Relationships are like Bubble Wrap – Dr. Larry Dake
As the father of three young children, one of the most exciting moments in our family is when a new package arrives with bubble wrap. There’s something exhilarating about popping the individual bubbles one at a time, or, as my kids like to do, lay the entire sheet on the floor and dance on it until all of the bubbles have popped. Then, inevitably, the bubble wrap sheet is recycled. What use is a bubble wrap sheet without the bubbles?
Recently in a graduate class I teach, a student asked “how do you maintain relationships when a leader has to make difficult decisions?” Principals and other school leaders have to make hundreds of decisions – big and small – each day. If they are making the best decisions for students, then inevitably some of those decisions will go against the wishes of some group.
While this is a good question, I believe it also misses the larger picture. Individual decisions here and there should not detract from an overall trusting relationship. Imagine a relationship like a sheet of bubble wrap. It’s an overall, large sheet with dozens of individual air pocket bubbles. The overall sheet represents the overall relationship – intact, productive, and trusting.
In any trusting relationship, individual bubbles may pop from time to time. I don’t mean intentionally, but given the hundreds of impactful decisions that school leaders make each day, it’s inevitable that one or two bubbles may pop over the course of the school year. Rather than focus on the individual bubbles, however, school leaders should focus on maintaining the integrity of the overall sheet. When the bubble wrap sheet – relationship – is intact, individual bubbles can pop yet the entire sheet still remains intact. It’s not about being perfect in every moment; it’s about maintaining the relationship. As long as the sheet is intact, the relationship is intact. That’s the key point.
How do we keep the bubble wrap sheet of relationships intact? Be honest, be truthful, apologize when wrong, and make decisions for the right reasons. Hold people accountable because it’s the right thing to do. When leaders do those things, they can withstand a bubble popping here and there because the overall relationship maintains its integrity – like a full sheet of bubble wrap.
Whatever you do, don’t do what my kids do – take out the bubble wrap, turn on Baby Shark, and dance all over the sheet until all of the bubbles have popped. And not just because it will cause Baby Shark to be in your head all day!
Dr. Larry Dake is beginning his 12th year in school administration and has served as a curriculum coordinator, building principal, and Assistant Superintendent. Currently, he is the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction & Budget in the Binghamton City School District. He also works as an Adjunct Professor in the Binghamton University Educational Leadership Program.
His first book, discussing how leaders can avoid early burnout, is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Crisis-Management-LARRY-DAKE/dp/1475859589. Additionally, his second book on leadership habits will drop in early 2022. Larry lives in Endwell, NY with his wife Kelly, an elementary reading teacher, and his three children, ages 11, 9, and 6.
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