Leaping To Conclusions, Burning Bridges And How To Stop
As school starts, let’s talk about a plan for our spontaneous anger. In case you are sure this won’t come up…COME ON. You are going to be outraged this year, at least once. I will. (Ok, I already have been, but I’m a high achiever.) One of my kids will come home with a story about a teacher, administrator or policy that will appear so outrageously wrong that a small volcano will erupt in my chest and make the top of my head tingle. You might be serving in one or more roles when it happens — as a teacher, principal, parent, student, staff or board member — and it might be directed at someone else from this list. Or your dormant volcano may start rumbling over a policy or procedure that seemed to be created out of willful ignorance, or worse, disregard for kids. There may even be the distinct scent of your own self-righteousness in the smokey air. Been there, done that.
STOP HERE RIGHT NOW AND GET EXCITED. You have a plan for this. It’s taped on the side of your fridge. You can’t go wrong if you follow it. And if, also like me, this plan prevents you from making an a-double-s of yourself, burning bridges, embarrassing your children, or losing a golden opportunity to improve something for kids or adults in your school, why not give it a whirl when lava is threatening your peaceful world? Here it is in ten steps. It would be five, but we are really mad right now:
- Do not email, call or drop in for at least 12 hours, which should include a full night of sleep. This has very few necessary exceptions — be honest when you tell yourself the problem must be handled right now.
- Get your partial story straight. You won’t have the full story until you speak to the person(s) who appear to be the source of your concern — and are you really ready for that, yet? Ask the child or adult reporting the news to tell you the story again with more details — even if they are your very favorite person and you totally trust them. The classic Who/What/Where/When/Why/How checklist is a gem. It is also critical to ask them if there is anything they might be leaving out or adding to make it an easier story for you to hear. Assure them you can handle the whole truth.
- Do any or all of the following: Eat something delicious, go for a run/walk/swim, take a nap or hot bath, watch a comedy, have a cold drink. Sleep. Wake up. If you are still furious when you wake and it can wait, repeat #3.
- Do the first part of your homework. Find out what the procedures are for who to speak to first and how to do so. Check details (really) about chain of command, best times to make contact, or official procedures for meeting to discuss school-related issues. Follow and trust the process.
- Do the second part of your homework. If applicable, dig into resources that inform you on the issue: some might be written school rules; student and staff handbooks; beginning of the year letters to staff, parents or students; local school board policy; state ed code and state department guidelines.
- Seek to understand — questions are your friends. In a face-to-face conversation, an email or a phone call, it’s beneficial to you to do a pre-flight check that you aren’t starting by telling the other person what happened. This is a treasure hunt. It is a small miracle for everyone when the space and time we give allows the other other person to relax enough to share something that changes everything.
- Tell them what you heard and let them speak until they are done. Then ask them if there is anything else they want you to understand. What you say when it’s your turn is almost guaranteed to be different than what you would have said the day before.
- Work on the problem together. If you haven’t assumed or done anything you need to take back or apologize for, you have someone in front of you that can help.
- If it is not resolved, make a plan together to seek outside help to solve it. You may agree to use an administrator, a department chair, or labor and HR representatives. You may also use a formal complaint process that is available at the school, county or state level. And while turning to these may not turn you into best friends, they should be considered something you can lean on to navigate conflict together to a constructive end.
- Move — onward and upward. When it’s reasonably solved, continue to give grace and space. This creates a positive emotional memory for everyone, and becomes the basis for a new or improved alliance. And best of all, there will be no reason to duck down a school hallway or store aisle to avoid anyone in the years to come.