrives. My colleague prefers to come in late and stay late. We still get it all done, check in with each other, and I’ll go out on a limb and say we are a high performing team. We get things done. Period.
I prefer to have lunch in my office and work straight through the day. Others like to have a break. I prefer to use a written notebook, while some colleagues like to use a digital version on their phone or tablet. We are all wired soooo different. At the end of the day, I’m interested in working with people who care about substance versus style.
In other words, if the end outcome is the same…it shouldn’t matter about how we all get there…it’s that we actually got there that matters! And… for those of you who have staff that have a hard time accepting substance over style, it may be a good time to have a conversation about keeping their eyes on their own paper and just focus on their work versus how everyone else does theirs.