On ‘Should Have’…

I’ve spent a decade in public education as a teacher, department head, administrative intern, assistant principal, and district administrator. One aspect of those roles were teacher observation and inter-rater reliability (IRR) walks. The basic tenet of IRR was for all administrators to be closely calibrated so that a walkthrough from DeShawn was not different than an observation from Garret. During IRR, we walked through teachers’ classrooms in a groups of 5, practicing the observation process- taking notes vigorously while we observed what kind of work students we engaged in, listened for key words in conversations, and watched the movements and interactions within the room.

Once we were finished in the classroom, we went back to a conferencing space and scored the session based on our notes. At this time, there would be a discussion and debrief to help us as administrators ‘get on the same page’. Without fail, someone who was in a leader role would say some version of this while debriefing: “What you SHOULD have noticed while you were in the room was…”

That always struck me as odd. I may have been deeply involved observing an interaction between the teacher and a student in a small group, or having a conversation with one of the students about the work they were doing, or jotting down some notes about the task I had just witnessed and maybe I missed the specific item that the leader was reciting at that point. Why should I have noticed that?

Here’s why: It’s easy to tell people what they should have seen. It’s easy to assume that we are seeing things from the same angle at the same times, paying attention to the same words. I’ve found that managers tend to engage with ‘should haves’. Leaders tend to engage with questions. Empathy is difficult. It’s difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes because you have a different lens that you are looking through. Vulnerability is difficult. It’s difficult as a leader to recognize that someone else in the room may have a valuable experience to share.

The most impactful leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with recognize that it’s not always their voice that needs to be heard for them to lead. The most impactful leaders recognize when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to step back. The most impactful leaders recognize that you can get much further with a question than a ‘should have’.