Working with Schools to Resolve Issues

During Gabi’s first week in Kindergarten, we experienced a pretty serious snafu where there was a potential safety risk.  Because of the way the school immediately resolved the situation and because no one was hurt or actively in any danger, I will not share the specific details.  But what I do want to share are some lessons I learned in working with the school officials to get things resolved.  It was a very positive experience, thanks in part to some advice from my mother on how to approach the officials.

So, should you run into a problem large or small with your school, I hope these tips help you resolve it.

  • Contact the school immediately.  Waiting around while an issue builds can allow a small issue to become a major problem.  By addressing it immediately, a gentle nudge may be all it takes to set things back on the right course.
  • Remain calm.  I know this sounds like a no-brainer. Of course, people tend to be more motivated by kindness than by yelling. It can be hard, though, when it’s your little one involved and those mama-bear instincts are kicking in. Remember, though, you will be working with these people for years to come, so keep the long-term relationship in mind.
  • Breathe deep before speaking to anyone at the school.  As Cindy said in her recent Emotion Coaching post, a deep breath releases hormones that will help you remain calm and keep your composure.

Don’t be like this:

Be like this: 

  • Ask lots of open ended questions.  When you’re talking to a little one, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the details of what happened.  Asking questions, especially open ended questions, can help clarify the specifics of the situation.  Saying, “Can you help me understand what happened at lunchtime yesterday?” can get you more information than saying, “Did another kid take my child’s lunch money?” 
  • Express disappointment, not anger.  When someone hears that you’re angry, they react by wanting to calm you down.  That doesn’t address the larger picture.  When you say, “I’m so disappointed that this happened,” you focus the conversation away from your own emotions and on the problem itself.  (Thanks Mom!)
  • Make it clear that you want to partner with them.  Setting yourself up as a partner instead of an adversary can help put them in the right frame of mind to help you out longterm.  This can help them focus on resolving the issue for the future instead of pacifying you for the moment.
  • Try to resolve it on your own. The temptation may be there to start calling around and notifying lawyers, media, the school board, your neighbor, facebook, the blogosphere, etc.  Unfortunately, this could trigger the school to go into damage-control mode.  What you want is open and honest dialogue between yourself and the school.  You don’t want them to feel like they have to hide things from you, the media, or anyone else.
  • Focus on finding a solution that benefits the entire school population. In the case of our incident, what happened to my daughter could have happened to any kid. By focusing on how we could prevent it from happening to someone else, we were able to get a solid solution in place.

When I heard about the situation at Gabi’s school, I put these tips into practice.  I started by asking questions to the individual officials involved in the situation, and then I moved on to express my concern with the office.  I said, “I’m concerned because I learned that [this situation] may have happened and I’d like to learn more.”  I was very direct in telling them that I wasn’t out to get anyone, but that I just needed to learn more clearly what had happened.

I asked them open ended questions about their policies as they related to our situation, and when the full details came out, I said, “I’m disappointed that [this situation] happened, and I’d like to hear how we can come up with a solution to keep this from happening to someone else.”  I also let them know that I wasn’t seeking special treatment for my daughter.

I met with the principal, Gabi’s teacher, and the school official present during the situation.  Because my daughter attends a religious school, the teacher began the meeting with a prayer, and I found that no matter my religious beliefs (I do happen to be Christian), the quiet, meditative beginning helped to set everyone at ease. In a public school situation, I can see the value of taking some time privately before the meeting to breathe deeply with closed eyes to achieve the same end.  The school presented me with the details of what had happened and their solution and asked if it met my expectations.  It certainly did, and I was able to let them know that because of this solution, I felt comfortable with my child in their care.

Between the time I found out about the situation and the time we reached a solution, the school was apologetic and remained open and honest about their role in the situation.  I let them know that I was grateful for their willingness to partner with me in solving the problem.

I hope you don’t run into any major issues with your kiddos at school, but I think the strategy I used could be applied to resolve even minor issues.

Have you ever had a situation at school?  How did you work with the school to get it resolved?

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