Nice Catch! How to Handle Criticism from Your Principal

By Justin Ashley, author of The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy

Nice Catch! How to Handle Criticism from Your PrincipalReceiving criticism from a principal is a painful experience.

Maybe it’s about your lesson plan or classroom management. Maybe it’s about your students’ test scores or a parent’s complaint. Whatever the criticism, if it’s not positive and it has something to do with you, it’s hurtful to hear . . . especially coming from your boss.

When it happens to me, I wish I could instantly beam out and disappear. But we all know the only real option in that moment is to respond to the feedback. Using a football analogy, our response might be to take on one of the following roles:

  • The Challenger: We can throw the red flag, refuting the call that the official made and crossing our fingers that it gets overturned after review.
  • The Angry Fan: We can get belligerent. We can raise our voice, stand up, attack, and walk out after our point has been made.
  • The Pretender: We can pretend to listen and agree, knowing full well that we are content with standing still or sitting on the sidelines.
  • The Receiver: We can receive the advice and run with it. Even if the throw is a little off, we can catch the ball and move forward.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been a Challenger, a Pretender, and even an Angry Fan toward my principal at times, but what I’ve learned is that being a Receiver is the one response that actually makes a bad situation better in the long-run. The other three options may feel better in the moment, but they don’t really help us grow as professionals or as people.

We can take it personally. We can get angry. We can get discouraged. Or, we can do something about it. But how?

In Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen suggest shifting your attention away from your emotions and toward the future. Make a verbal commitment to do one thing with the feedback you received and start doing it within a day of the meeting, email, or conversation to build momentum.

You could say, This is what I’m hearing from you. This is what I’m going to do today.

The teacher and the principal—we are on the same team. Principals criticize us at times. That’s part of their job. And as tough as it is, it’s part of our job to receive it.

When your principal calls you out, decide in advance how you will respond. Have your hands ready, catch the ball, and run with it.

Justin Ashley is an award-winning teacher, motivational speaker, author, and public education advocate from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he began teaching in 2007. He is also a highly sought-after speaker for professional development. He has been an inspirational keynote presenter for thousands of current and future teachers, creating an atmosphere that bounces back and forth between rapt silence and raucous laughter. In 2013, he became the only teacher ever to win both North Carolina History Teacher of the Year and North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year in the same year.

Balanced Teacher PathJustin Ashley is the author of The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy.

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