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Apr 15

Chris Smeaton

Dissatisfied not critical

Last week, I read the LeadershipFreak blog, “Being Dissatisfied without Becoming Critical.” I’m a great fan of the Leadership Freak but this post has haunted me ever since I read it. A leader, a teacher, even a parent has that same challenge. We are all dissatisfied with something or somebody, but the key point is to turn that dissatisfaction into a positive change rather than viewing it as destructive criticism and failing miserably. It is my belief that true transformation of the education system is being thwarted because we often see dissatisfaction as simply being critical and therefore, our fight or flight reactions take over.

Educators are typically either thin skinned or thick headed, and for many right reasons. The thin skinned comes from everybody and their dog telling educators what they need to do, to be better. Most of these “suggestions” come from non-educators whose only “expertise” comes from being a student, usually a long time ago, and comparing it to a business model that seldom works in “real” school. Don’t get me wrong, we need outside lenses but not everyone should be negative. The second reason we tend to be thin skinned is that every ill in society is either blamed on schools or at the very least, the cures are expected to be accomplished at school. For example, childhood obesity is not a school problem. Most often we deal with the symptoms of the problem but we do not create the problem. Finally, thin skinned comes from a lack of respect of the importance of educators in our North American society. “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach!” is not very complimentary. Not every educator deserves respect but there are far more that do than don’t. I can understand thin skinned but I have no tolerance for thick headed! “Been there! Done that!” or “This too shall pass!” are expressions we should never hear from our educators. In fact, those engaged either through actions or words in that sort of mentality should not be in education any longer. Systems, schools, the profession and students don’t need anymore ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) Warriors or CAVE (Continuously Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers.

Now the question is, “Have I expressed dissatisfaction or have I become critical?” Probably a little of both! And that is why leadership especially in a culture of change is so daunting. Relationships are so essential in moving change forward that often leaders want to “sugar coat” their real feelings of dissatisfaction so that it is not perceived as being critical. We need to acknowledge the great things occurring in our systems and celebrate. We also need to accept that we are not perfect and allow ourselves, without becoming defensive, that there will always be things to improve upon, hence dissatisfaction. Leaders need to applaud efforts in making changes happen even when they are dismal failures. And then, recognize dissatisfaction to ensure that we try and get it right the next time or the next time after that.

I’m very proud of the system that I lead. I believe that we have some of the greatest teachers, administrators, staff and students anywhere. Although I continually “brag” about the work being done in our system, I am still not satisfied. I’m hungry for more! I want all of our students being successful! I want all of our students to be engaged, safe, included and always feeling loved and supported. Truly, should any of us feel satisfied until that dream is realized? A number of years ago, my dissatisfaction cost my family and I greatly. In my position, I can understand the impact on me, but I will never accept the negative impact on my family. While some may argue that I had become critical, the truth depends on your point of view. I know that I entered this profession to make a positive difference in the lives of students and until I can achieve that, for all students, I will be dissatisfied. I may be able to better communicate my dissatisfaction today but…

Change requires us to be dissatisfied! And dissatisfaction needs to be viewed as a positive, a precursor to making things better. It needs to be embraced and enhanced. So the next time you have to share your dissatisfaction, communicate it thoughtfully with respect and when you hear dissatisfaction, respond to it positively with respect too.

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