Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Constructive Complaining

People like to complain.  Teachers are no exceptions.  It is a way to vent about situations that they feel they can’t control nor change.  Constant complaining can lead to a toxic and negative work environment. However, complaining can be the first step to identifying an issue so that we can ask the questions to make a change.
The virtual educational program with which I work is REALLY BIG into Stephen Covey’s seven habits.  One of the habits is seek to understand before being understood.  Listening, I mean really listening - not the look like listening - is an effective skill in understanding other people.  This sounds simple enough; however, we, especially teachers, spend most of our time trying to get other people, specifically students, to understand what we are saying.  That is our job.  However, when it comes to complaining, it is sometimes better to listen.
For example, eight years ago, virtual education was basically non-existent in the state where I live.  We had to develop everything from basic policy and procedure, to testing, to policy enforcement, to curriculum adaptations; you name it, we had to create it.  There were a lot of complaints from teachers, parents, and students.  The middle school team decided early on to listen to the parent complaints - what wasn’t working and why.  Some of the things we could fix, like a consistent homework policy for the entire middle school instead of each teacher having his/her own homework policy.  Some of the things we could not fix, like their child refusing to work.  As the lead teacher for the middle school program, I am on the “front lines” of complaints from the other middle school teachers.  I listen to what they have to say, repeat key points so that I know what the issue is, then I ask “Okay, how do we change this for the better?” From here, we can make positive changes; we feel like a team; and we feel that our ideas are validated.  
Now I know that this all seems simplistic - that is because it is.  We don’t solve every problem we encounter through this.  Some problems just can’t be solved like state mandates that make no sense in the virtual platform, parents who refuse to monitor their students’ internet activity, students who want to hide from school by enrolling in a virtual program and then not working.  We still complain about these things because we are powerless to change them.  However, we have solved many complaints.  For example, now if students do not work in their educational program, they are put on an academic probation type plan.  This doesn’t not stop students from trying to hide, but we now can hold them accountable.  
Julian Baggini, a British philosopher, wrote that “constructive complaints requires only two things:  that what you are complaining about should be different, and that it can be different.  It sounds simple, but too often our protests fail this test.” When we start to complain, maybe instead of focusing on what isn’t happening, we should focus on what we can do to change the situation.  

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. London: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Covey, Stephen R. The Leader in Me: How Extraordinary, Everyday Schools Are Inspiring
Greatness, One Child at a Time. New York: Free, 2008. Print


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