Thoughts for novice and seasoned directors

If you have been teaching for more than a decade, Tough Love is a term you are probably familiar with and may have used with your own children, close family and friends, yourself, and maybe with your students. Even if you have not been the deliverer or receiver of Tough Love, most understand Tough Love as supporting a person's welfare or development, by requiring them to take responsibility for their actions or enforcing unwanted limits.

When I was a kid and student (think way back when), Tough Love was not a term often used. It was not often heard because it was not considered harsh for a parent, teacher, or adult to enforce an unspoken social, scholastic, or age-appropriate expectation on a child or student. So, teachers and adults just said do this or that, and for the most part, children and students complied. Does anyone else remember that far back?

Over the past few years as I have visited and spoken to mentors and young educators in our discipline and other Arts disciplines, I have learned not only is Tough Love a missing part in the growth of many; it is something our students, young professionals, and our mentors need. As directors and mentors who are advanced in our careers, it is our responsibility to promote the welfare of young directors, and thereby their students, by sharing some Tough Love. It is also important for novice directors to understand that Tough Love is sometimes what is needed to get things on track or back on track quickly and effectively. <PLEASE DON’T STOP READING HERE!!>

This is what needs to be said about Tough Love between professionals: Tough Love does not sound like a drill sergeant barking commands; Tough Love does not place blame; Tough Love does not leave anyone feeling bad about who they are; and finally, Tough Love is a confidential exchange between two professionals. I think mentors are reluctant to share Tough Love because they are often afraid of how another director will react, fearful of appearing mean, and/or not interested in giving advice or direction that falls on seemingly deaf ears. Mentors, this little dose of Tough Love is for you: DO NOT GIVE UP! Tough Love may not look or sound the same today as it did when you were young or a young director, but it is just as important now as it ever was. Most of us have had that “come to Jesus” moment when a director we respected sat us down and straightened us out, either on a single event like an MPA tune or a big operational piece like classroom management. Think of your most important Tough Love moment; me – I could share a half dozen that delivered the course correction I needed in order to provide a quality education for my students and sustain a successful and fulfilling career.

Mentors, do not deprive young directors of their Tough Love course corrections. Young directors need their “come to Jesus” moments, too. I often hear, that “these young directors today aren’t the directors we were.” Well, of course that is true! Part of the reason they are not the directors we were is because they have grown up in a different world (depending on your age), and part of that is because we, as the elders of our community, are not sharing with novice directors the valuable lessons we were given as youngsters - and often without solicitation or hesitation.

I am asking mentors to consider this:

  • Not being direct with a young director for fear of hurting his/her feelings doesn’t do anyone any good, but speaking up without considering his/her feelings doesn’t do anyone any good either.
  • Use Tough Love when it fits; not all situations require it.
  • Know who you are mentoring and develop a relationship where Tough Love will be accepted lovingly.
  • Tough Love is a tool for learning, not intended to embarrass.
  • Explain why you need to deliver a little Tough Love.
    • Prepare the receiver to receive your comments.
    • Set-Up your conversation as an opportunity to identify problems that you will solve together
  • Stay focused on the action/activity to be corrected, not the person
    • Some of our new and young directors have never had an honest nor direct word spoken to them, so being honest and direct appears like Tough Love even if you think you are just offering comments

I understand how after reading these few points you can think, “Not Tough Love – just another coddling moment…blah, blah, blah.” Well, maybe. What I am suggesting, however, is to do at least these things instead of nothing. Mentors, or senior directors in the district, are “opting out” of raising and growing our young directors because it’s hard, harder than maybe it was for our mentors. The world is a more sensitive place and education and educators certainly reflect that. It is not, however, a reason to neglect the newest members to our profession or to do them the disservice of not digging in on important things that need to be fixed with their pedagogy or practice. We are a community of educators; it is important that the elders of the community do their part.

Young directors (maybe all directors), I have a few things I would like to offer you as well:

  • Ask for help – it is not a sign of weakness
  • Take help that is offered - it is not a sign of weakness
  • If a mentor offers a suggestion and the first word out of your mouth is “but,” stop talking and instead say “thanks for mentioning that. I’ll think about it,” then do.
  • The best directors you know were trained by the best directors they know; nobody in our profession does this alone.

I hope this little dose of Tough Love serves as a model for our mentors and mentees. I hope you recognize how the proper dose of Tough Love delivered in the right manner can elevate everyone’s practice and achievement and that recognizing our responsibilities to each other as professionals and to our students as educators, guides, and mentors requires what it requires. Nobody knows their limits if they are never pushed beyond them.