George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

4 Ways Administrators Can Cope With Tough Feedback

School leaders need to have tough skin, but feedback can still be hard to take. Here’s how to gain perspective and learn from it.

April 23, 2024
fizkes / iStock

This comment was written in an anonymous staff survey over 10 years ago, but I still remember it today: “I think she doesn’t dress professionally enough.” The rest of the survey feedback was productive, was positive, and gave me a sense of what to focus on next. But do you think I remember any of that? Nope. 

That’s right. Even as a seasoned administrator, I totally got caught up in those unhelpful comments from the cheap seats instead of diving into the useful feedback that could’ve boosted my leadership game. I basically just sat there, soaking in the suckiness of it all.

Of course, I’m still figuring out whose voices to listen to and whose to tune out. Amid this ongoing struggle, I’ve gleaned valuable perspective that helps me expel negative, unproductive thoughts and instead channel my focus toward aspects that enhance my leadership capabilities.

4 Ways to Stay Grounded and Grow From Feedback

1. Admit that sometimes you get it wrong. There are occasions when feedback doesn’t feel great but is necessary for growth. For example, maybe you sent out unclear communication about an upcoming event or change in the schedule… or you inadvertently forgot to send something out at all. Or maybe you promised students that you would attend an event but got double-booked and had to let them down. Or maybe you planned a professional development that fell flat, leaving teachers bored and frustrated. 

It’s all right to acknowledge when things aren’t going perfectly. By embracing vulnerability and being authentic with yourself and others, you create a space where negative thoughts lose their power. One way to start this is to share your challenges and fears with trusted colleagues or mentors—it’s amazing how much lighter you’ll feel.

2. Seek support and perspective. It’s essential for school leaders to have a support network they can turn to when facing negative thoughts. Whether it’s colleagues, mentors, or professional networks, having someone to talk to can provide valuable perspective and support. Sometimes, simply discussing challenges with others can help leaders gain new insights and approaches to address them.

Feeling alone or in your own silo? Try connecting with leaders through a professional learning network via social media. Some of my most influential support systems don’t even share my zip code. What matters is that you are seeking the support you need to continue to lead through the weeds. Brené Brown introduced the concept of the “Square Squad” in her book Dare to Lead, highlighting the significance of a select group whose opinions truly hold weight, rather than the cacophony of voices clamoring for attention. This core support system can serve as a valuable checkpoint, encouraging you to pause and seek perspective before impulsively sending that snarky email. 

3. Focus on solutions and growth mindset. So when someone writes that you don’t dress professionally, how do you let it go?

No really, how?

Your mindset matters, and when you start to shift your focus from dwelling on problems to seeking solutions, you will see an improvement in your mental health and capacity to lead. 

Emphasizing a growth mindset can help leaders see challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than insurmountable obstacles. When you get stuck, try reflecting on questions like, “What can I learn from this situation?” or “What steps can I take to address this challenge?”

4. Find joy in everyday moments and focus on your why. Remember why you chose to be a school leader in the first place. Whether it’s a deep-seated passion for education or a desire to make a difference in your community, reconnecting with your “why” can reignite your sense of purpose and drive. Keep your vision front and center, and let it guide you through the challenges and setbacks.

While it’s easy to focus on what isn’t going well, it’s equally important to reflect on what is. Let’s not forget to celebrate the little victories! Take a moment each day to find joy in the work you do and the progress your school is making. Every morning I start my day by writing down three things that went well the day before and three things I am looking forward to during the upcoming day. Whether it’s a student’s “aha” moment or a team member’s innovative idea, these small wins can fuel your positivity and keep those negative thoughts at bay. 

Our greatest learnings can be found in some of our mistakes; the challenge is taking the productive pieces out of the experience and letting the rest go. By implementing these strategies, school leaders can effectively manage negative thoughts and maintain their focus on leading their schools to success.

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