Two lions, one young and one old, are peering down over the pride at some antelope. The younger, more inexperienced lion shifts from side to side, eager to pounce on the prey for a meal. She leans over to the grizzled veteran lion and eagerly implores, “Let’s run down this hill and eat those antelope!” The wise lion doesn’t move. She slowly turns her head and says, “No. We are going to walk down this hill and eat those antelope.”
Patience is the second of our 11 pillars of school leadership, derived from over 50 years of combined educational experiences, seven years and 125 episodes of the Rockstar Principals’ Podcast, dozens of interviews with education thought leaders, and feedback from over 80,000 listeners in 100 different countries on six continents. School leaders must possess a calm, focused, and intentional demeanor in all scenarios. This benefits both the leader and their followers. Patience allows the leader to think clearly, reason through possible eventualities, and respond appropriately. Rational judgment is clouded when one acts rashly, impulsively, and emotionally. This often leads to overlooking the best solution in favor of a “quick fix.” Equanimity combined with forbearance prevents a leader from lashing out or otherwise making a bad choice in the heat of the moment.
Similarly, every decision that is made in a school should be done so with the best interests of the students in mind. If principals settle for the quick fix simply to get the problem off their desk, they may feel efficient in the moment, but those problems will eventually resurface with sharper teeth than when they first appeared. In crisis situations, equanimity becomes even more vital. As the saying goes, “When a principal sneezes, the entire school catches a cold.” If a principal panics or appears flustered, the followers will do the same—usually to a larger degree. Through many of the tragic events in schools over the past two decades, the leaders who have stepped up with a calm, poised position on the front lines (often at their own peril) are the ones who saved countless lives by their well-reasoned actions.
With all of this in mind, patience should not be confused with inaction. A quote from President Teddy Roosevelt illustrates this point beautifully: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Practicing patience allows us to be imperturbable, which in turn allows decision making to be tempered and wise.
So how do we learn patience? We must first learn to recognize our personal triggers that lead to impatient acts. What emotions bubble up inside you when you feel someone or something testing your patience? What strategies can you use to calm yourself down and show restraint (e.g., deep breathing, “Count to Ten and Think Again”)? An old Buddhist fable tells the tale of a buffalo tormented by a monkey who teases him endlessly. One day, the other animals ask the buffalo why he tolerates the monkey’s antics. The buffalo calmly responds, “Because the monkey teaches me patience. Patience leads to peace. And peace is bliss.”
Nicholas Indeglio, EdD, is the principal of Downingtown Middle School in Downingtown, PA. He is the 2017 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and co-host of the Rockstar Principals Podcast. Follow him on Twitter (@DrIndeglio).
Dr. Jon Ross is a 2010 National Distinguished Principal and president of the Pennsylvania Principals Association.