We are fortunate at our school. Our faculty members get along very well with one another. Sure, as in any other school, we have an occasional flare-up, but, when it happens, we get together to talk things out. Oh, there is one more ingredient I always include in those meetings...
Our school is fortunate in that the faculty members get along well with one another, but every once in a while a flare-up occurs. That happened on one of my grade-level teams last week. That kind of discord makes me crazy. I feel it saps our energy and takes our focus off the challenging job at hand. Ultimately, the students are the ones who suffer.
I always find that the best way to solve disagreements is to have everyone involved meet together with me to share their concerns and come up with mutually agreeable solutions. Sometimes, as principals, we are fearful that such meetings will add to the problem; but, time and again, I have found those fears to be groundless.
This specific problem began over a simple disagreement between classroom teachers and special education teachers. The details of the flare-up are not important. Simply put, it seemed as though the more the special ed teachers tried to explain their position, the more the regular classroom teachers seemed to misunderstand -- and vice versa.
My dilemma was whether to call a meeting -- my usual procedure -- and risk hurt feelings or let time heal some wounds. I decided to take my chances and call one of our "I SCREAM" meetings with the mandated attendance of all involved.
At the appointed hour, we all met around a round table. I must say, the atmosphere was a little less than pleasant. But I had brought the main ingredient of an "I SCREAM" meeting -- you guessed it, ice cream! I brought out the ice cream and all the fixings, then set the meeting's ground rule. It's a simple rule: We would all have an opportunity to express our concerns -- keeping in mind that the students' best interests must come first.
Once we had all agreed to be honest and work from there, I started scooping out the ice cream and passing the chocolate syrup, sprinkles, and other toppings. With each scoop of ice cream, the tension lightened. Each teacher around the table had an opportunity to express his or her concerns and feelings -- all while sopping up messy, syrupy goodies. It wasn't long before we were all laughing at our misconceptions and assumptions.
When conflicts occur, it helps to have an icebreaker (or ice cream breaker!) meeting. That meeting is a time to emphasize common interests -- whether those interests are our students, our school goals, or some other aspect of our jobs. Laughter and ice cream can be powerful healers.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Six principals comprise our problem-solving team. This team of hard-working and reflective principals remains anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day. The series also illustrates the wide range of skills today's principals are required to possess. Two members of the team are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals.