Patience for School Leaders, Coaches, and Educators | Steve Barkley


Human hand writing patience on whiteboardI found two articles about patience that caused me to ponder connections. The Harvard Business Review posted Becoming a More Patient Leader by David Sluss and Empowering Parents posted 4 Steps to More Patience as a Parent  by Denise Rowden.

The Chambers English Dictionary defines patience as, “the quality of being able calmly to endure suffering, toil, delay, vexation or the like; sufferance and patient as sustaining pain, delay etc. without repining: not easily provoked,: persevering in long-continued or minute work: expecting with calmness.”

Some commentators have suggested that patience is not a single virtue, but a combination of others, including:

  • Self-control, to be able to control our own reactions to the situation and endure it without complaint.
  • Humility, to accept that you are no more important than anyone else, and there is no particular reason why you should not wait.
  • Generosity, to smile at the world even when it seems to be conspiring against you.

Sluss shares that “Leading effectively — especially during a crisis — takes patience. If you can’t retain your composure in the face of frustration or adversity, you won’t be able to keep others calm. When your direct reports show signs of strain, you need to support them, not get irritated. Solutions to new challenges usually take time to put into practice.”

Rowden states that patience “means keeping your emotions in check so you can respond appropriately and effectively, rather than yelling, cursing, or saying things you will regret later. We all have limits to how much we can tolerate. This doesn’t make us “bad” parents. It makes us normal parents.”

Progress, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.
Samuel Smiles

Here are some strategies to increase patience:

  1. Awareness. Sluss and Rowden both point to a common first step in increasing our patience. I would call it “awareness.” You need to recognize when your patience is most likely to be tested. Do you notice ways that your body responds when you are triggered? Rowden speaking to parents says, “As specifically as possible, try to identify when you are most likely to lose your patience. Where is it most likely to happen? With whom? For example, do you tend to lose patience early in the morning, late at night, or whenever there’s a time constraint.” If you know a challenge is coming, you can be more mindful about increasing your efforts to stay calm.
  2. Planning and Reflection. Rowden recommends having a game plan: pre-planning strategies, in the moment strategies, and follow up. Knowing that the time after school and after work is extra stressful, what can we plan in advance as processes or guidelines (pre-planning). When a trigger is present, can I consciously step into the take-a-breath step (in the moment). When the dust has settled, reflect together if possible. Each party can examine their accountability, apologize if warranted, and plan for future strategies (follow-up). Sluss suggest that gratitude may increase our ability to be patient. He points to research in experimental psychology that identifies when people feel more grateful, they are better at delaying gratification and are more patient. Reflecting on what is going well during a crisis or what you have learned or have the opportunity to learn can support patience in your response.

    Personal Photo: Take a Walk

  3. Self-Care. Parents and leaders need to recharge themselves in order to model patience for children and staffs. Cathey Stamps writing in 5 Keys to Leading Through Uncertainty stresses the importance of self-care.

“Take care of yourself (so you can be of service to others.) While this may seem simple, it is still a critical fact of life and business: teams will not succeed if leaders fall apart. Leading though uncertainty requires energy, so make sure you get what you need to bring your best self to the situation each day.

Key Actions:
• Start with the basics, such as taking good physical care of yourself.
• Create space to clear your head and change your internal energy through mental breaks, reading non-work-related material, and listening to music.
• Seek support from peers, both inside and outside your organization. Slow down enough to think and plan before moving directly into action.”

School leaders and instructional coaches should be modeling and coaching patience. For starters, encourage your school leadership team to observe and provide feedback to each other. Let each other know when impatience is visible in our words and actions with each other or with staff, students, or parents. Impatience is natural and normal. Being aware can allow for conscious actions that support wellness.

Consider patience as a topic for a staff meeting. Perhaps sharing a piece of this blog or one of the linked articles. Communicate that impatience is a natural response to many of the situations that staffs are addressing. Explore how staff can support each other in executing conscious, patience-building practices.

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