Leading Peace and Harmony

Recently I had the honor of being invited to share some of my thoughts with a group as they were discussing leadership. It was a wonderful opportunity for me as the questions caused me to think deeply about past and current practices and how those align with my core beliefs. Below is a summary of the questions and some of my thoughts, I’d invite you to think about how you would answer these questions.

How do you keep harmony when someone is upset?

Initially, this question invited me to think about harmony between others, but then I was reminded that harmony begins within ones’ self. I reminded the group that harmony begins with listening first, then asking questions for clarification.

How do you calm someone down?

Similar to keeping harmony, I have found that calming people down starts first with me. I try to create a safe space for people to speak about their feelings. I allow people the time to say what they need to say, even if, in the moment, it is irrational or misguided.

How do you get along with your vice-principal?

This was the easy question, one I answered with one word: excellent. I am blessed to be working with an amazing VP whose curiosity and desire to grow everyday lets me to be the best leader I can be. Something I did clarify is that just because we get along, it does not mean we always agree.

How do you talk to people to keep peace?

I explain that, with me, the how comes after the why. Why do I talk to people to keep peace? It’s my belief that everyone wants to be heard, appreciated, and valued. When I talk to people to keep the peace, I believe this allows them to be a part of peace making process which leads them to own the process.

How do you keep peace and harmony in the school?

This question made me think of the importance of modelling expected behavior. If I work on my own peace and harmony, I will be more apt to model this for everyone else in the school. I am a firm believer that the behavior we see in others is just a slight opening in the doorway to understanding. I try to be patient with others and hope this impacts the way other people live day to day in our school.

How do you solve problems with teachers?

I like this question, simply because my initial thought was, how do I work with teachers to solve problems they might be wrestling with? After I answered, the question was re-framed, what they wanted to know was how do I help teachers who are struggling with their own problems? The challenge I face in these situations is turning off the monologue going on in my head. I have to force myself to listen to the teacher and then ask questions to help them build on what has been working, and to help them consider options for next steps.

How do you let other people choose?

I have found that letting other people choose is less about them and more about me. As a leader who constantly battles the impostor syndrome, it can be difficult to ‘let go’, as I fear people might think I’m not capable. What I have found is that the best way to let people choose is to keep asking them questions and providing them opportunities.

How do you get along when you have to share offices?

I loved this question, mostly because it was so unexpected. Our offices are a hub in our school, and I really enjoy the amazing conversations that place there. It is very common to see teachers, EAs, students, and parents chatting with each other about a myriad of topics. I love that my office is located where it is because it is a natural gathering space. I also appreciate how much everyone respects each other, there are times when I need to close my door, and that has never been an issue.

How do you talk with high school students who are rude?

This goes back to just seeing the tip of the iceberg in most situations. Some people feel I give students too much leeway, however I always invite them to speak with me in my office, away from an audience. I try (I’m not always successful) to avoid power struggles with students, especially when they are surrounded by their peers. Most importantly, I let them speak. And speak. And speak some more. By the time they have vented, and let it all out, then we can start the process moving forward. It takes a lot of patience, and I’m not always perfect in these situations, but more often than not, we end our discussions with plans for next steps.

Do you work hard?

I loved this question too! I do believe I work hard, and a lot of the work leaders do goes unseen. I had a great conversation with a teacher and we spoke about the importance of being visible. In my 24 hours each day, I only get to interact with students in their learning environment for 6 of those hours. I need to maximize that, which is why I try to be in the halls and in the classrooms. To some, it may look like I’m just walking around, shooting hoops, dancing with the grade 2’s, or watching kids weld, but to me, that’s an important part of the job. Do I work hard? Yes.

So those were the questions that were asked of me by the curious panel. The topic of how leaders can influence peace and harmony was interesting and it invited me to reflect on the intentional actions I take on a daily basis.

By the way, the panel was Mrs. Smith’s grade 1/2 class, and they formulated and asked the questions all on their own.

So what do YOU think? How would you have responded to their questions?

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen