Thomas R. Hoerr
Those Plates Are Hot!
Iwas at the pancake house having breakfast with my mom. The place was packed, and servers were scurrying everywhere. I noticed
heated plates, I can usually anticipate when
situations will heat up. Sure, I’m occasionally
surprised, but most often I can feel the tension
that the young woman taking our order was
and envision the conflict before it happens. A
wearing some sort of blue wrap on her left fore-
wrap won’t help, but there ought to be some
arm. As we waited, I watched her bringing food
way to protect myself against the inevitable and
to other tables, balancing three or four plates
predictable hot plates of my job. What can I
on that arm. I figured she must have pulled a
learn from the folks at the pancake house?
they can look
muscle from carrying so many plates laden with
First, it’s wise to let the plates cool a bit.
pancakes and sausages.
When I’m in a heated situation and feeling
Then I saw that another server, a young
attacked, I need to remember that time can
man, also had the same sort of wrap on his left
be my ally. Delaying my response by count-
prepare for it.
forearm. I made a point of
ing to 30 before making
checking out the other serv-
ers, and sure enough, every
one of them had a similar
wrap on their left forearm.
day before I hit the send
toward reducing tension.
By waiting, I often see that
my clever retort isn’t that
clever after all. More and
more, I find myself writ-
ing and saying, “You raise
an interesting issue. Let me
think about it a bit before I
get back to you.” That state-
ment lets the other person
all use so we can stack hot
plates of food on our forearms and carry them
know that I received the
message and that I am taking it seriously. It also
to the tables without burning ourselves.” What
buys me time to calm myself and be thoughtful
a good idea!
about what I want to say and—just as impor-
I began to think about her protective wrap
tant—what I don’t want to say.
and my job. I appreciated that she had a
Second, enlisting others to help carry some of
Thomas R. Hoerr is
tool—a strategy, really—to protect herself
the plates makes a lot of sense. Leading a school
head of school at the
from the inevitable difficulties in her work. Of
often means being alone in a crowd. I’m sur-
New City School,
course, she is going to have to carry lots of hot
rounded by people, but no one else has my job,
5209 Waterman Ave.,
plates. All those plates would burn her arm—
no one sees issues from my perspective, and no
St. Louis, MO 63108;
unless she anticipates the problem and does
one else is ultimately responsible for solutions.
something to protect herself. This is similar, I
As a result, it’s tempting to fall into the habit of
school.org. He is the
thought, to construction workers wearing hard
author of The Art of
identifying problems and creating solutions by
hats, firefighters wearing oxygen masks, and
(ASCD, 2005) and
dental hygienists wearing masks that cover their
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Principals
mouths and noses. But what about me?
need to establish a personal advisory board,
for the Future (NAIS
I lead a school. Although my difficulties are
a network of people to turn to for advice or
not as predictable as our waitress’s need to carry
simply to vent. The group may never assemble;