George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

Embracing Interruptions as a School Leader

When an unexpected situation pops up, it’s important to recognize the value of being available to offer timely support.

April 4, 2024
SolStock / iStock

As school leaders, the mere thought of an interruption to our planned day can instill fear. Even with the most carefully planned schedules, we know that they can be pulled in different directions once the day begins. However, what if interruptions to our schedules were seen not as obstacles but as opportunities? In this regard, I want to examine how school leaders can embrace interruptions and turn them into essential moments for connection, problem-solving, and development. This can be accomplished by changing our perspectives, being flexible and adaptable, having a relationship-first mindset, and looking for learning opportunities.

However, before we can embrace the interruptions, it’s important to know what needs to be accomplished that day or that week. As a school leader, it is essential to remember that our job consists of doing work with people during the school day and paperwork after hours, which means that during school hours, we have to be with students and staff where the learning takes place. Organization is critical, especially when utilizing your online calendar.

I like to share my calendar with staff (it’s easier for others to understand that you have a “busy schedule” if they can actually see something is planned on the calendar). Sharing my calendar provides transparency to staff, but I also know that when situations come up, I need to respond, regardless of the schedule. Consistently maintaining my calendar allows me to go back and make notes of what I have or haven’t completed, depending on the day’s events.

There’s no denying that frequent interruptions, from urgent student needs to unexpected staff concerns, can disrupt your planned tasks for the day. These interruptions can be challenging, but by changing our perspectives, we can make the most of each interruption and use them to create a supportive school community.

Change Your Perspective

First and foremost, I think we must change our perspective on interruptions. Rather than viewing interruptions to our schedules as disruptions to our day, we should consider them calls for action. Every interruption provides an opportunity to engage, support, and connect with all stakeholders on a deeper level. These students, teachers, or parents seek direction, encouragement, or a listening ear. 

Effective leaders value relationships and approachability. Shifting our perspective, we can approach interruptions with curiosity and an open mind rather than frustration. This allows the leader to bring clarity to the situation. I have come to the realization that each person who comes to me has a problem or concern that is important to them at that moment. I aim to assist quickly and efficiently, often placing myself in their shoes, so that I can give them the support that they need.

Be Flexible and Adaptable

Instead of firmly following your schedule, view interruptions as moments to flip your script and address immediate needs. By doing so, you demonstrate to your staff and students the importance of adaptability in navigating the unpredictable days in a school building. As a school leader, flexibility and adaptability are essential qualities. Interruptions offer an opportunity to exercise and model these skills in real time. 

Embrace the unpredictability of each day as an opportunity for growth and learning. You set a positive example for your staff and students by demonstrating flexibility in the face of interruptions. I’ve found it essential to model to my staff how to be adaptable and flexible with my schedule because all teachers understand that well-planned lessons can be derailed in an instant.

When unexpected situations occur, like having to leave a planned classroom observation for a new teacher because a dump truck is blocking the entrance to the building (which would create chaos at school dismissal time), I have to excuse myself and ask for the new teacher’s grace. We plan the observation for another time, and I make sure that parents can pick up their children easily and without creating a major traffic jam. Flexibility and adaptability are essential in the classroom and in the leadership role.

Build Relationships 

Relationship building is a cornerstone of leadership at all levels, and for a school leader, it’s essential to prioritize these interactions even with a busy daily schedule. When interruptions occur, whether from students, teachers, or parents, they present valuable opportunities to strengthen connections within the school community. Taking the time to listen attentively while showing empathy demonstrates a commitment to fostering positive relationships. 

Whether addressing concerns, offering guidance, or simply lending a listening ear, these moments of interruption are investments in trust and collaboration. 

For example, at my previous school, we held Fall Festival in October, where kids dressed up and we planned activities for the whole day. This particular year, I was in a full pirate costume: eye patch, cummerbund, and painted-on beard. My job was to take pictures of all the students and activities. But first thing in the morning, a parent needed to meet with me. She expressed concern about the lack of sidewalks for her children to walk home safely.

In full pirate costume, I walked the perimeter of the building with the parent and also called the resource officer to meet us to discuss options (I did remove the eye patch). The parent was very thankful that I took the time right then to listen and devise a plan to help her situation. Even though I planned on being a part of the Fall Festival, I understood the importance of building that relationship with the parent as well as ensuring the safety of our students.

As a school leader, I want to create a partnership with all stakeholders by embracing interruptions as opportunities for relationship building, which ultimately leads to a more supportive school environment.

Look for Learning Opportunities

Every interruption is an opportunity for learning and growth for yourself and those around you. Whether it’s a question from a student, a suggestion from a teacher, or feedback from a parent, interruptions provide valuable insights and perspectives. These interactions are opportunities to deepen your understanding of the needs and concerns within your school community. Encourage curiosity, seek feedback, and use interruptions to enable reflection and improvement. By viewing disruptions through the lens of learning, you can transform them from obstacles into opportunities for continuous growth and development. As school leaders, we can model that we are lifelong learners continually seeking ways to grow.

Embracing interruptions as a school leader isn’t just about managing the unexpected; it’s about recognizing the critical value of these moments for building relationships within our school community and learning how we can offer support when and where it’s needed. By shifting our perspective, each interruption, whether from a student, teacher, or parent, presents a chance for us to listen, learn, and connect on a deeper level. As school leaders, we can foster a culture of collaboration, support, and trust by embracing interruptions with empathy, flexibility, and a willingness to engage.

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