I love thinking about the start of the school year, but I do not miss the confusion of those early days or the feelings of “what time IS IT?” when the alarm clock goes off earlier than it did all summer. Still, it’s hard for me to resist going out and buying new pencils and ruled paper that third week of August!
One of my middle school friends told me last weekend that after three days of school, they still had not been given any textbooks. I smiled when I heard their comment because it reminded me of the rules that I lived under as a teacher. We waited to issue textbooks until at least the second week of school. It was important to get past that period of students changing schedules until you handed out those precious few textbooks. Wait to hand out the books and no one had to hunt down that kid who had spent only two days in your room.
A middle school teacher shared with me a little of her frustration with the start of school and it has had me thinking ever since. In her class was a student who was to be given unique compensations due to a learning disability. This talented and experienced teacher had dealt with similar issues in previous years and was ready to provide the appropriate, unique opportunities. One day, she was giving a particular type of test, one that required completion in a set amount of time. Before the day started, she checked with the curriculum advisor to ensure that she was setting appropriate time requirements for the student with the unique learning plan. Adjustments were made and all seemed fine.
After the day was nearly over, the teacher heard from the parent of the student. They were upset that any time conditions had been set. The parent complained to the administration, to the teacher, to the curriculum expert. And, to the teacher’s surprise, it was clear that the very people who had approved the plan earlier in the day were now acquiescing to the parent’s demands for no conditions. Without consulting the teacher, apologies were made to the parent and, it appears, new rules were made. The teacher sent an email to the officials (not copying the parent) outlying the events of the day and asking for clear, written, unchanging rules for dealing with this situation.
I only heard the teacher’s side of the story, but I have no doubt that the facts they related were true and complete.
What had changed between the early morning discussion and the later afternoon flurry of emails? An angry parent.
All of us can relate. We can easily describe our “angry” parent equivalent: that client, patient, club member, parishioner, employee, supervisor, neighbor, vendor, family member, or maybe that former family member. Some people assume that pushing harder will get them what they want. And, sometimes (unfortunately), their pushing, their angry words, their threats, work – rules are bent or broken just for them.
Leaders prepare for the pushy client. We establish rules and guidelines and we discuss those with our people. We brainstorm to identify areas that might be attacked and we prepare our people. Leaders operate in the open, in the light, ensuring fair treatment of both staff and client.
When our rules are wrong and that angry “parent” points that out to us, we work with the team to make changes. And, when our rules are good and fair, we hold the line, we defend our team.
My teacher friend learned a sad lesson – the administrators over her are not leaders; they receive the benefits of a senior position but failed to do the hard work of leadership.
The administrators learned a sad lesson – one talented teacher lost faith in them and one more parent has found a chink in their armor. I wonder what that parent will challenge next.
The parent learned a wicked lesson – angry, threatening words worked. I wonder who will be their next target.
Worst of all, the student learned a tragic lesson – some adults are not to be trusted. They say one thing and do another. I have no doubt that the parent shared with their growing teenager about the “victory” won that day. But, middle schoolers are smarter than we think – that kid learned a different lesson from mom or dad.
The next time you are challenged by an angry “parent,” think hard before you change the rules. The wrong decision not only damages your integrity and lessens your ability to lead but it is also teaching a dangerous lesson to the next generation.
When pushed – stay strong. Do the right thing every single time. (And, don’t be discouraged when the world promotes those who break the rules. Integrity trumps position!)
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)