Clarity and a Kind Voice

communication compassionate

by Aubrey Patterson


The scenario you're about to read is all too familiar, but are you fortunate enough to know someone who leads like Carla?

Like a Duck

The day is just beginning. The telephones are lighting up as people fill the office, needing attention.

Line 1: A teacher is calling in sick.

Line 2: An angry parent.

A whimper and crying eyes staring up: A little one is seeking an ice pack.

A tap on the shoulder: The new teacher is asking where to find a student’s file.

This would be an incredibly eventful, and potentially chaotic two minutes for most.

Carla politely puts the teacher on hold and pages the assistant principal; offers a kind greeting and exquisite manners to a slightly confused and well-meaning mom; gives a hug and an ice pack to poor little Michael (while offering a silent thank you to her principal for the phone headset); and gives wide eyes and a smile while mouthing, “just a sec” to the teacher waiting for that file.

With every action and word, Carla communicates compassion, confidence, and a sense of calm.

Feedback is measured not at your mouth but at the other person's ear. - Kim Scott

Staff and families are used to Carla’s superpowers. What they don’t see is that her mind is churning full speed and she is simplifying and clarifying with deeply ingrained habits.

Like a duck swimming in a busy pond, Carla is completely cool, calm and ready on the surface, but so much is happening underneath. Such confidence and composure doesn’t just magically happen; they result from many consistently practiced and refined habits.

Clarity and a Kind Voice

There is one requisite skill for all of us who'd like to more frequently lead like a duck in difficult situations: a kind voice.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If everything happened smoothly, this wouldn’t be a challenge. But when many interactions are laden with emotion, urgency, and coming at inopportune times, using a kind voice in every moment can be a daunting task.

Luckily, opportunities to practice a kind voice are very frequent in a school and repetition creates habits :

A mom new to town calls about her first child going to school and anxiety is just dripping off her first few words.

A student with a scraped knee is in need of some motherly love and a bandaid to make it all better.

Grandma frantically calls with “Sally didn’t get off the bus at her stop!” She needs calm and kind reassurance: “More than likely Sally fell asleep on the bus after a fun-filled day. Please give me a sec to check with the driver for you.”

Suzy comes running through the office doors and anxiously blurts “Am I late? My mom didn’t wake me up!” . She is greeted with a smile and a “Well, I am happy you are here today!”

Each gracious interaction strengthens our ability to call upon our kind voice in other moments. Every wildly busy snapshot of time holds within it an opportunity to calm the waters, exercise a kind voice, and get a bit better prepared for the inevitable next time.

When clarity is delivered with a kind voice, we leave and model a positive wake that washes over the entire school community.


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