Perception vs. Reality

When I began teaching, it was very clear that my undergraduate training had not adequately prepared me for real world teaching. That’s not meant to be a slam against the university; I don’t believe any university program can really prepare you for what you face as an educator. The same was true when I finished my administrator program.

My first three years as an administrator were full of lessons I had to learn, some easy and some much less so. Even though some of those years were the most difficult I’ve experienced in my career, I’m thankful for that experience to set me up for my current role.

One of the hardest but most useful lessons I’ve learned in my administrative journey is that reality doesn’t matter. I’m sure that sounds strange, so I’ll explain. In probably at least half of my conversations with other people (parents, staff, or students), the only thing they care about is their own perception of what really happened. For them, their perception is reality. I can try to explain what actually happened, but what is often the most effective is smile, apologize, and let them be heard.

One time this came up this year was when we sent surveys to families and staff. While the feedback is often positive, there are definitely some criticisms, particularly if the surveys are anonymous. On one particular survey, we heard from several parents that our administrative wasn’t responsive enough with our communication, particularly email. Some members of my team took offense to that. And while it may or may not be true, the fact that multiple families believe we don’t respond quickly enough says we have a problem to fix.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes, the truth really does matter. Investigations that ultimately result in consequences for students or staff rely on accurate information. However, I’ve noticed that in the course of the investigation, different versions of the “truth” often emerge, most likely because our own “truth” is shaped by our own experience and views about the event.

A big part of this has to do with letting go of being right as an administrator. This was a hard lesson for me to learn and one I still struggle with from time to time. I’ve apologized for a great many things that weren’t my fault or weren’t actually done wrong. But that’s what the situation called for at the time. Because ultimately it’s not about me, it’s about helping them move toward a resolution.

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