I don’t talk about my job much on here, but I participated in a great activity at work this week that has been sitting on my conscience for a few days. I work for the Office of English Learners for Metro Schools (big district in Nashville), and my job title is ELD (English Language Development) Coach. In a nutshell, my job is to support EL teachers in their quest to better support English Learners. I do quite a bit of faculty training and also one-on-one mentoring and coaching.
This week I was in a 4-day training (as a participant, not the trainer) and we did this activity called Compass Points. Everyone in the room had to decide if their collaborative working style was North, South, East, or West.
North: Acting – “Let’s do it;” Likes to act, try things, plunge in.
South: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been taken into consideration and that their voices have been heard before acting.
East: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
West: Paying attention to detail —likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
A poster for each style was posted in the four corners of the room and you had to go to the style you are and discuss/present your style with the other people in your corner. I had a really hard time deciding because I see elements of North, South, and West in me. I ended up going to South because there were only two people there, and I am always afraid of hurting people’s feelings. Such a people-pleaser!
But when the North group talked about “Northerners,” I couldn’t help but think I might better fit there. I am definitely a “jump-in” and “let’s do this” type, and I know there have been many times that I have focused more on the task than on the people. For example, once when I was teaching high school ESL, a teacher stopped me in the hallway and asked if I was mad at him. Confused, I said no, of course not. He said that I hadn’t greeted him in the mornings lately like I usually did. The truth: I was just thinking about what I had to teach or get done that day. He had done nothing to offend me; I was just more focused on my task than on connecting with a person. It’s happened when I’ve presented, too. Once I was co-presenting to a large group, and I gave a rather cold answer to a question a teacher asked. I got knocked on that in my evaluations, too. What had happened? I was more focused on the message I needed to get across than the feelings and motivations behind the teacher’s question.
Honestly, I think most of my work gets done in one-on-one conversations with teachers. I can present all day long, but the times I’ve really felt effective have been when I’ve taken time to really listen to someone’s struggles and concerns. Education is a world of information; there is always some new research or some new initiative coming down the pike. Yet education is also a world of people, people with feelings and hurts and trials and frustrations and aspirations and joys. And we can’t sacrifice the people for the information.
Once I had an encounter with someone who came off as a little haughty. It really bothered me, and instead of trying to understand where she was coming from, I just judged her and sort of checked her off. Several months later, I happened to be in a conference room with her cleaning up after a training. She had just had a really difficult day and she actually opened up to me and shared some really personal feelings. My previous judgment of her melted away. This was a person. A person with feelings.
Moments like that lay the foundation for my work. When I treat someone as a person and not just an information-receiver, it builds trust. So later, if I give a suggestion for an English Learner, they will probably take it because that trust and mutual respect is there.
The key is for me to remember all this. Like I said, most of the time I’m a “Northerner” and I just want to dive into the project and get it done. I tend to lack the patience to listen to others’ ideas. I just want to finish things. I need to keep in mind that the people I work with are more important than the message or task at hand. We all need to be recognized for our humanity.
*If you want to use the Compass Points protocol, you can find it here.