Disengage from Negative Conversations. You Know You Need To. Here’s How.

3 tips that will help you have more productive conversations with your coworkers at school.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard these phrases at your school.

“Why can’t those third-grade teachers teach their kids how to….”

“My principal is so disorganized!  She never….”

“All teachers do is complain about…”

Everyone who works at a school faces many challenges every day.

We should not make our coworkers one of them.

I know this because I’ve done it far too often.

One day, I complained that my fifth-grade students didn’t know much about plants.  I moaned about how much time it would take me to review basic information about plants, which were third-grade standards in my state.

“WHY didn’t those third-grade teachers cover that skill like they were supposed to!?”

Later that evening, I remembered that I taught third grade for nine years before moving to fifth grade.

When I taught third grade, did I intentionally refuse to teach certain science standards so fifth-grade teachers would have a more difficult job?

No, of course not!

When I taught third grade, I did the best I could — just like 95% of the other adults in your school.

I had wasted five minutes of my day complaining about teachers at my school who were trying their best.  I also caused the teacher listening to me to waste five minutes of her time too.

I reflected on more conversations where I complained about my coworkers.  I realized most of those conversations had an, “Us Versus Them” mentality.  I’ve been involved in far too many conversations where the topic was:

teachers vs. administrators

upper-grade teachers vs. lower-grade teachers

teachers vs. parents

administrators vs. parents

school staff vs. students

everyone vs. district officials

What would schools be like if those conversations involved the word “AND” instead of the word “VERSUS?”

What would schools be like if those conversations focused on SOLUTIONS instead of PROBLEMS?

This is easier said than done.

Teachers are amazing because they are so passionate about their students.  If another adult’s mistake got in the way of my students’ success, my passion often turned into anger.  In the heat of the moment, I viewed that adult’s mistake as an intentional act to hinder my ability to help my students.

How foolish does THAT sound?!

I made three major shifts in my attitude that helped me stop complaining about my coworkers as often.  I still complained more than I’d have liked, but overall, I engaged in more productive conversations when I kept these three things in mind.

Assume positive intent.

Most of your coworkers want every child to succeed — just like you.

Most of your coworkers are trying their best — just like you.

Most of your coworkers make lots of mistakes every day — just like you.

(You can substitute the word “parents” for “coworkers” in these statements.  You could also argue that parents are your coworkers because most parents want their child to succeed just as much as you.)

Complaining is easy, but it accomplishes nothing.  Think of solutions instead.

There are definitely times when teachers need to vent, but you need to be sure you focus on solving problems instead of just complaining about them.

It was easy for me to complain about third-grade teachers.  It would have been way more helpful for me to see how I could support them in teaching science.

It was easy for me to complain about parents when homework didn’t get turned in.  It would have been way more helpful for me to have a conversation with them and learn about what’s going on at home.  I should learn how I could help while also ensuring the child is mastering content in my class.

Talk to people.

Teachers have such little time to talk to each other.  That’s a massive problem in schools.  Too much information is communicated in emails instead of face-to-face conversations.

If you feel like students aren’t coming to your grade with adequate background knowledge, schedule times to talk to lower-grade teachers.  Professionally address the problem.  Ensure the other teachers know you want to help, not complain about them.

I’m not saying that every conversation has to be 100% positive.  Just try to be more intentional about addressing problems instead of complaining about them.

If I can do that, my kids are more likely to come to my class knowing the characteristics of plants.

**I understand there are times when teachers have complicated problems with another coworker.  I realize it’s impossible to get along with everyone at all times.  The goal of this blog post is to help teachers think about the number of times they participate in pointless, negative conversations about a coworker.  My goal is NOT to tell teachers to just “get over it” when they have a complicated, serious problem with another adult at their school.