The Surprising Thing about Lines in the Sand


This is one of those blog posts where I’m reflecting on my own thinking and evolution as an educator. (I often enjoy reading other educators’ reflections when they’re looking back on how they used to handle certain situations, so I suppose this is written in the same vein.)

Receiving requests from parents that I can’t necessarily say “yes” to comes up somewhat often, and I wonder if you’ve had similar experiences?

This morning I opened my e-mail and read a request from a parent. The nature of the request was probably similar to some of the requests you've received via e-mail, telephone, or in face-to-face conversations with families. And it was definitely coming from a really good place.

There was just one problem with the request...and you may be able to relate to this part too. The problem was that our school doesn't do what the parent was asking for. You might be wondering, "If you're the principal...can't you just honor the request?" Even if we would have tried to say yes, it could have created frustration in the future, inequity, and possibly even organizational chaos (slight exaggeration) :)

One obvious response would have been for me to draw a diplomatic line in the sand with the parent. I’m going to call this “leading with no” because that’s sometimes how it can feel to families who hear well-intentioned administrators denying their requests. I can think of a few sentence starters I’ve used in my career while leading with no:

Leading with No:

"We don't do that here."

"That wouldn't work because..."

"The policy prohibits..."

"Data privacy prevents me from sharing..."

"Past practice doesn't allow me