The Blame Game
If you read my Storify story of the tweets I sent from last night’s Hanover school board meeting, you might think I was very angry. I can see that tone in there and can assure you it was unintentional.
Better adjectives would be bemused or puzzled. After all, as Superintendent Al Moyer gave his State of the District presentation, he seemed to spend as much time telling people they should go through the “chain of command” instead of telling the school board about problem areas and complaining about newspaper coverage as he did touting the good things about the district.
I agree 100 percent with Dr. Moyer that one of the biggest problems facing the district is the difference between perception and reality. But how can we make that reality known and improve upon it when there is such an obsession with blaming people for the perception?
A parent who also works as an adult patrol talked last night about problems with the two-principal system in the elementary level, particularly at Washington Elementary. Three of the lead teachers at the elementary level later spoke about challenges they have faced in implementing the next structure with at least one of them calling it “less than ideal.”
But instead of talking about how the system was implemented right before school started and the lead teachers were not fully prepared and outlining how the district intended to deal with this issue, all we got were complaints about people coming to the board without going to administration first (all the while reminding us that he wasn’t complaining or making excuses or trying to tell people they couldn’t talk to the board) and assurances that the concept was well thought out and one of many options considered.
In other words, please just sit there and trust us.
This comes at a time when parents are doing more and more to get involved because of the things that just don’t pass muster. I’m not going to go on with personal attacks and certainly know the many good things that do go on in the district, but do not tell us to sit idly by and take our concerns behind closed doors with the things that have happened the past year or so. Do not tell us to only complain if we have the solution when we have already solved problems (stepping up to reinstate the drama program funding). Do not complain about the newspaper when they hold your feet to the fire because that’s their job.
I have worked in some sort of communications for more than 20 years. It’s a really simple formula. If people have a negative opinion on you based on things that have actually happened, you need to give them at least two positive stories as a distraction. Because if you complain about how they cover something bad which really happened – regardless of whether you think they blew it out of proportion – they won’t take you seriously. Like it or not, that’s the way things work. When bad news is attached to you and you complain about it, you don’t get sympathy.
So when Dr. Moyer says “I can take it,” but continues to complain about negativity because he doesn’t want to be a doormat, he gives people no reason to change their minds. And doing this a couple of feet from three outstanding students who started off the meeting with their insightful, informative and funny reports just makes it worse. Their accomplishments can stand alone. They don’t need to be qualified as “but really, we’re not as bad as some people think.”
And now I’m starting to sound angry again. I don’t like when that happens. I just hate blame. If people have a negative perception, that won’t be changed by telling them that they are wrong and should stop being such a big meanie. If people see problems in the school district, trying to take all those discussions behind closed doors will just foster more mistrust.
Let’s face the problems openly and honestly while spending more time learning from all the good things in the district. That’s how people notice those things. Not by telling them they are wrong and they need to air their grievances differently.