Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
March 2009

Happy March! I have just started doing workshops with my chapter, “Habits of Mind for the Systems Savvy Leader” featured in Costa and Kallick’s Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. In the section on listening for understanding and empathy I cited that one of the reasons a leader is trusted is because a leader shows others she is a person first and her role second. (Kupersmith and Hoy, 1989)

Being in relationship with a colleague on a personal, not just a positional level is key to getting a job done well. We need to bring not just our positional ear to conversations, but our personal ear as well. We bring ourselves to work every day, all our parts, our childhood memories, our values and our beliefs, and these parts of our identity impact how we live in the world and the workplace. Being able to listen to others as individuals, as well as professionals, is critical for systems savvy leaders. This newsletter will cover just a few ways to listen through a variety of ears and support our colleagues in their work.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Listening Through Both Positional and Personal Ears

Doing For Teachers What They Should Do For Students

At many times, but most definitely at the beginning of the school year, teachers should be doing a pre-assessment of their students. What is your learning style? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What is your favorite subject? What is something you would like me to know about you as a person or as a student? We encourage teachers to learn about their students and use the information to design instruction effectively. Coaches and administrators might consider doing a parallel process with the adults with whom they work. Le Anne Ravinale, Coach for the Center for Right Relationship, suggests colleagues in new work relationships ask questions such as, “How do you like to handle interruptions or changes in plan?” and “How will I know you are upset?” and “What are your pet peeves?” Knowing these personal responses will help greatly as the year unfolds and the work pace increases. Having taken the time up front to increase your personal connection with your colleagues will help tremendously during times of stress or professional challenge.

Listen Under the Complaint for the Commitment

When colleagues come to you during prep time or in the parking lot and complain, start to listen with an ear toward commitment. Kegan and Lahey’s book, How The Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, speaks eloquently about how when we are angry and frustrated with how a decision has been made or a colleague has acted, we are really surfacing a value, or commitment or expectation that has been violated. We might be seething about a colleague’s ‘laziness’ but underneath really sharing our value around bringing our most focused and disciplined self to work. On the surface, we are troubled about deadlines not being taken seriously and at the same time showing others we are committed to follow through and accountability. I have been doing a book study on this text with teachers on special assignment in San Francisco Unified and it has helped all of us listen with more compassion and understanding as we listen for what someone is yearning for underneath all their irritability.

Use A Variety of Lenses

In working with a group this week I asked them to recall a time when they were in an optometrist’s office and she was changing the lenses in front of their eyes as she determined the right prescription for a pair of glasses. The optometrist asks if you see better through this lens, or this one? 1 or 2? 7 or 8? The same can be said for our professional ears. Would it help both ourselves and the person we work with if we tried to hear them through several filters? A generational filter? One that took into consideration gender or race? While some have commented that it’d just be so much easier and far less painful to deal with colleagues if we just did so on the professional level, it isn’t realistic in the long term. We wake up with all of our identities and we bring them to work. They impact our professional decisions daily. Being “all ears” and listening with the goal of understanding and empathy helps the politically literate leader do the work of the school and district more effectively.

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Cool Resources

Check out these great books and films.

  • Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. The good news is it isn’t your DNA that is stopping you from becoming a great performer. The bad news, if you want to look at it that way, is that becoming a great performer takes lots of deliberate practice and tons of immediate feedback.  Not fun, not easy, but doable if you want to achieve.

  • Influencer: The Power to Change Everything by Kerry Patterson and colleagues from VitalSmarts. I used this book as the base of a workshop on influence and motivation just this week.  We pulled out of the text six ways to influence a colleague to change key behaviors. In a nutshell, to be influential you must bring forth personal will, build personal skill, get social ‘buy in’ by the community and create structural change in the institution that makes things easy to get done. 

  • The Class  - This French film by Laurent Cantet was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.  It is the story of a middle school of working-class, African, Arab and Asian Parisians in the 20th arrondissement. It is about issues of race, equity and inequity.  Sad and very real.  While it is in limited release around the country, find it.  Essential for anyone doing equity work in schools.

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

Mar 13
Elements of Instruction &
Protocols for Professional Conversations
Teacher Quality Grant Participants
Governors State University
Matteson, IL

Mar 19
Having Hard Conversations Brown Bag Lunch

New Schools Venture Fund
San Francisco, CA

Mar 20
Being Generationally Savvy

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula
Monterey, CA

Mar 28
Teaching Practices That Create Equity in the Classroom

Beginning Teachers Training
Oakland Unified School District
Oakland, CA


For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleague. You may reprint this newsletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2009 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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