7 October 2016
5 Tishrei 5777
In the spirit of Yom Kippur and this season of teshuva—reflection, introspection, and repentance—I want to share one way that I recently missed the mark (probably the best translation for the Hebrew word for “sin”) as Head of School and what I learned from it.
Last week I shared a few appreciations and some words of Torah at the end of our Faculty-Staff meeting. I was feeling pretty fired up and, no doubt, went on for just a bit longer than was ideal, as I was the last person on the agenda. These weekly meetings are scheduled to end with just enough time for us to make it to our first class or meeting of the day. But I thought that what I needed to say was pretty important, and it certainly was meaningful to me, so I went over the meeting time by a couple of minutes.
Later that day, I received an email from a teacher with the subject line: “In the spirt of feedback . . .” The email was brief, to the point, and, as good constructive criticism often does, began with positive appreciation. I continued reading… “I have heard some concerns among my colleagues that it feels unacceptable to end our meetings late. In fact, we really should strive to end a few minutes early (so we can be on time and ready to begin our first class or activity of the day).” So simple, so direct, so true.
It is always interesting to observe how it feels when someone gives you feedback about something you’ve done wrong in their or others’ eyes. In this case, I actually did not feel defensive or reactive but did feel some embarrassment and guilt. I knew immediately how my colleagues felt, for I, too, have sat in their seats feeling torn between my duty as a faculty member to be fully present until the end of one meeting and my duty to be on time and prepared for my next responsibility. Here I was sermonizing about becoming our best selves, while, with each passing moment, I was actually making it more difficult for them to do their best work! While I truly meant well, I believe I did not live up to our core value of kavod—I showed a lack of empathy and insufficient respect for my colleagues and their students.
Time is precious, and I can’t give back those two minutes. I did thank the sender of the email for the feedback, apologized to my colleagues, and committed myself to paying more attention to meeting times whenever I speak.
One of the most challenging parts of being a leader or a teacher is that your failures—large and small—are so public and affect so many. At the same time, when you are blessed to be surrounded by people who are willing to be patient and understanding of your imperfections, honest and direct about how your oversights impact them and even constructive and supportive about how you can improve, many of these failures can really become growth opportunities. Honest feedback, while often hard to hear, is a tremendous gift. Given what I know to be natural, human, power dynamics, I am always grateful when someone gives me that gift.
This experience taught me many things, two of which have crystallized into questions that I am asking myself and will share with you as we prepare for Yom Kippur.
What is something that I do or some way that I act that might feel consequential or even positive to me, yet have unintended negative consequences for others that I am not fully appreciating? How might I change this behavior?
How can I commit myself to giving more honest feedback to people whom I care about in ways that they will most likely be able to receive it? And how can I stay open to receiving this feedback from others?
Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatimah Tovah,
Rabbi Marc Baker