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Monday, November 14, 2011

Turn Me to We: Get Along, Work Together, Protect Kids from Adult Arguments

A special education teacher assists one of her...Image via WikipediaTrue organizational greatness is about turning Me into We.

It is sad when you see a team take their eye of their goal and turn upon each other. When you're busy fighting each other, you lose sight of the main mission and cannot achieve it. We human beings can only handle so much. We are finite in our ability to process and finite in our ability to mete out self control. When we are under attack, we use all of our resources to fight or flight even if that attack is from those who are supposed to be on our own team.

Friendly Fire Kills Cooperation
This "friendly fire" comes from out of the blue often from those who are supposed to be our rear guard. From those who are supposed to be watching out for us. We think we have the same mission and goal but then somehow we've become so factioned that our goal is no longer the "we" of working together towards a common mission but the "me" of self preservation. This is a sad state to be in for an organization and an individual.

It will wear you out.

Ron Clark said some wise words last week as he spoke to us at the GISA conference.

"If teachers are not getting along, it filters down to the students, it just does."

Yes, it does!

Kids Hear Everything
The same if anyone is not getting along in front of students. Kids perk up their ears and hear far more than you think they do. It may provided a moment's respite from the day as kids quietly work (so they can eavesdrop) but adult conversations about adult disagreements should never happen in front of the students.

When we tear each other apart we reduce each other's ability to reach the kids that take the most effort to reach. It is completely exhausting to truly reach a child who is drifting away. The child who has untied his mooring to the dock and is just looking out towards sea and letting the tide take him to the beckoning sunset does not know that he is in danger. It takes a vigilant teacher to notice the drift and to reach out (and sometimes swim out) to pull him back to shore. But when teachers argue, their eye is no longer on their students it is on another teacher. Teachers are on the dock arguing while kids get in their boats and drift away.

Petty squabbles between teachers or teachers and staff are some of the biggest time wasters and resource drainers of a school. But to pretend that problems don't exist is also a problem.

We need masters interpersonal
We need people who are masters at interpersonal relations to lead us and to be in our midst. We need to show students a better way to live and be. We must treat each other with respect to engender the respect our profession deserves.

Some of my greatest regrets are the conversations where my children were eavesdropping and I didn't know it. Now, Kip and I take a drive. He can vent his frustration at atomic-level without having to be overheard by anyone but me. He can move past it as adults do... but kids never forget.

Don't worry about the false fear that kids are going to think the world is a place where everything is perfect. They won't. But they should see teachers getting along, enjoying being together, working hard. Principals need to ask themselves about the things that they are doing or have done to cause petty jealousies to break out.

 It would be easy when times are tough to turn on each other, but let me ask you these questions:

  • So, times are tough and you may have to spend less. Do you want to spend less money AND work in a hostile work environment?
  • Would you rather spend less money but enjoy working with your staff members?
Many of us would happily make less money and work in a place where we enjoy people, where we laugh, where we are validated and appreciated. I've seen studies that show this. 

What if we try to make our school a better place?
But for this to happen it has to start with you and me. There are things you can do to make your work a better place to be. What if each of us tried to do 3 things "on the quiet" to make work a better place?
  • Bring special coffee to the teacher's lounge
  • Find a funny cartoon and post it on the bulletin board in the lounge
  • Write a note to someone praising something they did well
  • Buy someone their favorite drink and put it on their desk just because
  • Notice when someone is tired and encourage that person
  • Let someone talk about himself/herself without interrupting to tell your own "one up" story or offering any advice
  • Laugh with someone
  • Laugh at yourself
Life is tough enough without having a place to work that is upsetting. I love the person I work next to at school and like seeing her each day! It makes a different.

Just remember that the ONLY thing you have control over is yourself. As I have people say in my 21st century influencer and 10 habits of highly effective 21st century teachers keynotes,

"I can control me."

Say that to yourself.

"I can control me."

If enough of us "me's" out here decide that we want to be better, more friendly, kinder, more thoughtful and keep our focus on the main thing then me does become we.

Can you disagree professionally?
Think about your work environment and how you as a staff handle disagreements. Can you think of ways you can disagree that treat others as professional and preserve the integrity of the classroom. Politic-ing and infighting are poison especially if these things go on in front of students.

Remember that teaching is a noble calling but that when you are acting unkindly and disrespectfully to another teacher that you are not acting that way. Getting along with others is hard and sometimes I just want to act ugly.

But beginning a fight is like unleashing a dam: it is almost impossible to put things like they were before and you never know who is going to drown in the end.

Remember your noble calling, teacher. Let's work every day to treat others in our profession nobly too.

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