Navigating Between the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place
Navigating Between the Professional Rock
and the Personal Hard Place
The Teacher They All Come Back To (with Myron Dueck)
(a #LearningFIRST Blog Series designed to help educators navigate being a parent, colleague, friend and advocate)
As educators we have likely all found ourselves at one time or another stuck between the proverbial rock (being a professional educator with professional standards) and hard place (being a parent, colleague, and/or friend). Over the past three years as a member of the FIRST Educational Resources team and family, I have had the opportunity to share my “rock vs. hard place” scenarios with and receive advice from some of the greatest educational thinkers of our generation.
Following one such conversation with Rick Wormeli, I commented to my wife, a 17-year veteran elementary school teacher, about the need for an educator’s resource for these types of situations. After several follow-up conversations over the past year, I decided to start this blog series; a scenario-based resource aimed at helping educators effectively navigate how to address instructional, cultural, and procedural concerns with colleagues in a productive and collaborative manner, all while keeping in mind the ever-present concerns of resentment, fractured relationships, or even retribution that impacts us or, more importantly, our children and students.
I have collected a series of scenarios from both face-to-face conversations as well as email and social media submissions that I believe are both timely and relevant to educators at every level. Names and some personal information have been changed to protect individuals who submitted scenarios. For each scenario, I have identified both a few key questions as well as a FIRST Educational Resources consultant to provide insight and advice.
If you are an educator/parent and have ever found yourself to be or currently are Navigating the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place and you would like to contribute your scenario to our blog series, please contact me at email@example.com.
Series Entry #1 Featuring Myron Dueck, (February 5, 2019)
Beth is a popular primary teacher in a small town elementary school where she has worked for many years. She is often requested by parents and has seen multiple siblings in her classroom over the years. She is an educational leader not only in her building, but in the district and community. Her ability to create and foster relationships with students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members is widely admired. It is not uncommon for students and parents to return to her classroom years after they have left to say hello and thank you.
One such parent, Erin, came to Beth’s classroom one day to discuss a concern she had with another teacher. Erin’s son, Adam, had been in Beth’s classroom three years prior and his younger brother was currently in Beth’s classroom. Erin shared that Adam had come home from school and told her that he had gotten into trouble in class that day. Erin immediately called Adam’s teacher to inquire. The teacher informed Erin that he had intended to speak with her about his concerns with Adam at parent-teacher conferences, which were scheduled for the following week. He then mentioned that he had been witnessing disrespectful and negative behavior from Adam for over a month. Erin was shocked to be hearing this for the first time, but was even more upset when the teacher informed her that he had created a behavior plan for Adam that was posted in the classroom. At no time had Erin been contacted about behavior concerns or a behavior plan and, furious, she was ready to pull Adam from the classroom.
Beth is obviously concerned about the lack of communication by her colleague and the negative experience that both Adam and Erin are having.
“I’m abundantly familiar with small town elementary schools – as both my kids attended one – and this scenario is not uncommon. Whether it’s a small town or the ‘big city’, there are a couple of pretty clear boundaries here and important steps that need to be taken. If anything, it’s the nuances of the conversations and timing that will make or break the situation. To be clear, the priority in every conversation and consideration is Adam, the learner, and the goal is to keep that in sharp focus.”
Key Question #1 : Should Beth coach Erin through her options/next steps as a parent? If so, what would those be?
“Erin seems to feel comfortable in approaching Beth, and this familiarity has taken years to develop and nurture. Beth can use her influence to encourage Erin to do what Beth would want if she were Adam’s current teacher. Beth can speak from what she would want, rather than make a lot of comments or assumptions about her colleague, Adam, and what may or may not have happened in that other classroom. In her experience, Beth will know that there’s no way she can get the whole story from just the parent’s point of view. Furthermore, Beth will likely agree that she would want to hear first hand of a parent’s concerns in her own classroom, and these are just two of many reasons why Beth needs to give sound and balanced advice as early in the conversation as possible: Go speak to Adam’s teacher directly. Beth should start with acknowledging the parent’s concern and follow with advice. She could say, ‘I can understand your concerns over Adam. If he were in my class I’d want you to come directly to me to express your concerns. I understand that parent-teacher meetings are coming up shortly, but obviously this is a pressing concern for you now and I think the teacher should know that.’ Whatever comes of this situation, Beth cannot help that a parent approached her with this issue, but she can attest that she gave sound, professional advice.”
Key Question #2 : Should Beth approach her colleague to discuss Erin’s concerns and her own? If so, how can she do that professionally and effectively?
“This can be a sensitive situation. An important consideration is the relationship that currently exists between Beth and the other teacher. If there is already an open line of communication in place, or they’ve shared sibling students before, or they have already addressed situations like this in the past, Beth might give the other teacher a ‘heads-up’ along these lines, ‘Hey, I currently have Adam’s younger brother in my class and his mom Erin was in to chat. She starting mentioning some concerns she had about Adam, and though I taught him years ago, I suggested she raise her thoughts with you first.’ Of course the teacher may inquire for details and want to dig deeper, but I would suggest Beth ‘keep to the script’ and simply say she directed the parent to speak to the teacher first hand.
Although this advice may appear to prioritize professionalism, and I believe we are rightfully upholding those principles, this approach is in Adam’s best interests as well. Adam and his current teacher need to develop a healthy relationship and his teacher needs to feel that proper process and the correct communication channels are being exercised. Whatever challenges Adam may have in class, Beth is not one of the key figures in finding solutions – let’s start with the ‘Bermuda triangle’ of Adam, his mom Erin, and the teacher.”
Key Question #3 : Should Beth notify her administrator of Erin’s concerns and her own?
“No. To go to an administrator directly is not warranted in this case. The student is not in danger and the conversation is at relatively early stages. Beth needs to adhere to professional codes of conduct between teachers and the healthy and proper next step is for the parent to speak with Adam’s current teacher. In my experiences, most of the time the issue is resolved when the people closest to the situation have a chance to speak and consider strategies. In my many years as a classroom teacher, I always desired to hear from a concerned parent first, not from a fellow teacher, administrator or anyone else. In my experience as an administrator, I encouraged teachers to approach one another with concerns to build trust and a healthy staff culture. It was very rare that I needed to intervene.”
About the Authors:
Brandon Macrafic is a Principal on Special Assignment for Career and College Readiness for the Rochester Public Schools in southeast Minnesota. He also serves as the FIRST Educational Resources Regional Director for the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Brandon started his career as a middle and high school German teacher before serving as a secondary building administrator in both Hayfield and Rochester, MN. His educational passions include school and leadership reform, proficiency based assessment, grading, and reporting, and career pathways. Brandon lives in Kasson, MN with his wife, Katie, who is a kindergarten teacher, and their two children, Henry and Ellie
Over the past 22 years, Myron Dueck has gained teaching and administrative experience in both Canada and New Zealand in subjects ranging from grades 4 to 12. Beginning in 2006, Myron developed a number of grading, assessment and reporting systems with his classes in which students have greater opportunity to show what they understand, adapt to the feedback they receive and play a significant role in the reporting of that learning. Myron has been a part of administrative teams, district groups, school committees and governmental bodies that have further broadened his access to innovative ideas.Myron has shared his stories, tools and first-hand experiences with public, charter and international school educators around the world, and recently his presentations have diverged to include global education trends and broader socio-economic realities that impact learning.
Myron has twice been published in EL Magazine. His best-selling book,Grading Smarter, Not Harder– Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn was released by ASCD in July 2014 and in 2015 ASCD released a video project based in his own school district entitled ‘Smarter Assessment in the Secondary Classroom’. In 2019, ASCD released the first of a three-part online streaming series, hosted by Myron, looking at how we include students in assessment. The series includes John Hattie, Lorin Anderson, Celeste Kidd and more.Myron lives in Summerland, BC, CANADA with his wife and two children and is Vice-Principal for Grading, Assessment, Innovation and Reporting Student Learning in his local school district – Okangan-Skaha 67.