Don’t get caught up in dualistic thinking (Opinion)
Dualistic thinking is when we see our world as one or the other, good/evil or negative/positive. What we do know is that this type of thinking can cloud our judgments and often make us feel like we’re not good enough. Dualistic thinking on the part of school leaders who believe that management is bad and instructional leadership is good usually resides with those struggling to cope during COVID. And that creates stress for them, both professionally and personally. It doesn’t help if district leaders also have the same type of dualistic thinking, because that creates undue pressure to develop leaders.
Let me give an example of the pressure leaders feel.
The other day I was at a coaching session with a manager I admire. I’ve been training it for a few years, but not the way you probably assume training works. Too often people view coaching through a dualistic lens, where the coach asks lots of questions, gets the coachee to think differently, and inspires the coachee to change a habit.
This is not how good coaching works. When I walk into each session, I develop criteria for success with those I coach and go there as a learner, not just the person who is expected to embrace new and creative ideas. To be completely honest, I often come into a coaching session without creative ideas, and the criterion for the success of the session that we build together is when I find inspiration and creativity.
For full disclosure, the success criteria involve developing our learning objective for the session. I often ask, “What do we want to learn from this meeting? Or I ask, “When we’re done with the session, what do we hope to have learned during this one?” I made a 3 minute collaborative leadership video on the topic of criteria for success, which you can find uploaded here on YouTube.
In the discussion with this principal, we were going back and forth with a conversation focused on learners who can assess. Hattie often refers to assessable learners as: “When students know how to learnthey are power become their own teachers. They are students who can assess their own learning and understand where to go next.
The conversation felt like a respectful yet engaging game of tennis, where we highlighted some recent research we’ve each read and how it relates to students in her school community. He has his favorite researchers, and I certainly have mine. We talked about similarities and differences, and through the conversation he mentioned something surprising.
He confided that he doesn’t always feel like an instructional leader during COVID. That’s because he doesn’t have time to practice instructional leadership with all the challenges of contact tracing, updates on safety protocols, coverage of absent teachers due to the pandemic, and the countless other management problems he faces daily.
And then I realized he needed an intervention. Dualistic thinking leads us to believe that management is bad and instructional leadership is good. What matters is the balance, and sometimes this balance is impacted by our situations.
You are the
I know the subtitle above doesn’t sound “revolutionary”, to quote Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”, but it is important. Too often leaders feel pressure to be an instructional leader, which I don’t discuss because I understand the importance of how instructional leadership contributes to guided tours, learning journeys, and formal observations. more impactful. Leaders need to spend quality time in this space.
However, what is important here is to focus on the here and now. Sometimes the reality is that management is the most important action leaders can take at any given time. Without management, there will be open classrooms and schedules that will increase chaos and anxiety instead of alleviating them. Management is about checking people in and making sure they’re okay.
In You are the, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the power of being present in our given situations. Strangely, this relates to the constant struggle leaders feel when engaged in management, as they generally believe they should be engaged in instructional leadership.
We need to master this as a profession, because to truly focus on wellness and mental health during the pandemic, one of the actions leaders need to take is to understand that the actions they take are the ones that are probably the most needed at this time. They need to be present in the situation they find themselves in, because those situations most likely require their best thinking at the time, even if that thinking is that of the manager as opposed to the instructional leader.
Ultimately, both hats, along with the countless others that leaders wear, impact student learning in one way or another.
Try this activity when you have a minute to breathe. In the image below I have “3 beliefs” written in the middle column. On the left side I wrote “Instructional Leadership” and on the right side I have “Management”. Write down three beliefs you have about learning, students, school, or education. What are your three beliefs? Maybe they even coincide with the three reasons you went to school in the first place. On the left, begin writing the instructional leadership actions you are taking that help you stay connected to these three beliefs. On the right side, write down the management actions you take that help you connect with these three beliefs. Edit as needed, and when you have the right wording, hang it next to you on the wall for the next time you feel bad about getting into management.
At the end
Too often we assume it’s either or. We think dualistically when it comes to instructional leadership versus management. The reality is that leaders need to understand that it’s not the style of leadership that’s most important, it’s how you present yourself to your tasks that’s important.
Obviously, leaders want to try to practice instructional leadership as often as they can, but they also need to take the time to understand that these management tasks may be closer to instructional leadership than they first thought. .
If you feel comfortable, tweet your beliefs using the hashtag #3Reasons.