In times of crisis like this, it is not unusual for a Head of School to be the recipient of anger and criticism. I imagine that many Heads of School are presently receiving remarks and critiques and challenges that seem unhelpful and even hurtful or unfair.
I’m reminded of a moment in my career when I was in such a position. At a time of change and crisis for the school, a group of angry parents came to the Board of Directors to state their grievances. Their concerns and complaints were, I felt, aimed at me, the Head of School. I could feel my face turning red as I struggled to control my emotions and not react defensively. At that moment, the board member seated to my right reached over, laid his hand on my arm, and whispered in my ear, “This is not about you, Peter.”
He repeated those words and that gesture several times over the course of the meeting, and it really helped. I was able to relax a bit and see that he was absolutely right. Most of what they had to say was an expression of their own anxiety, channeled through misunderstandings of the school’s mission, or Montessori, or both. It was really about them, and not about me.
As I think about the unprecedented times we are in right now, and I listen to my friends who are Heads of School talk about the anger and fear and criticism they receive at times from staff and parents, I’m reminded of that board meeting, and an analogy occurs to me. The Head of School is like a lightning rod. A lightning rod attracts the lightning but doesn’t hold onto it — it diverts the electricity harmlessly to the ground. In this way, the lightning rod actually protects the building, preventing damage or a destructive fire.
In this crisis we are all sharing at this moment there is a thunderstorm of anxiety boiling above our heads, isn’t there? Nearly everyone in our community is anxious. As the leader, we may attract the electricity of fear and even anger. We may not like being the lightning rod, but we are actually offering protection by diverting the energy from the school and its staff.
How can we serve our school best? By not taking it personally or holding on to it, but by letting it harmlessly pass by – but only if we remind ourselves over and over again:
Hang in there, dear friends,
Your Peter Davidson