How to Play Nice and Still Win the Game

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Every office has its politics, and schools are no exception. In fact, it’s often more challenging because of the variety and complexity of the relationships (parents, students, administrators, parents, school boards, unions, federal and state regulators, community and media) and the substitution of consensus for accountability in many instances.

First, it is important to keep your head out of the sand. Most teachers get into education because they desire to help people and to assist their students fulfill dreams, but that does not mean they cannot be territorial and petty. Be alert to the possibility of saboteurs in your department. Most of us dislike gossip on principle, but keeping your ears open may help you identify social landmines in advance.

Second, develop your professional network. Build relationships with potential antagonists. Give gifts, like beaded lanyards, to the office secretaries. If you are introverted, this suggestion may sound disconcerting, but make a point of eating lunch in the lounge as opposed to at your desk. As you develop friendships across the board, you are (1) multiplying your “ears” so that you can find out as soon as possible any rumors that may start about you, and (2) protecting your back, by developing a rapport with individuals who will champion for you should rumors begin. And taking this step will help you to build good working relationships; and that’s what you really want.

Third, have a plan. When office politics get into full swing, knowing your options for response can be invaluable. Check out Timothy Johnson’s post where he offers the following methods for resolving the matter:

1) Direct confrontation, with witnesses. Schedule a time to confront the individual in person with trusted witnesses there to support you. But beware of passive-aggressive retaliation!

2) Conditional assistance: Make it clear that you would like to help, but you fear possible negative backlash; this option will demonstrate to outsiders how the saboteur’s behavior is hurtful to the entire school body, not just you personally.

3) Documentation trump card: If the slander or conspiracy is in written form, keep a record. If overheard, make a note of the time and date and exact verbiage.

4) Maintain your own character: Do not lower your personal standards of decency. Remain above board in all areas of your behavior; for example, keep your ID in a badge holder so that you can maintain the school’s rules at all times.

5) Divide and conquer: Meet with your adversaries one-on-one and see if you can bring them over to your side in the matter. Do something nice for them, like giving them a beaded lanyard, or an ID badge holders with their favorite sports team. Identify their goals and see if you can help them achieve those ends through less destructive means.

Fourth, have a supportive personal network. Recognize that your identity is not defined by what happens at work. Expand your personal interests and remain in close contact with friends and family. Then, whatever happens at the office can stay at the office. And, in the worst case, they can help you identify new opportunities for employment if your office becomes excessively toxic.

Two Trouble-spots Trouble-shot

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Student Field Trips

Field trips have become an expected part of our children’s educational experience. Unfortunately, no matter how far in advance you prepare, field trips can quite often be an organizational nightmare. Whether you are planning the event or your school’s administration is setting up the opportunity, make sure you have the information you need several days in advance so that you can develop a plan of action and communicate it to everyone involved.

• Will parents be driving or is the school hiring buses?
• Will the students be meeting in your classroom first or out in the parking lot?
• Which forms need to be signed?
• What will you do with students without permission forms?
• Who should you contact when you arrive?
• What items are allowed and prohibited?
• Will the students need a sack lunch?

Most places that you go will require name badges for every student. Plan ahead and purchase lanyards and badge holders for every child and a beaded lanyard for yourself, so that all you need to do is slip the child’s badge into place and hand them out the morning of the trip. Instead of making the lanyards out of yarn, invest in quality lanyards and badge holders, so that you can reuse them for years to come.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Every parent is unique, but knowing the common parent profiles will help you identify and prepare. It is likely that you will see the following two parent types show up at your next set of conferences.

The Over-Involved Parent: You probably know this parent by name. They are your Room Mom, the PTO President, and the Office Volunteer. You receive feedback on every graded piece of paper sent home, often with suggestions for improvement (yours, not their child’s). With this parent, it is important that you make them feel heard while remaining in control of the conversation. Use empathic listening to reiterate what they say back to them, and then reassure them that you are qualified to handle every situation that presents itself in your classroom.

The Out-of-Touch Parent: You are lucky if this parent shows up the conference at all. They often fall into two camps: the well-meaning but over committed-elsewhere parent and the parents who do not see the value of being involved in this aspect of their child’s life. For the first, have a snapshot of the school year in hand: (1) their child’s strengths, (2) their child’s needs for improvement, and (3) a short directive about how they can help you in the future. For the second, have literature emphasizing the importance of parental involvement in a student’s success ready. Ask them for a specific commitment; for example, “please listen to Susie read aloud for 10 minutes each day and initial her journal.” You cannot force them to do so, but having concrete instructions with an easily-inspected report card may help.

With every parent-teacher conference, you want to look your best and display your professionalism. One way to be fashionable and professional is to wear your ID and keys on a beaded lanyards.