We can learn so much from just taking the time to listen.
In today's ed world, it's not uncommon to hear the words "buy-in" thrown around education tables or written in educational blog posts. Every time I hear these words put together, I want to grab them out of the air and throw them away. The truth is, if we need "buy-in" we must not be listening in the first place.
In education as in other professions most shifts in practice, changes in the way the work is done, or new initiatives, are set in motion as a result of a system challenge, a detected problem, or new information. The best decisions that are made are made through careful listening and responding (not reacting).
We're Not in Sales
When I was in my twenties, I went to purchase a car. As I walked around the lot, a salesman approached. "Can I help you?" he inquired.
"Do you have any blue cars like this one?" I asked pointing at the model I hoped to purchase.
"What?! You're going to be picky about color?" he blurted.
Well, we were done. I was buying my first new car and if I wanted to be picky about color, I was going to be picky about color.
Fast forward, a decade or two (okay maybe three), and I stood on a different car lot (never went back to the other one ---- and I've bought a lot of cars since then) admiring a white car they had showcased. The salesman came over to ask, "Do you like white?" Okay, there's some great irony here, but I'm a little put off that he asked me about the color first.
"I'm just checking out this car," I answered. I really wasn't in the market for a car, but I couldn't help being drawn in by all the bells and whistles this car had for its price. I went back to looking at the car's interior, reading its information, and then stepped back to take a bigger look.
"I think you do like the white," his voice interrupted my thinking.
The truth is, white is my least favorite car color --- and now I have a lot more criteria when I am car shopping.
Salesmen want to sell us something; maybe they want to sell us something we don't even need.
Leaders shouldn't be salesmen, but servants who serve the people they work alongside --- this never should require "buy-in."
In education, people lead from a variety of places. The most important work is done in classrooms alongside children. In listening to professionals closest to the daily work with learners we can discover much. What works? What are the challenges teachers are working through? In my work, I have the gift of being beside teachers to listen. I work alongside teachers in classrooms, sit beside literacy coaches as they grow conversations, attend team meetings as teachers discuss student work, join professional learning opportunities, engage in conversation, and work to really listen to my colleagues. Educators know what is working, what is hard, what is needed. If we listen there are patterns across conversations, ways to support educators with the challenges they wrestle with in their learning communities. This isn't easy work we do --- and it is so much better when we do it together.
Instead of "buy-in," leaders should remember to...
- Listen In: Instead of looking for "buy in," listen in. Pay attention to what people are saying. What's working? What are the challenges?
- Share Information: Communication is essential.
- Be Responsive, Not Reactive: It is easy to look for quick fixes to challenges that arise, but if we are careful to respond instead of react we can have a greater impact.