She stormed into my office and starting complaining. Furious with one of her students,  she began to angrily vent about the girl’s unacceptable behaviour in her class and what she perceived as the girl’s rudeness and disrespectful attitude.

As she spewed frustrations and grievances against the child, her comments were critical and unproductive. She offered no genuine or reasonable solutions.

She then attempted to absolve herself of any responsibility for resolving the issues. She declared she was done with the student and demanded that she be immediately removed from her class.

My heart ached when any teacher or parent talked negativity and critically about, and towards, any student.

But over the years I found this type of complaining was a fairly common refrain, with only slight variations.

Teachers would come to me with criticisms that focused on a wide range of topics that included their students, parents, colleagues, their own families to decisions that I had made. Students would come to me with complaints about their teachers, parents, classmates, friends or coaches. And parents would come to my office to tell me their concerns and criticisms directed towards the teachers, the coaches, the school and school district.

Yet, the common thread in all these complaints was that people were prepared to focus on all that was wrong, while giving little thought to viable and positive ways to resolve the problems.

Honestly, I really did want to hear about what was on their hearts and minds. As the school administrator I deeply cared about what was going on within our school community, both positive and negative. I wanted to have a pulse on how my staff, students and parent community were doing. And to have realistic and healthy perceptions about how our relationships and their families and classrooms were all doing.

I wanted them to trust me enough to tell me their joys and worries, successes and set-backs, encouragements and criticisms. Such knowledge helped me to build on the positives, and to work on the negatives.

And I think for the most part the students and staffs that I worked with over the years knew that I deeply cared about them and what was going on in their lives. I think they realized that they could approach me with their struggles, concerns, and complaints, and I would listen to them, and hear them.

But over the years I began to establish one criterion around complaints and criticisms. I gradually grew to understand that it was not enough for them to just tell me their concerns or frustrations. I began to realize that there needed to be a shift in focus from what wasn’t working and the negatives of a situation, towards a focus on the ways to resolve and change things for the better.

So a shift was needed. From negative to positive. From criticisms to solutions. From despair to hope. And from me shouldering the entire weight of the problems and finding the solutions, to us sharing the challenges and discovering answers.

So we began to put an axiom in place – “Complaints with recommendations.

Discussions began to shift as a result of this new approach to dealing with complaints. They became more productive and positive. The shared responsibility of resolving issues led to some incredibly innovative and imaginative solutions to the problems that we faced in the classroom, school yards, staff rooms, and our school’s families.

Over time, my school community continued to understand that they could tell me anything. But what they also grew to understand was that if we wanted to be more productive, positive, and solution orientated they also had to spend time considering possible recommendations for how to resolve each challenge or issue. And as we worked together there was greater potential to achieve change and growth..


Day #2, #Write31Days: Prompt- “Tell”

Photo Credit: JJ Thompson, Unsplash