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I look forward to going to the CATDC Women in Leadership workshop every year as I find it inspiring and reinvigorating to hear the stories of women who have sought out leadership opportunities. Their stories are powerful because they don’t hold back. They share, earnestly, stories of frustration, failures, risk taking and heartbreak, along side examples of opportunity, success and exacting positive change.

This year we gathered at The Skirball Cultural Center and heard from several leaders in independent schools whose stories centered around the theme of Yes...and, culminating in an improv activity to encourage better collaboration and communication skills.
From Dr. Bryson's slides
We also heard from Dr. Tina Bryson who shared her research on the brain and how it relates to discipline and engaging cooperation. Her talk helped me to see the science behind attachment based teaching and parenting. Say your student (or coworker or child or spouse) is upset and behaving badly. Rather than pointing out that his or her behavior is unwarranted, try to “connect and redirect.” Validate the feeling - “You seem really mad!” Follow with listening and an offer of help. I am already a fan of this type of child/student discipline and communication style. I seek out reading and professional development opportunities that focus on student social-emotional learning like Stanley-King and How to Talk so your Kids will Listen & Listen so your Kids will Talk. However, approaching communication and parenting through a lens of helping the other person to feel better is difficult. I am not always successful, especially when my own kids challenge my patience. Hearing Dr. Bryson’s talk was provided another chance for me to reflect on my communication practice as well as understand how it works with the brain.

Here are a few many of my takeaways from the day…

  • Authenticity is key - share your skills and your passion
  • Ask for feedback - hard to do especially it might be negative
  • When someone is in the middle of an emotional tsunami, reacting with logic and reason won’t help
  • Social-emotional skills (self-regulation, making kind choices, empathy, flexibility, executive function) are the outcome of secure attachments and can be developed with mindfulness
  • When trying to get people to behave better, replace assumptions with curiosity - chase the why
  • Poor behavior is likely an adaptation to trauma or difficulty; a stress response that speaks to a person’s need for help
  • People can’t learn when they are stressed out. First help the person to feel better so that they can be receptive to learning a new skill or idea
  • Leaders are stewards of the mission
  • Don’t wait to be asked to step into positions of leadership - ask for them
  • Ideal school culture is one where “complacency is not acceptable”
  • Empathy is key for leaders: How will this decision make others feel?
  • Joy and playfulness are still important in positions of leadership
  • “Every school should be a learning place for everybody.”
  • Rules of Improv
    • No Mistakes, only Opportunities
    • Make your partner look good
    • Yes, and

Overall, using empathy and the spirit of improv are valuable for leadership as both should enhance communication and collaboration. To borrow from Maya Angelou, "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."