They Don’t Want Your Answers; They Want Your Support

Dave SchmittouBlog, Lead Better


  • As a school leader, those you serve don’t just want your answers, they want your support.
  • Show your support by being a part of the school, delegating to empower, and celebrating risks.

“They” don’t really need you to tell them what to do. “They” don’t even really need your permission. Who is “they”? They are the people you are expected to support, to serve, and to protect. They are your children, your students, your teachers, and your staff. They’re why you do what you do and they need you to lean on. They don’t need you to tell them to stand up straight.

I have been a professional educator for 21 years and wish this was a lesson I had learned decades ago. Instead, I spent the bulk of my career making countless missteps trying to guide and lead, or direct and tell, instead of listening and supporting.

See, as a leader, I often thought I earned my promotions because of all I knew, all I had accomplished, and all I thought I was capable of still doing. I often lost sight of the fact that I was called to lead, not because of me, but because of “them.” “They” needed me. It was always about “them.” “They” simply needed a champion, not a know it all.

The bottom line is, those who work WITH you don't want to feel like they work FOR you. They don't want your answers. They want your support. Click To Tweet

It is ironic how often we as leaders tell our teachers to create environments that allow for innovation, risk-taking, and novelty, then we turn around and perpetuate a system of policy, procedures, mandates, and scripts all in the name of fidelity.

We tell teachers to do things the way we did them because it worked for us. And we tell them to do things the way others do because it works for them. We create arbitrary timelines, staff handbooks with multiple chapters, we unilaterally set the agendas for our staff meetings, we grab the microphone whenever it’s available, we lead the daily announcements, and we then turn around and implore our teachers to stay away from “Teachers Pay Teachers” and Pinterest, and to instead be more creative and meet the individual needs of their students.

We encourage student voice and choice, yet silence the most powerful change agents in our schools. The truth of the matter is, teachers do not want your answers. They want your support. But what does this look like? Below are three strategies you can begin to implement tomorrow.

Show Your Support: Be a part of the school, not apart from the school.

This may sound superficial, but sometimes the smallest actions send the strongest messages. If you are a school leader, do a quick self-assessment to determine what you might be doing to stand apart from your school as opposed to being a part of your school. Do you have an assigned “special” parking space? Do you treat the school secretary as though he/she is your secretary? And do you participate in spirit days or do you choose not to? Are you the star of every staff meeting and all morning announcements?

What can you do to make yourself more a part and less apart?

Show Your Support: Delegate to empower, not to offload.

As a leader, remember it is easier to work for someone who asks the right questions than it is to work for someone who thinks they have all of the answers. As a leader, you are charged with creating new leaders. You are not charged with solving all of the problems. You are in the business of developing people.

As you go through your day there is often tremendous pressure and allure in seeking out problems just so you can fix them. Purpose to go through the upcoming days, however, seeking strengths. Find people who have abilities and talents that you do not and find ways to tap into them. Researchers tell us that one of our basic needs as humans is to feel important and valued. Just as it is important to identify ways to make sure staff are comfortable and fed at staff meetings, it is important to make sure your staff feels valued and important. It’s not about making your job easier. It is about meeting the needs of those you serve.

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Show Your Support: Celebrate risks.

We often make the claim that we want to create learning environments filled with innovation and risk-taking, but have we really created a structure and a system that fosters this? What policies and procedures do you have in place that restrict freedom of creation?

Do your teachers using pacing guides and scripts? Do you treat salaried employees as though they are on a time clock?

And do you use the word “fidelity” in an attempt to force compliance? Do you celebrate publicly those who played by the rules or those who tried something new?

If you have a weekly newsletter or staff meeting, how might you elevate those adults who broke the norm and had an epic fail? How can you normalize the abnormal? I have seen schools where teachers are honored for stepping outside of tradition. I have seen schools where students nominate teachers who do school differently. I’ve seen schools where leaders go on an innovation hunt, taking pictures and videos of new ways of learning. And I’ve seen schools that utilize one day a week to teach differently (No Paper Wednesdays, No Tech Tuesdays, Flip Grid Fridays, etc.). Take a chance and try a new way of celebrating those who are willing to teach us all something new.

The bottom line is, those who work WITH you don’t want to feel like they work FOR you. They don’t want your answers. They want your support.

About Dave Schmittou

Entering his twenty-first year in education, Dave has earned a reputation for being a disruptor of the status quo, an innovator, and a change agent. Having served as a classroom teacher, school-based administrator, central office director, and now professor of Educational Leadership, he often uses real-life stories and examples of his own life and career to describe why and how we need to confront “the way we have always done it.”

He has written multiple books, including “It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime”, “Bold Humility”, and “Making Assessment Work for Educators Who Hate Data but Love Kids”. He speaks, consults, and partners with districts around the country and loves to keep learning and growing.