Collaboration Can Go Smoothly Even Among School Leaders with Different Views

From Abbott and Costello to Lucy and Ricky, there have been many unusual duos throughout history. They clash, they’re opposites, but somehow they are perfect for each other.

At our small college preparatory school with around 750 students, my co-leader (let’s call him Joe) and I are the only assistant principals. Unlike larger schools where there are multiple assistant principals overseeing different departments, Joe and I wear many hats. Running a building involves a multitude of tasks such as managing departments and grade teams, curriculum and instruction, safety and supervision, progress monitoring and data analysis, compliance, community workshops, outreach, showcases, budgeting, operations, and overall management.

We divide these roles and responsibilities between the two of us, with some overlap. This means we each juggle a significant workload. On top of that, Joe and I are polar opposites in many ways. We both share a passion for education and value innovation, collaboration, and the growth of our students, teachers, and school. However, Joe excels in organizational systems and has a diplomatic leadership approach. He pays meticulous attention to detail and prefers a more introverted communication style. As a former teacher at our school, he already has established trust with the staff.

I, on the other hand, came from a different building and district. When I started working at our school, I had to build new relationships from scratch, which presented some challenges. I’m also an extrovert who wears my heart on my sleeve. I have a theatre background and thrive on engaging conversations. I have a keen sense when it comes to instruction, and my leadership style is more participatory and hands-on.

Given our vast differences, the question is: how did we make it work? Joe and I found a formula that has helped us navigate our contrasting personalities and work together effectively. This formula enables us to embrace our differences, appreciate each other’s strengths, and find a rhythm that positively impacts our school.

Regular One-on-One Meetings

Joe and I dedicate a specific time each week to work together, just the two of us. Before the school year starts, we coordinate our schedules and select a time and date. Then, we prepare an agenda for our meeting and make sure to address everything on it. Sometimes, we need to carve out additional time to cover topics we didn’t get to during the scheduled meeting. Just like in any strong relationship, consistent communication is key.

If you’re unsure how to establish a routine like this, reach out to your colleague and suggest setting up regular meetings. Offer to collaborate on the agenda. Find a time that works well for both of you. Use inclusive language like “It’s important for us to make time to communicate, think, and work together” or “Having a touch point during the week would greatly benefit us.”

Engaging with Relevant Literature

Leadership is a continuous practice, and reading literature in the field plays an essential role. My co-leader and I share what we’re reading and try to incorporate insights from the literature into our work. We approach this as a mini book club, considering the value of our time and the demands of running a school.

We choose a piece of literature that is thematically relevant to our work and agree to read 10–12 pages by a certain date. We then have a discussion about what we’ve read together. These conversations are rooted in the literature but are also organic and provide us with a space to reflect and collaborate. Sometimes, our best ideas come from these discussions rather than strictly following our predetermined agenda.

Some of our top leadership reads include: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Future Leader by Jacob Morgan, and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.

Embracing Radical Candor

In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of challenging others directly in order to show that you deeply care. Adopting this approach allows my colleague and me to have difficult conversations. It demonstrates that we care not only about the school, staff, students, and families, but also about each other.

When approaching uncomfortable conversations, you can combine care and directness. For example, you can acknowledge the effort put into a difficult decision and then express openness to working together to find alternative solutions. It’s okay if we don’t always agree or like each other’s decisions. It’s healthy to express this and, in fact, necessary for our leadership growth. We know how to put our differences aside and rely on each other’s strengths in complementary ways.

Engaging in direct communication with a commitment to radical candor facilitates this process.

In the words of Lucy from “I Love Lucy,” “Ever since we said ‘I do,’ there have been so many things that we don’t.” This quote carries humor because it’s true – no partnership, whether in marriage or co-leading a school, is without flaws. Despite our differences, our ultimate goal remains the same: to provide the best opportunities for our school and every individual within it. So while there may be numerous things that “we don’t,” putting the “we do” first is always our priority.

That is the heart of our work.

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