Fostering Empathy Through Understanding: Listening to the Voices of Administrators and Teacher Leaders

Part Five: How do you show empathy in your position?

This is the fifth of a six-part series exploring the relationships between administrators and teacher leaders. Curated by Kristen Engle, Laurie Rigg, and Megan Vosk of the AMLE Teacher Leaders Committee)

Teacher leaders and administrators work closely to ensure that the mission, vision, and values of their schools are consistently implemented. However, conflict and mistrust between both sides can arise as a result of power imbalances and misunderstandings. As part of our work with the AMLE Teacher-Leaders Committee, we conducted a survey in December, 2022 asking AMLE members to share what they thought were the most pressing issues facing teacher-leaders today. Of the responses, the most common issues cited related to conflicts with administrators.

To help bridge the gap between teacher leaders and administrators, as well as build empathy, we thought it would be helpful to ask both groups to answer questions about their roles and responsibilities. We sent six questions to teacher-leaders and administrators in our national and international networks. What follows are the responses that were shared. While they have been edited and condensed for clarity, their substance has not been changed.

This Q&A will be shared in a six-part series and, at the conclusion of the series, will also be published as an easy reference/starting point for discussions between teams. If teacher leadership is of interest to you, please also check out and register for our three part webinar series “Growing Yourself as a Teacher-Leader,” coming this fall.

Part Five: Practicing Empathy

In Parts One-Four we explored the questions

In this, Part Five, of the series we explore the viewpoints of both teacher leaders and administrators in response to the question, “How do you show empathy in your position?” Author Brene Brown defines empathy as, “connecting with people so we know we are not alone when we are in struggle. It is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn’t require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through.” If we are to work successfully together as teacher leaders and administrators, we must have empathy for one another. We hope you find these viewpoints useful when navigating difficult situations in your own career.

“How do you show empathy in your position?”

Teacher Leaders say...Administrators say...
● Listen actively. Give full attention to the person speaking, and demonstrate interest in what they have to say.
● Pay attention to what is going on in people’s lives and be sensitive to their needs.
● Take time to listen to colleagues, while noting the “why” of administrative moves and initiatives.
● Recognize education is hard work and it is never perfect.
● Sometimes it’s best to just forget the agenda for the day and do a social activity.
● Bring snacks to team meetings. They go a long way toward showing you care. So do little gifts like plants, chocolates, and gratitude cards.
● Try to understand another person's perspective by imagining how they might feel in a particular situation.
● Validate others’ feelings and experiences by acknowledging their emotions.
● Model positive behavior such as being kind, patient, and respectful towards others.
● Collaborate as needed, seek a climate that includes sensible risk, energy, provocative curiosity, dignity, and respect for similarities and differences.
● Listen. Listen. Listen. It’s the most important communication skill of all.
● Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
● Be fair. Celebrate teachers and their hard work. Look for solutions that satisfy the most people and work hard to create a culture of cooperation and joy.
● Do check-ins and let teachers know they are always welcome to come and share.
● Spend time in classrooms and volunteer to teach classes.
● Be available to brainstorm solutions rather than on problems.
● Be humble and lead with humility. Communicate openly and honestly.
● Model being wrong and admitting mistakes. Lead with gratitude first. Be present.
● Never ever forget that you became a leader by being a teacher first.
● Embrace a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset.

What do you think? Did any of the responses resonate with you? Surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for Part Six, the final installment of this series, in which we conclude with the question: Is there anything else you want people to know about your position?

Many thanks to all the voices who shared their perspectives with us, especially those from AMLE’s Principals/Assistant Principals and Teacher Leaders committees.

List of contributors:


  • Liz England, Vientiane International School
  • Casey Faulknall, Hong Kong International School
  • Andy Ferguson, Vientiane International School
  • Amy Ganaden, Oakhill Day School
  • Mike Hammond, Oliver W. Winch Middle School, South Glens Falls, NY
  • Ian Hoke, International School Basel
  • Tanay Naik, UNIS Hanoi
  • Tara Waudby, International School Basel

Teacher Leaders:

  • Megan Balduf, Frost Middle School, Fairfax, VA
  • Rachel Booth, Commonwealth Charter Academy, PA
  • Cait Burnup, Franklin Avenue Middle School, Franklin Lakes, NJ
  • Jason DeHart, Wilkes Central High School, Wilkesboro, NC
  • Kristen Engle, Rockwood South Middle School, Fenton, MO
  • Miguel Gomez, Murray State University, Murray, KY
  • Roger Jack, Maple Shade School District, NJ
  • Joseph S. Pizzo, Black River Middle School, Chester, NJ; Centenary University, Hackettstown, NJ
  • Laurie Rigg, Rugby Middle School, Hendersonville, NC
  • Megan Vosk, Vientiane International School, Laos