Q: My principal plays favorites, and it’s particularly obvious on social media. He often “likes” and comments on and retweets posts from his favorite staff members, and he chooses to follow only some of us online. I’ll admit this feels personal — he didn’t follow me back, despite the fact that he follows other teachers in my department. He even follows someone who often makes polarizing, controversial comments.
I don’t think this is accidental. He’s the kind of guy who likes to associate with the more outgoing teachers and coaches, especially ones who like to talk about sports, and he pays visits to their classrooms on a regular basis while never visiting others. When he talks to teachers before and after meetings, it’s always the same folks. The rest of us might as well be invisible. We all know who can push things through, too, while the rest of us get a “Hmm, let me think about it.” I feel petty admitting that I care about social media follows and likes, but it’s reflective of what’s happening offline. I don’t know if I should bother bringing this up with him. What would I even say? It feels desperate to say I’m offended that he follows Barbara and Tony but doesn’t follow me. I don’t know if it matters here, but I’m a pretty quiet and introverted man, and I’m sorry to say I know zero about sports. Oh well.
A: As you seem to realize, you’re focusing on the social media snub with such intensity because you feel rejected and ignored offline. That’s making it hard for you to consider the possibility that the oversight was accidental, or to dismiss it as unimportant. So let’s work with your worst-case scenario and operate under the assumption that your principal has no interest in following you.
I’d separate out the personal and the professional. Does it matter that your principal likes other people’s posts while he won’t even follow you back? Not really. Does it matter, however, that he only visits his favorite teachers’ classrooms, or that only certain people can get projects off the ground? Yes, that does matter. Those are not petty concerns.
As I tell my students, you can’t legislate feelings, but you can set expectations around behavior. You can’t make this guy like you, or want to hang out with you in the dead time before meetings get underway. That said, I’d consider the possibility that it’s nothing personal. For instance, it’s quite possible your principal is socially awkward and prefers to talk to people who are adept at leading a conversation. It takes more effort to chat with a quiet, introverted teacher. For all you know, he also struggles to talk about much beyond sports, so he feels more comfortable talking to coaches. I’m speculating here, but the point is that you’re assuming this is about favoritism. It could just as easily be about his weak social skills.
But back to setting expectations around behavior. You certainly can expect to be treated fairly when it comes to the allocation of resources, including your principal’s time. His classroom visits and personal relationships may have an effect on whose projects get green-lighted, or who gets more expansive or positive evaluations. You’d have a hard time proving any of that, however, so think about what you want. Do you want him to follow you on social media, or do you really just want to feel visible at work? I’m guessing the latter, so focus on your “ask.” Perhaps you want more feedback, or more regular classroom visits, or more genuine consideration of your ideas. Schedule a meeting and talk in “I” terms. Be direct but not accusatory, and solicit his ideas. The meeting will serve several purposes. It’s empowering to advocate for yourself; you may actually get what you need professionally; you’ll establish a personal connection with your principal, and you’ll put yourself on his radar. Since you mention you’re on the quiet side, you might want to write down your thoughts first, or role-play the conversation with a friend. I know that this meeting will take some courage; hopefully, your principal will recognize that, too, and be sensitive.
Here’s the upside of taking the risk — I suspect you’ll stop caring what he does on social media when you start to feel acknowledged and valued at work.
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