Acknowledging an Uncomfortable Problem

You have probably seen all of these in your school: Procrastinators, Freeloaders, Bullies, Know-it-alls, Backstabbers, and Complainers. And we’re not only talking about the students. Plenty of these labels can be judiciously applied to those who work in the school as well, whether they are teachers, online school counselors or staff.

Let’s face it; a school is no different than any other workplace and, therefore, vulnerable to its share of agitators and slackers who, intentionally or not, can quickly sabotage the school’s morale and culture that you are working so diligently to build. People are people, and some of those people are working under your leadership.

On the surface, many of these troublemakers don’t appear to be the worst things in the world. But, left unchecked, they can do more harm than you realize. Those seemingly innocent conversations in the teacher’s lounge and off-color comments at staff meetings can filter down into the classroom or into an online therapy session, with a very unwelcome impact.

Principals, especially the newbies, often need help in learning how to deal with these problematic adults who, at times, are hiding right in front of their eyes. These principals need strategies and tactics to salvage their hard work from those out to undermine their very noble intentions and some of their best-laid plans.

The Key Solutions


Building Relationships

The first rule is to make building rapport with your entire staff, including those who exert a negative influence, a top priority. Many seasoned principals agree that getting difficult staff members on board must be a primary goal. And that process needs to begin the day that you start. It involves embracing the three R’s: relationships, respect, and realizing that you and your staff won’t always be seeing eye-to-eye.

Above all, the principal needs to understand that every teacher and online school counselor wants to be a success. The issue is that the teacher and principal may define success differently. So, even if you and the teacher are at odds, both of you agree that you are striving for the same goal. This is the common thread upon which to build.

Building rapport is vital because, before you can have a conversation about correction or improvement, you need to have a solid foundation in place. Don’t ever become too busy to get to know your teachers, staff and online counselors. You need to connect, which can’t be done from being holed up in your office, irrespective of the important work you are doing there.

The key to nurturing morale in your school is creating a sense of family. It happens to be that sometimes members of the family disagree with each other. Be sure to pull these problematic staff members close so that you can help them to understand their impact upon others.

To the degree that you know why they are resisting, you are in a better position to close the gap between your vision for the school and where things are at the moment.

Don’t Ignore the Problems

Don’t kid yourself. Ignoring problems or problem staff won’t make anything better. Perhaps the most costly mistake a principal can make with difficult employees is to ignore problematic behavior, hoping that the perpetrator will stop or go away.

Unfortunately, avoidance can have the opposite effect. Instead of “just letting things slide,” avoidance often fosters a climate where the toxic behavior not only thrives but also spreads. Many perpetrators misinterpret the silence from the top as tacit acceptance, and not only redouble their efforts but act as quiet encouragement for other malcontents to act out as well.

It isn’t that anyone looks forward to dealing with negative people; it’s no fun. The problem is that, if you duck the challenge, your entire job won’t be any fun at all. Don’t look the other way, but go directly to the staff member who is causing the problem. Go early, and go as often as necessary.

Sometimes, when you deal with the problem early on, you will have nipped it in the bud. Often, it is easier for the employee to make the change early on than later, after the problem has morphed into something much larger and more challenging to fix.

When you meet with a difficult employee, it is vital to keep the focus on the particular behavior instead of getting more personal and lashing out at that person’s shortcomings.

What’s more, the conversation needs to be a two-way street. Take the opportunity to listen and hear another perspective. More than likely, there is some truth in what the other person says, and there could be something to learn.

But be ready. Inviting that perspective carries risk. After all, if you solicit the disgruntled employee to talk, you need to listen empathetically and not just dig in your heels in self-defense. Remember that a teacher or staff member disagreeing with your direction isn’t a personal insult, but rather a potentially valuable piece of information.

Are You Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

And the risk doesn’t end there. As a principal drills down in his/her investigation into the source of conflict in the school, there is a movement towards self-examination. Conducting a self-assessment as part of this process requires honesty, courage, humility, and the commitment to helping the school more than protecting one’s self.

While it can be very painful to discover that you, the principal, are part of the problem, think about the alternative. To assume, despite the evidence otherwise, that you play no role in the problem, not only will stifle the school but will keep you from growing as a person. Facing up to this unpleasant reality may be just what the doctor prescribed.

As much as principals must be aware of the shortcomings of their staff, they must be mindful of their own shortcomings as well.

It behooves every principal to fully appreciate both the awesomeness of their responsibility and their phenomenal opportunity to deeply impact children for a lifetime. Keeping this in mind will help principals who deal with those human resource challenges which are bound to occur.