Debbie Brown
Director, Research,
Learning & Development
STEP, LLC

With only a few weeks left in 2020, educators are likely feeling stretched thin. I remember experiencing this energy dip each year when I was a principal as I helped my staff navigate the hectic time before winter break.

This year, that weight may feel heavier. Along with learning new processes and platforms, staff have faced continual change as learning environments have shifted from virtual to in-person to hybrid and back again, and their energy has been sapped.

I feel for everyone in our schools: students, parents, staff. And I particularly empathize with administrators, as they strive to provide rigorous and engaging learning environments for all students while supporting their school community through constant change.

As an administrator, you are often looked to for all the answers. Your staff places their trust in your ability to guide them through challenging situations. With the unknowns caused by the pandemic, the answers may be unclear, which contributes to greater pressure.

From research, we know that when we experience stress, our bodies produce cortisol, which has a cascading effect. Not only does cortisol heighten our blood pressure and create agitation, it also impacts our body’s ability to produce oxytocin, which is responsible for social behaviors like trust and empathy.

In a time when energy is low and stress is high, trust in one another is paramount as we work together to address unfamiliar situations, and it’s physiologically hard to do so when we’re under pressure.

In our Administrator Facilitator Certifications, we often talk to leaders about how they can use the Emergenetics® Attributes to recognize their own motivations and to use that perspective to navigate difficulties. As you support your staff during a particularly challenging time this school year, I invite you to incorporate self-reflection into your daily practices to manage stress levels and create a more supportive, trusting environment.

Four Reflections to Pause and Reset with Staff

Reflection Question #1 – Where is this reaction coming from?

When you are in a stressful situation or asked to implement significant changes as many administrators are today, pause and ask where your thoughts and emotions are coming from. If you have an Emergenetics Profile, consider how your preferences may contribute to the feelings you experience. If you don’t have a Profile, consider the statements below to see which ones resonate most with you:

Pie with preferences for Analytical and Structural thinkingConvergent Thinking (Analytical and Structural preferences)

You may be concerned about the reasoning and the why behind an action as well as how to address the situation through clear, actionable next steps.

Pie with preferences in Social and Conceptual thinkingDivergent Thinking (Social and Conceptual preferences)

Your response may be motivated by a concern for who is impacted as well as the what if’s and future possibilities.

Pie with preferences for Analytical and Conceptual thinkingAbstract Thinking (Analytical and Conceptual preferences)

Your reaction may be emanating from your desire to understand why something is happening and imagining the what if’s and future implications.

Pie with preferences for Structural and Social thinkingConcrete Thinking (Structural and Social preferences)

Your emotions may derive from a desire to have a clear understanding of how to address the situation as well as who is being affected.

Two talking bubbles iconExpressiveness is defined as the outward display of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

You may be feeling challenged by the way information was conveyed as well as whether you had time to process internally or engage in a discussion with others.

Car iconAssertiveness refers to the pace and style with which you advance thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

Consider the style and speed at which you are being asked to implement or react to the new direction. Does it match your preferences?

Arrow on sign pointing in different directions iconFlexibility helps us understand our willingness to accommodate the thoughts and actions of others.

Even those in the third-third of Flexibility may need time to adjust to new developments. How much recovery time do you need to adapt to the situation you’ve been presented with?

Reflection Question #2: What insights can you gain from this self-understanding?

Now that you have considered some of the factors that may be driving your reaction, consider what patterns, actions or behaviors could contribute to a more positive or negative response. Jot them down to help your sensorium process and retain the information.

Reflection Question #3: How might someone else react to this experience?

Demonstrating care for others enhances relational trust, which is so important to maintain during difficult, volatile times. Consider how your team members may respond to a situation by revisiting the combinations of thought and Behavioral Attributes listed above as well as the Emergenetics Profiles of your staff.

Reflection Question #4: What are some intentions you can set to support yourself and your staff?

Administrators often find themselves in a position of flexing to support staff, and staff can also flex to support administrators. Ask yourself – and your team – what does each preference need to enhance trust and increase understanding as they are faced with new developments?

Specifically, I recommend that your team reflect on the questions below that do not resonate with your preferred combinations of thought or Behavioral styles. You can then use these questions to shape new behaviors to better support colleagues who may have different preferences than you.

  • Convergent Thinking – How am I providing rationale with a detailed plan?
  • Divergent Thinking – How can I leave space for collaboration and innovation?
  • Abstract Thinking – How am I delivering logic and vision?
  • Concrete Thinking – How am I providing details and including others in the process?
  • Expressiveness – How can I give time or opportunities to process internally and externally?
  • Assertiveness – How can I effectively communicate the pace required by our approach – either calm and steady or fast paced?
  • Flexibility – How can I provide the recovery time needed for individuals in each third of the Flexibility spectrum?

The simple act of self-reflection can help you take pause so that you are mentally, emotionally and physiologically more equipped to set aside stress and respond in a way that honors your needs as well as your team members. By encouraging your school community to reflect, expand their perspectives and set intentions to better support themselves and others, you can foster an environment of trust and respect that will help you overcome today’s obstacles.