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CULTURE: You do not have to answer every question asked of you.

You know that teacher that will come and stand in your doorway or find you right away during their lunch break?

The one that starts speaking before you’ve even told them good morning.

They jump right into an anecdote about what’s going on with a kid in their classroom and where they’re getting stuck and how they wish the mental health team would make a plan already and they just wonder if you have any ideas or ways to help them.

Do you have someone in mind?

One of the biggest sources of what we professionally call “burnout” and I like to think of, “Gosh, I’m kind of Starting to Hate that Person/My Work/That Team Syndrome” is when we take on things that aren’t ours.

That person stands in your doorway and they have problems.  So many problems.

They have questions too!  More questions that just seem to lead back to the problem.

One thing I observe school leaders and coaches do all the time is they respond too quickly.  They volunteer to answer questions that aren’t their questions.  They make the behavior plan for that kid that’s running from the teacher’s room, they sit in on coaching meetings to provide moral support and “backup,” they end up making the calls around the district for support.


We aren’t as effective at transforming student outcomes and shoring up adult culture when we don’t like the people around us.

And thinking that just because we are a leader or coach that it’s our job to solve everyone’s problems is a surefire way to build resentment.

I have two favorite tips to tell coaches and this right here leads us to one of them.

Coaching tip:  

  • Just because you are asked a question does not mean you have to be the one to answer it.

Let’s take this deeper.

When people come to us as leaders of the school or as their coach, we shouldn’t assume they are coming to us so that we can solve their problems.  

Here’s the key thing, as their coach, it’s our responsibility to see them as capable of finding the answer or trying out a possible solution themselves.

When we jump in to solve or take the issue from them and put it on our plate, we are signaling to them that they couldn’t figure it out.

You are being tested by every question that is asked to you by another capable adult in your building.  

And if you are yelling back at your screen and at this email right now saying, “But people do expect me to solve their problems!”

With love, deep care, and the assurance that I have made this mistake too, I humbly suggest that you have participated in building this culture of dependence.  

Take a deep breath.  

There is good news baked into all of this.  You can change it!  You know this as a 100% truth because you co-created the current culture.

And like most things, it starts with you.

Try out a few back packet phrases to keep you from jumping in to solve everyone's problems:

  • Hmm.  That’s a really interesting question you’re thinking about.

  • That’s a really good question.  What are some solutions you might try?

  • You’re working through really important things.

  • I’m grateful to know someone as inquiry driven and passionate as you are about this issue.

The key to the above phrases is that you have to actually mean them.  You can do it.

Now, if you are a school leader, think about what would change on your leadership team if you began modeling this willingness to sit in the unknown, to not jump in to fix, and to really start to see everyone in your building as capable of finding the way forward?

Culture, which can feel like trying to turn the Titanic, will in fact shift.

Cheering you on in your leadership!


Ps- If you’re like, “No, really, I could use some help with this.”  I got you.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Click here to set up a 1:1 call with me and we can explore ways to get you supported in the essential areas of your leadership.


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