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.