Feedback sucks when it hurts. We recently received our feedback from our mid-year, district required survey. You can read some of the feedback below.
“Stop trying so hard to impress your superiors. Try a little humility, you’ll get more mileage than trying to be popular. You don’t have enough experience to teach someone else how to teach.”
“This VP can sometimes come across as unprofessional. He has a good heart and is trying, but sometimes is trying too hard.”
“I understand that you had a very short teaching career before going into administration; perhaps you would be more empathetic and supportive of the people you work with and for you if you had taught for a longer amount of time.”
“Mr. Hudnall sometimes comes across as arrogant. Remember we stuck it out in the classroom, you didn’t.”
“Take a deep breath and remember what it’s like to be a teacher.”
When I first read these I was hurt. My chosen profession of administration is something I love. I absolutely love my job. I am striving to improve as much as possible and have always welcomed feedback. But when it is almost personal and questioning my integrity in doing my job, it cuts to the bone.
So why share these comments? Why open up myself and be vulnerable? A few reasons honestly. One, I am finding it cathartic to write about my experiences, both positive and negative and I hope to learn from this feedback and see through it to what I can change. The next reason is that my wife and I have been reading Brené Brown’s books and recently watched her special on Netflix. She is a shame researcher that talks a lot about vulnerability. She said:
When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again”—my gut reaction is, “What a badass.”Brené Brown
In a nutshell, this is why I’m writing the post. I am standing fully in my truth, getting knocked down. Yes, it hurts, but my career is really important to me and I’m going in again. As an administrator, I am always vulnerable to those with which I interact. Whether it be parents, students, or faculty. I am in a profession that has public scrutiny and that forces me to be vulnerable as I am exposed to the public eye constantly.
Is there anyone that does not need to navigate uncertainty and risk on a regular basis? To be alive is to be vulnerable; to be a leader is to be vulnerable every minute of the day. You don’t get to opt out.”Brené Brown
The most interesting part of the feedback is that of the 32 comments I received there were 27 of them that were positive. If there were so many positive comments, why is it that the negatives ones affected me so much? Why are they the only comments that I can remember? In a piece called Bad Is Stronger Than Good, research showed that “bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
Can you remember the last compliment you received? What about the last criticism? I bet if you’re like me, you can recall the criticism much easier than the compliment. It is the same for me with the feedback results. How can only 6% of comments have a greater affect than 94% of the comments received? I can’t quote from the positive comments, but I can tell you exactly what was said in the negative ones. In the book The Progress Principle, authors Steve Kramer and Teresa Amabile have found that “the negative effect of a setback at work on happiness was more than twice as strong as the positive effect of an event that signaled progress. And the power of a setback to increase frustration is over three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration.”
I did receive one feedback that was oddly specific about my appearance and it said, “Get a haircut!” That was it, nothing else. So I listened to it and got a haircut. Yes, I was growing out a buzz so it was the awkward length, but odd to receive nonetheless. But yes, I am listening and I have proof in the photo below.
While talking to my wife about the feedback she brought up a quote that Brené Brown uses and it really struck a chord with me. The quote is from Theodore Roosevelt and it’s titled, The Man In The Arena.
I’ll include here typed out in case you are reading on mobile and it’s too small in the image to read.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.Theodore Rosevelt
I am putting myself out there with my faculty and striving to be better. I am reading and learning in order to improve my skills as a leader and as an administrator. By doing this I am putting myself in the arena. I am subjecting myself to the possibility of dust, sweat, and blood. Because of that, there are occasions that I do get beat up and get bloody. But I care too much to stay out of the arena. Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? No. Brené Brown says that “vulnerability is terrifying and it’s dangerous and scary, and the only guarantee I can give you is it’s not as terrifying or as dangerous or scary as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves, what if I would have shown up?” I don’t want to have to ask that question in 30 years because I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. “And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”
A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”Brené Brown
I can’t stop caring what people think, nor can I stop the hurt feelings because then I am no longer vulnerable. When I received this feedback I went to the administrators that I know and care about and asked for their take on it. Because as Brené said, “if they aren’t in the arena with me getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” These administrators are in the arena with me and they are getting beat up. Their comments were insightful and helped me put it in perspective. They helped me see what I can learn from them and what I can do to move forward and learn from them. And that is exactly what I am going to do, learn from these comments and stay in the arena. Stay fighting for what I believe is right.
Have you received negative feedback before? What have you done with it? How has it affected you? Comment below and let me know!
Stewart, thank you for the blogs, especially this one. Having had the opportunity and privilege of working with you as classroom teachers. I have seen first hand your passion for the profession and your desire to improve the process. I hate the surveys as much as I hate online bullying. The anonymity removes the civility we all have the responsibility to show as PROFESSIONALS. i myself, have not liked or even agreed with everything that has been expected or ask of me by admin, but at least I have never hidden behind anonymity to make a personal or professional attack on any of them. Carolyn every year reminds us of the 80-20 rule. 80% of what is said on surveys can be thrown out as pure crap, the 20 percent can help if there are patterns seen. Keep up the good fight Stewart! I will gladly and proudly stand in that arena with you, and have your 6!
Thanks Sam! I remember my years at Riverton fondly. Some of the best. I too try to remember Carolyn’s 80/20 rule, thanks for the reminder.
You are a bad ass! Keep up the fight. Its worth it!
As a teacher looking forward to an eventual career in administration, I enjoyed this post. I struggle with accepting the negative criticism (especially from parents and often my administrators) gracefully. I try to learn what I can from it but the way it is shared leaves me exhausted sometimes because the job itself is so exhausting! But I love the point you make through the Brené Brown quotes (also love her) that if you choose to be brave you are choosing to be uncomfortable. I used to know that (and feel it and live it) as an educator in Utah, but education is so different here in Texas I am struggling to retain the feeling of courage I had.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I am going to ponder these this summer as I gear up for another year of classroom teaching, and a future career in administration.
I really admire and respect the vulnerability you chose to show in this post-it’s never easy to do. I’m very empathetic as well about the response to negative feedback, although in my opinion, your colleagues need to improve somewhat on being constructive.
Well said! You need to be in the trenches to know what it takes to walk in those shoes of the one that’s in the arena. Keep up the good work and just listen to the constructive criticism! I have been criticized multiple times and yes it HURTS! It hurts because when we act with integrity and passion, and when we do things with good intentions and people don’t recognize it and don’t extend grace, it HURTS! I have learned over the years that those comments don’t define who I am. Those comments don’t define you either… stay strong!
I love this post, but at the same time it pissed me off. To think that we have these kind of judgmental and unappreciative faculty members at Herriman disturbs me. Professionals should be able to express themselves in better ways than the examples above. It is nothing more than throwing negative and judgmental darts at people that are working hard in their behalf and simply put, are unproductive. I sure would like to see a few of them spend a year or two in the shoes of administration. I think hard conversations are great to have, but to hide behind anonymity and make childish accusations is not the way. Me personally, I thank you for your service and enjoy working under your leadership. Stuart Kearsley