Exceptional Feedback

14 Tips for Mastering “Crucial Conversations”

Leaders should be exceptional at giving and receiving feedback. The problem is, leaders aren’t trained or coached in how to do it. It is one of those areas, though essential to the role, that is just assumed and expected. Here are 14 observations on feedback from my experience as a consultant and Head of School:

Resisting Feedback

  1. Feedback is too narrowly framed around fault finding. That is why it is generally thought of as negative, painful, and something to be endured in schools. Expanding the conversation around why we do it is critical. Why do we do it? To grow in wisdom. We receive feedback because we cannot grow in wisdom without listening to and learning from people who are wiser than we are. We give feedback to help others become wise. Start with why.
  2. Giving and receiving feedback must be normalized in your culture (at all levels). At my school, we called it “warm and cool feedback.” Give your people a why and then give them the tools and language to do it well.
  3. Americans are bad at feedback. Generally speaking, so are Christians. We fumble all over ourselves, qualifying everything and apologizing profusely; we over talk and fragilize people. We have to work on it in order to be effective. Prioritizing feedback should be critical to your aim as a learning community.

Understanding the Nature of Feedback

  1. Giving and receiving feedback is tied to a host of other skills and dispositions we are not trained in (such as really careful, thoughtful listening). People bring suitcases full of assumptions and experiences into conflict and conversations about their character and performance. Let’s be patient and empathetic. The results you have in mind may take much longer than you think. However, that does not mean you have to tolerate poor performance. Sometimes we think we are being gracious when we really are being indecisive or fearful about what needs to be done.
  2. As it turns out, teachers engage in feedback every single day in their work with students. So, investing time to get it right will not be time wasted. In fact, being on the receiving side of feedback is very instructive and formative when it comes to giving it.
  3. Feedback is much more about relational wisdom than it is skill. Can the person hear what you are saying? Do they feel cared for, understood, and part of the process? Are you listening and adapting as you discern what is happening in the conversation?
  4. As mentioned above, we talk too much when it’s time to give feedback. We take too long to say what needs to be said. That makes it confusing for someone to walk away with clarity – the one thing they need to actually improve. In delivering feedback, you talk too much because you’re uncomfortable, not because you are profound. Pay attention to what is happening in your body when you are in these situations so you are not overly influenced by emotions. Learn to manage what is going on so you can focus on the right things, not just making yourself or the other person feel less awkward.
  5. You may be one of those tell-it-like-it-is people who congratulate themselves for saying what no one else will. These folks are equally uncomfortable with conflict, they just displace the discomfort with vibrato instead of sheepishness. People in this category come across as obnoxious and emotionally tone deaf to others. Such a leader is the last person anyone wants to confront, only reinforcing their false beliefs.
  6. What you believe about people in general (and the person you are giving feedback to specifically), has a profound influence on how truly invested you are in their growth. For example, Maxwell says, “believing the best in people usually brings the best out of people.” But, some of us have a hard time “believing the best in people.” We only see the things we are concerned about and then we look for those things to show up.

Listen, Listen, Listen

  1. More on listening – one man said, “Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” Listening will give you almost everything you need to provide meaningful feedback and to help the person invest in their own growth. “Caring for people must precede confronting people.” (Maxwell).
  2. Likely, the thing keeping you from being proficient at feedback has nothing to do with feedback itself. If you’ve been in a situation where feedback has gone wrong, which is all of us, you are probably overcorrecting. Just look at your own parenting. There are many character-related issues embedded in feedback. Knowing yourself well will keep you and others from blind spots.

Becoming a Student of Feedback

  1. Ask yourself hard questions: Do I avoid feedback? How do I deflect it? Do I know why? When are the times it has gone well? Why? Be a student of feedback.
  2. Like everything else, you need a feedback loop about your feedback skills. After you do it, ask for honest input. Model how you want the person to receive feedback as you listen.
  3. Is feedback helpful if 80% of it is inaccurate? Can you grow from the 20%? Or, if 80% is delivered with a bad tone? Yes, if you have the maturity and humility to receive it.

Most of the areas in which you want to see growth are anchored in one’s character, not merely competence. Seek wisdom to become exceptional at feedback.

The Talent Landscape

Chris Hornsby

Coaching Call Info

December 9, 2022, 11:00 am EST

Finding the right leader can transform a school. Yet, finding the right leader is not easy at all. The number of qualified Heads and other executive level administrators is shockingly low. What happens when, not if, your school comes in need of top leadership at your school? Even though leadership changes and transitions are inevitable, many schools are unprepared to lose any of their key administrators. Eric Cook, SCL President, will be joined by Mr. Chris Hornsby, partner with Carter Baldwin Executive Search, to discuss how schools can position themselves to attract and retain the very best talent. Eric and Chris will also discuss the need for leadership development and succession. 

About our Speaker

Chris Hornsby, Carter Baldwin Executive Search

Chris leads Carter Baldwin’s faith-based K-12 education practice, where he conducts Superintendent, Head of School, and President searches for independent Christian schools, both traditional and Classical, educational ministries of churches, and university-model Christian schools. He has developed a broad network of professionals and gained a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities their organizations face. With this industry insight, Chris is able to ask the right questions, identify the right candidates, and provide the right counsel to clients through all phases of a leadership transition.

Not So Fast

Prudence and patience are inseparable. This is not good news for people like me, but it is true. Here are a few reasons why these virtues are inextricably linked:

  • Prudence is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. Timing and telos matter. It takes a remarkable amount of restraint and self-control to let a weighty decision come to you as a leader without scurrying rushedly towards an outcome. And yet, that is the one thing we want to do!
  • Josef Pieper says that “prudence includes above all, the ability to be still in order to attain objective perception of reality.” Practicing thoughtful deliberation and giving due consideration to the issue at hand – being still – requires patience.
  • Virtually every vice Solomon contrasts to prudence in Proverbs is linked to impatience: impulsivity, hastiness, vengeance, etc. We are far more inclined to act foolishly when we are operating on a false deadline and an amplified emotion.
  • Prudence and patience, biblically, are both acquired by a careful consideration of creation (Psalm 1). This may seem odd, but as William Dyrness points out, we “are born into a world and a narrative” that we “did not begin and we will not complete.” Adjusting our lives to this reality is “a condition of maturity.”
  • All of these points mean that our perception – what we see when we face complex decisions and situations – is a function of our heart and character. We must constantly be reorienting ourselves to the truth of things and make our decisions accordingly. I think this is what Paul is saying in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” 

Hope and prayer will recalibrate our perspective and give us patience. Good decisions will follow.

How Do We Become Better People?

Friday, April 15, 2022
1:00pm ET / 12:00pm CT

How Do We Become Better People?: Battling Screens for Our Imaginations

How do we become better people? How do we, as educators, raise up a generation that deeply loves what God loves – creating a faith so dynamic that it tangibly governs our lives and the choices we make?

Reading great literature isn’t just for mental push-ups, it is to engage living stories with powerful, influential narratives that shape how we see ourselves and the world around us. If we are ever going to compete with the world of screens, it is through great literature. And it is ultimately through the renewal of our stories and our imaginations that we gain the perspective and encouragement we need to be more like Christ.

Join us for an engaging conversation with Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson as she shares from her new book: The Scandal of Holiness-Renewing your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints along with a book out in May: Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts & Minds That Came Before.

Whether a school leader or a classroom teacher, join us to reignite your faith and catch a glimpse of what Jessica will offer at this summer’s conference.

Register Now

About our Speaker

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas
Jessica Hooten Wilson is currently serving as the Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Dallas. She has been a teacher for almost two decades, starting at Covenant Classical School, and teaching in the Baylor Great Texts program. Along with a group of friends in Siloam Springs Arkansas, she founded a K-12 classical school. She is the author and editor of six books, including the award-winning Giving the Devil his Due: Flannery O’Connor and The Brothers Karamazov, and most recently The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints.

Attention Deficit Crisis Disorder

Tuesday, April 5, 2022
1:00pm ET / 12:00pm CT

Coaching Call Info

The pain is real. ADCD is a plague to school leadership. One crisis gets resolved and then another pops up, so our plan for the day gets wrecked and we end up playing “Whack-a-Mole” trying to stay slightly ahead of the game.

But that’s no way to lead educators!

Our influence is too important to allow ourselves to burnout on a constant barrage of “emergencies.” In this coaching call, we will share some techniques to consider for overcoming ADCD and staying focused on what matters most.

Register Now

About our Speaker

Scott Barron, CRO of School Growth LLC
Scott Barron is an educator, entrepreneur, and author recognized as a leading voice advocating for and encouraging educators in their calling and influence. He serves as the Chief Reinvention Officer of School Growth LLC and the Executive Director of Educators Fellowship. Scott earned his M.Ed from Johns Hopkins University, along with a B.A. in Religion and a B.S. in Computer Science from Mars Hill University. His combination of experience as a school head, business leader, EdTech advisor, college instructor, author, and executive coach gives him a unique perspective to encourage and elevate those who educate.

Shepherding a Successful Leadership Transition

Coaching Call Info

All school leaders, every one of them, will serve in their roles for a finite period of time. Is your school prepared for this reality? Do you have a plan in place that ensures a successful transition of your Head of School? Division Heads? McKinsey consultant Scott Keller reports that “studies show that two years after executive transitions, anywhere between 27 and 46 percent of them are regarded as failures or disappointments.” However, when transitions are well planned, not only can it go well, but there can be an increase in morale, execution, and even employee retention. Every school can take some simple and practical steps to prepare for the inevitable reality of leadership transitions and do so with wisdom. This coaching call explored these topics and addressed attendees’ questions about leadership transition.  

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About our Speaker

Eric Cook, President of SCL
Eric previous served as the Executive Director and Board Chair, Eric has been formally associated with SCL for over a decade, and he will soon transition full-time in his role as SCL President. Eric has served for 12 years as the Head of School at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX. Prior to Covenant, Eric served as the Head of Upper School at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, VA.

A Lexington, KY native, Eric earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from Transylvania University and a master’s degree in Instructional Leadership from Northern Kentucky University. Eric worked in schools in Ohio and Virginia before joining Covenant in 2009. He has taught history, political science, psychology, and philosophy in public schools, and served as an assistant principal for several years.

In 2006, Eric felt called to join the classical Christian school movement and became the Middle and Upper School Head at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his leadership roles, Eric has taught apologetics, theology, philosophy of religion, and served as a thesis director. Eric and his wife, Liz, have six children. Eric enjoys reading a good book and playing a round of golf in his free time.

Ancient Hinges: How the Classical Virtues Inform Transformational Leadership

The cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice were espoused by Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius long before Christianity formally adopted them. Through the classical influence on the scholastics, Christian scholars like Thomas Aquinas and poets like Dante Alighieri came to understand the immense value of these virtues. If 2,000 years of scholarship has defended these virtues, we would be wise to take note. Drawing from his own research, D. Michael Lindsay argues for a renewed understanding of everything the cardinal virtues have to offer us in fulfilling our own callings and in shaping the lives of the next generation of leaders.

D. Michael LIndsay

Award-winning sociologist and educator D. Michael Lindsay is the eighth president of Gordon College, and an expert on religion, culture and leadership. In his book, View from the Top, Dr. Lindsay reports the findings of his 10-year Platinum Study, the largest-ever, interview-based study of organizational leaders – including former presidents and CEOs. Since his appointment to President of Gordon College in 2011, the school has experienced banner years in terms of enrollment, fundraising, financial strength, campus diversity, sponsored research, athletic success and faith expression. He regards these gains as evidence of a winning team. He also serves on the boards of Christianity Today and the Veritas Forum.

Leading the Team

How can you help raise teacher and student engagement? How must your approach differ between creative types and educators? Come explore the challenges many schools face and nd some answers. We’ll discuss how to harness the creative spirit in your school and examine strategies for follow-through.

Andrew Smalley

Andrew Smalley is the Director of Fine Arts at the Regents School of Austin in Texas. He came to the United States from England, his native country. Andrew has served in a number of administrative capacities in schools and takes leadership development very seriously.

Generative Governance and Effective School Leadership

Most schools have made the transition to governance in providing leadership and direction. Yet, even in schools that have made this transition, many continue to struggle to become strategically oriented and almost none advance to the level of vision-casting and mission-driven decision-making that Chait, Thomas and Taylor call “generative governance”. The purpose of this presentation is to share how Providence Christian School in Dothan, Alabama, has begun to utilize a tri-modal model for fiduciary oversight, strategic planning and generative governance that makes it possible to connect the school’s vision with its decisions and make it more effective and dynamic.

Emory Latta

Emory Latta is married to Debbie, and they are the parents of six grown children and the grandparents of eight beautiful grandchildren.

Calling Our Students to Lead: A Leadership Class for High School Students

Classical schools beautifully prepare students for a lifetime of learning. Classical Christian schools interweave that scholarship with discipleship. Such graduates are well-prepared to continue their studies at the university level and to flourish as lifelong learners, employees, parishioners, artisans and more. But are we doing enough to explicitly call and equip our students to lead? This workshop will explore the goals and design of a leadership course for students that aligns with the ethos of classical Christian education, equips students to be active and thoughtful members of their local communities and offers a model for schools to consider as they develop their own programs.

Sara Kennedy

Sara Kennedy is a graduate of Mary Washington College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She has served as a scheduler, special assistant and writer for numerous campaigns and elected officials. From 2006 to 2009, she served as the Marketing Director for the Tianjin International School in China. Upon her family’s return to the United States, Sara worked for the Attorney General of Virginia prior to beginning her role as the Director of Communications at Veritas School in 2012. For several years, Sara also served on the board of the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute, which inspired her work to develop a high school Christian leadership program.