Posted by: darcymullin | June 20, 2011

What I Learned at School – Part One


One of the things I like about June is reflecting on the year  that was.  We have two weeks of school left, but things are beginning to wrap up and I have begun thinking about some of the learning I have done this year. This will be the first in a series of posts what I learned this year.

One of the biggest things I have learned is the importance of trust.  Going to a new school next year, I need to be mindful of developing relationships and trust and understand that these things do not come from one’s position or their reputation, but by establishing relationships and demonstrating transparency over time.

A few months ago our custodian came back from some time away.  While he was gone I thought the school was cleaner and his replacement did a better job.  It is important to understand that I do not know exactly what our custodian does – he works at night, so I don’t really  know how he works his shift or the different facets of being a custodian.  That said, I made a judgement, without all the facts and I let it build and bug me for a while, then one day, I hastily confronted him.  I was polite, but direct and let him know the school was cleaner before and I didn’t understand why.  I said that I would get a “priority list” from staff for him to concentrate on.  He said that was fine and went about his day.

The next day he came in and told me that he talked to union and that he was no longer going to do the extra jobs around the school (spaces that had been closed due to declining enrollment that we still used) and that we had just “lost our multipurpose room” and stormed out.  Initially, I saw red – our multipurpose room?  The name is not a misnomer…it actually has multiple purposes – every day!  I gave myself a few minutes to cool off and realized it was time to leave for the day.  As I was leaving, I saw our custodian working in the gym, rather than going home and leaving the situation as it was, I decided to have a difficult conversation.

When I came into the gym, I could see that he was upset, to the point that his hands were shaking when I came to talk to him.  I could see I had underestimated the power of my words – I began to understand the impact they had.  I immediately took a different track.  I explained the intention behind my words, not to judge, but open a dialogue…which was true.  However, I understand that is not the way I came across.  Once he understood my intention, he began to explain his job to me.  He explained that while parts of the school were cleaner, the custodian (who was less experienced) missed many maintenance parts of the job (lights, safety checks etc.), parts I did not know or understand, yet I judged him without taking the time to understand.

At the end of the discussion, emotions were still raw, but we both left feeling better about the situation and our relationship.  The next day, he thanked me and said that he appreciated the fact that I admitted I was wrong and was willing to engage in a dialogue.  We had a good relationship before the incident, and in the end our relationship is better.  I believe he trusts me and believes that I am advocating for him…which is true.  I am a better advocate because I have a better  understanding of his workload and the nature of his job.  

Too often our disagreements or lack of trust come from misunderstandings.  He misunderstood my intentions (because I did a poor job of sharing them) and I misunderstood his, because I did not take the time to walk a mile in his shoes.  When we are transparent and we take the time to listen to each other, we build trust. Truly, one of the largest lessons I learned this year.

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