I say it often, collaboration is one of the most frequently used words in education and, in some ways, the least taught. Our ability to collaborate and our willingness to engage respectfully with one another matters for the health of the school and the collective well-being of all within it. This article continues my 6-part series on ways we can individually develop ourselves to become an even better teammate to others.
In previous articles, I focused on the key concepts of engaging with reciprocity, being respectful to all and building our skillset to do so, as well as knowing our identit(ies), to better know your assumptions, blind spots, values, and beliefs and how they impact our work with others, and suspending certainty, maintaining an open mind; listening without defensiveness to another point of view. Building this type of skill set is in service to being “good company” to your teammates and supporting the vision and mission of the team.
To continue the journey of growing (up) and becoming an even more effective professional also requires another skill set, the ability to take responsibility for the “what” but also the “how” of your communications.
What It Is
Why It Matters
What It Looks/Sounds Like
Taking ownership for your part of a work product.
Owning your language and behavior during interactions with yourself and others.
Working as a partner and collaborative teammate in solution-focused conversations.
Taking ownership of your personal and professional development.
Honoring a commitment to developing one’s profession and field of work.
Integral to the organizational health of a workplace and to being an effective colleague and productive team and community member.
Strengthens the group as an individual, answerable and accountable for what is within their power including choice of language, behaviors, actions, and communications.
Supporting the profession and leaving it better than one found it acknowledges the important work of the field.
Sharing requests, decisions, concerns, disappointments, and grievances in productive ways.
Speaking with care and candor to those below, equivalent to, and above on the organizational chart and using solution-oriented mindsets and language.
Sharing feedback and apologies with others in authentic ways.
Acknowledging others who make a positive difference in your work.
Crafting a professional development map for yourself based on your needs in the workplace and hopes for your career.
When we are at work, we know we have responsibilities for specific tasks, and we understand we are accountable for our job description and our work product. This is what might be called in the vernacular, “doing your job.” And what doesn’t get talked about often enough is beyond just the “what” of our work; it’s the “how” of our work.
We need to take responsibility for how we communicate with others; how we move from just “getting by” to “going the extra mile” or from just following the letter of the law to going above and beyond and following the spirit of the law. We need to take responsibility for how we handle our emotions, how we respond to others, and how we express ourselves. All of these actions are within one’s sphere of control. We can take responsibility for ourselves in these ways.
Supervision and evaluation of our work are done by someone external to us. Taking responsibility for our communications is an inside job, related to reliability and a strong awareness around contributing positively to your team at a high level.
Here are two key concepts that shape the facet of taking responsibility:
- OWN YOUR NEED TO IMPROVE
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said, “Each of you is perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.” As a lifelong learner, the commitment to disrupt your way of thinking and to seek perspectives beyond your current frames of reference is an expectation. Your responsibilities include stretching yourself and asking, “What do I have the responsibility to learn more about?” For example, a board strategic plan initiative may push you into growing your skill set around a given set of strategies or curricula. Or you may be pulled toward personal growth as you recognize a gap between what you know and what you want to know about your subject or your ability to support students. You work within a system, and you have your own career trajectory. Learning in both realms is necessary. A thought such as, “I am retiring soon, so why bother?” doesn’t align with developing this facet. Learning is continual until the end, and you are always a work in progress.
Yet, we don’t want to forget the first part of Suzuki’s quote, “Each of you is perfect the way you are.” So, isn’t it right to be proud of yourself and your skills? Isn’t it okay to toot your horn at times? To self-advocate? The answer is, “Yes, and…”
You should recognize your strengths and share your knowledge and you need to stretch, reflect, and refine your craft. Yet, as challenges arise and changes happen, past learning may not always be enough. If we do not evolve and adapt, we succumb to entropy. We are not able to do what’s right for our communities. So yes, share your knowledge and do so without shame. And yet, with pride also have humility. Promote yourself and live up to the top of your job description. Model that proving yourself is always improving yourself.
- SPEAK UP THOUGHTFULLY
When you see a change that could be helpful in a situation, speak up. Is someone asking for feedback? Offer productive thoughts. What would be helpful for others to know, and how might you say what you want to in a way that someone will hear it? Make your words humane and growth-producing. Do you notice the group isn’t hearing from all members? Mention it as a request that would support the group’s learning. Do you recognize that you might have overstepped? Apologize. Work on your ability to speak up, and to speak up with respect, tact, and consideration.
Question to ask yourself as you work on taking responsibility:
- Do I speak up when I need help? When I see a way to improve an outcome?
- Do I take responsibility for apologizing when my impact isn’t helpful?
- Do I take proactive steps to grow in the ways I need to in order to contribute more productively?
- Do I recognize that I control how I speak to others, however challenging a situation, and I use humane and growth-producing conversation techniques?
- Do I notice when I need to “emotionally proofread” my comments so what I said can be heard?
In the next column, we’ll look at the concept of building resiliency, ways to work on your own emotional and psychological hygiene so you are healthy for yourself, and you are healthy for others. We are always works in progress, stretching at our learning edges.
Formerly a high school English teacher and a new teacher coach, Jennifer Abrams is currently a communications consultant who focuses on adult to adult communication in schools. Her publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigeerational Workplace: Communincate, Collaborate and Create Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked - the Whos, Whens and What Ifs and Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her newest book is Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work.
Internationally, Jennifer presented at PTC, TTC, EARCOS, NESA, ECIS, AISA, AMISA, CEESA, and Tri-Association conferences, and at schools across Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and North America. More about Jennifer’s work can be found at her website, www.jenniferabrams.com.