I love being asked to serve as a judge for various campus and department events. If my schedule allows, I proudly serve. I get to witness the incredible talents of our amazing students and staff. Suffice to say, I’d rather be a judge than be judged.
Actually, I don’t know of many people who like to be judged, right? The very word itself is often used with a negative connotation. “How dare you judge me?” “He’s so judgmental!” “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
But really, we are all judged every day by everyone we come in contact with, whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not. Judgment is everywhere, not just for individuals but for organizations as well. Round Rock ISD was judged in August when the Texas Education Agency released its ratings, and thousands of parents will judge us based on those ratings. We are judged, positively or negatively, every time the media runs a story about one of our schools, every time a community member posts something on social media, every time a parent or student has an encounter with a District employee. (Shoutout to Cactus Ranch Elementary who no doubt will garner some positive judgment for their Random Acts of Kindness fundraiser!)
Even our professional evaluations are judgments, aren’t they? As a verb, judge means to form an estimate or an evaluation of. Maybe this is on my mind because my annual evaluation by the Board of Trustees is coming up this month!
Whether you call it judging, evaluation or feedback, we all want to be held in high regard, to be told we are doing things right, to be convinced that we don’t need to change. But the danger of inertia lies in the third of those. We can be appreciated and valued and doing a great job, but we all can also change for the better. In fact, it is in our nature as humans to learn and grow, and making meaningful positive change is nearly impossible without feedback from those around us.
I recently came across a Ted Talk by Sheila Heen who, along with her husband Douglas Stone, authored the book Thanks for the Feedback. Both are lecturers at Harvard and consult with organizations around the world, from global corporations to nonprofits and communities. In her talk, Heen discusses how much focus is given to training managers in how to give performance evaluations, yet almost none is provided on how to receive evaluation. After all, as Heen points out: “It’s the receiver who’s in charge. It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.”
According to their research, Heen and Stone found that people who go out and solicit negative feedback report higher work satisfaction, adapt more quickly in new roles and get higher performance reviews. So, they suggest, how powerful could it be if we valued receiving feedback as a skill, then you don’t have to depend on the “good givers” of feedback to show up. Ideally, we would have both, but that feedback doesn’t just come from your managers or even your peers. We are receiving feedback on our performance, our behaviors, our attitudes from multiple sources every single day. It’s not always going to be helpful or maybe even accurate but, as Heen says in her Ted Talk: “90 percent might be wrong, but that 10 percent might be what you need to grow.”
It’s important to understand how other people view us. Even if, especially if, it is vastly different than we view ourselves. That’s why we should view feedback as a gift. We should seek it out. And we should work to change.
There will always be detractors and rock-throwers — those that want you to fail. Learning to discern the feedback that can truly help you grow and be a better professional, a better friend, a better spouse, is a valuable skill. I’ll admit, it’s a skill I have struggled to learn. But the longer I live, the more I realize that the key to making that distinction and using feedback as a catalyst for positive change is to remain focused on doing the right thing. If you do that, you can sleep at night. And doing the right thing for us means doing what’s best for kids. That will always be my guiding principle, my North Star, as it should be for anyone who works in Round Rock ISD.
Here’s my challenge for you this week in the spirit of embracing feedback (stolen shamelessly from Heen’s Ted Talk): Ask someone this week, “What is one thing I’m doing — or failing to do — that is getting in my way?” Be specific — one thing. This could be to a co-worker or boss, but it could also be to a friend, family member or spouse and be focused on your relationship with them. That intentional question will give you concrete information on what you can do to be an even better version of yourself.
Feedback is a gift — receive it with gratitude and use it for good. Keep doing the right thing, and watch your worries disappear. It’s impossible to please everyone, but very possible to find pleasure in making the world a better place for others.
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools