Friday, November 8, 2013

Combating "You Can't Make Us" in 3 Steps

"You can't make me!"
My e-friend and PLN colleague Scott Osborn (@PrimaryPride139) posted this question on his Twitter feed a while ago, “#Principals How do we combat, “You can’t make us …” in our buildings?”

Not sure I have the definitive answer but I thought I’d offer a couple of suggestions.

Step 1 - Have a causal talk with the teacher 1 on 1.  Let her know your position and state in clear terms the ramifications of her actions.  I don’t know the whole story in Scott’s school but in a later tweet he shared with me the dispute was over field day.  So the conversation could go something like this, “Ms. Jones I know you don’t want to participate in field day with your students.  As you know this is a school tradition and the kids really enjoy it.  By refusing to participate you bring down student / staff morale and damage your own reputation with parents who think only a mean teacher would 
refuse to participate - can I count on you to do the right thing?”

Notice in step one you’re not asking Ms. Jones to clarify her position or speak her mind.  You’re simply stating in very clear terms your position and the effect of her behavior on the students and community.  This is not a debate on the merits of field day; this is a supervisor talking to a subordinate.  Be polite but firm.  

Follow up this conversation with an email that restates what you said.  

Hopefully this conversation has brought Ms. Jones on board and you can stop there.  But let’s say that Ms. Jones continues to refuse to participate in field day and raises her “you can’t make us” argument by complaining loudly to anyone within ear-shot, well then it's time to go on to …

Step 2 - Call Ms. Jones into your office for a formal conference.  State your position again and allow her to present her side (just on the off chance that she has valid reasons for her field day protest).  Follow up this conference with a letter.  In my district we call these letters ‘documenting letters’ or ‘conference summary letters.’  They are considered corrective rather than disciplinary in nature.  There are a couple of key points to put in this letter:

- be clear in the purpose, “The purpose of this letter is to document your recent conduct regarding field day.”  

- Restate your position and expectations.

- Include a synopsis of the teacher’s position on the matter.

- Include what those of us in HR call the magic paragraph, “I trust you will take this opportunity to correct your behavior and avoid adverse effects on your employment.  However, should you 1) fail to comply with my directives as outlined herein or 2) further violate school policy you may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

- Have the teacher sign a copy of the letter indicating receipt (not agreement).

I would also either complete an interim evaluation of the teacher or make a note to myself to ‘mark down’ the teacher in the appropriate area, i.e. professionalism.

Ok, you’ve talked  to the teacher … you’ve had a conference and written a letter.  At this point you’re cursing, pulling out your hair, and vowing to retire / quit at the earliest opportunity.  Ms. Jones is still refusing to cooperate with your field day.

Step 3 - Fire her a$$!

It would be difficult to move for dismissal or probation over a field day disagreement though these things may be warranted depending on the teacher’s history and performance.  My guess is that a teacher raising a stink over field day has other, more pressing issues.  My intuition tells me that this teacher likely resists new initiatives and techniques, skips meetings, doesn’t write learning plans, doesn’t contribute to her PLC or grade level, and has a myriad of other problems.  

At the very least, I would place the teacher on an action plan for performance improvement and increase my monitoring of her performance.  

So now you have to decide how far you want to push the issue - and whether or not field day will become a battlefield.

  Photo credit:  Floyd Brown - Creative Commons License 


  1. Replies
    1. agreed Curt - simple plan but very effective. I like the follow-up email in step 2.

  2. Great strategies presented here Scott, greatly appreciated!!

    1. Thanks for you comments and questions, Scott.

  3. Thanks Scott for sharing your experience..



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