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April 21, 2021

An Ed Leader’s Guide: Be Demanding Without Being Demeaning

This school year has stretched educators in many ways. The result is educators are tired, worn out, but they also have grown. The challenge is this growth is not consistent across our country, let alone our same district and sometimes not even in the same school. Great schools exist because there is a shared understanding that all staff are committed to levels of excellence. This blog post looks at how all educators can help hold each other accountable so we are demanding without being demeaning.

Education leaders must identify within their districts and schools the Levels of Excellence they desire to aspire to daily. These items should be focused on our purpose: importance of relationships, learning, and collective efficacy. The exact words or phrases will vary but most likely are linked to:

Effort – each person giving their personal best for every student, every day.

Attitude – each person leads with optimism and assumes positive intent by others.

Behaviors – each person understands the importance of modeling appropriate behaviors. 


It’s important we create an environment that supports helping each educator hold each other accountable, while allowing our students to experience growth and success.

Ways to hold each other accountable: 

  • Modeling is a powerful example 
  • We cannot take ourselves too seriously, but we can take our work seriously
  • We can be demanding without being demeaning by:
    • Be willing to lean into conversation and speak up 
    • Asking questions that cause the person to think about their actions
    • Sharing an example from your viewpoint that contradicts the other person’s viewpoint

When a staff member falls back into a comfortable, easy and ineffective routine, teacher leaders must be willing to have the hard conversation with that specific colleague. Yes, this should be done by administrators too, but often administrators are not in every conversation to have that dialogue. It also empowers educators to help set the tone of their building when they take ownership and pride in their work. Hard conversations sound like they should be negative, but they don’t have to be. In many instances these discussions can be approached by simply asking a question or sharing a personal experience that is similar to their challenge. This allows the educator to be reminded of the shared expectations for excellence for the school/district and redirects the colleague back to the targeted focus. Below are the types of questions or comments teacher leaders can use to help redirect colleagues when they lose sight of their purpose:

Feedback for people who have failed: 

  • Let’s discuss the process, not the end result, so we can learn from what happened.
  • How did your choices (in your effort, attitude and behaviors) affect the outcome? What might you do differently next time?

Feedback for people who are struggling with something:

  • You’re not alone. I have struggled with this too but I found success when I…..
  • You’re not feeling successful yet, but I do see how this is helping. Remember that it takes time to make progress.
  • How can I help you with this challenge?

Feedback for people who don’t try:

  • You haven’t gotten started yet — anything I can help with?

Feedback for people who succeed with standards of excellence:

  • You should be proud of the effort you’ve put into this. Remember where you were when we started? 
  •  I appreciate your time, effort, and enthusiasm on this.
  •  Let’s talk so I can learn from your work on this, which will help me with ….

This last year has been unlike any other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. Leaders must keep common principles in front of them so they can focus on growth and supporting others. One of these key principles is making sure we are developing teacher leaders who can help hold each other accountable to standards of excellence.

The guidance mentioned above will help educators navigate through a busy spring and have a positive impact to help their school have a great year. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. 


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