A parent shouts and threatens another parent for cutting them off in the pick up line after school. A community member angrily confronts a principal over a curriculum they heard was being taught. A staff member loses their temper over a political pin worn by a coworker. A board meeting is unable to regain order due to visitors' relentless shouting. Sound vaguely familiar? It seems like dehumanizing and “othering” of those that disagree with us has become the norm and schools are social-political pressure cookers in the center of it all. What can we do?
Workplace Incivility is Growing
Harvard Business Review reports that since the pandemic, public-facing employees are dealing “with an increasing rate of insults, rants, and rudeness.” In The Cost of Bad Behavior, Christine Pearson and Christine Porath found that even prior to the pandemic workplace incivility was far more widespread and devastating than people realized. Those working in schools understand this firsthand. It’s clear something needs to change, not just for the sake of staff and visitors, but because of how it’s affecting our students.
Children Copy Adult Behaviors
Increases in post-pandemic disruptive student behaviors are a reality while even worse conduct by adults seems to be spreading. Our kids are watching – how the adults around them behave implicitly conveys what’s okay and what’s not. For example, researchers found that children were much more likely to participate in cyberbullying if they were experiencing or witnessing incivility in their own homes. Equally concerning is how incivility harms adolescent mental health and wellbeing. Student needs must drive efforts to address adult incivility in our schools with practical strategies.
5 Steps to Civility
Here are a few tangible actions we can take to prevent workplace incivility in our schools while simultaneously supporting mental health crisis recovery for staff and students:
- Put words on it: It’s important that schools and districts have a clear description of uncivil conduct and that staff and volunteers are trained to recognize it and know what to do if they see it or experience it. Districts like Oak Harbor Public Schools with model Civility policies provide a good jumping off point.
- Model it: Civility begins at the top with the School Board, Superintendent, District Office and Principals. Staff will only make a change if they see it in their leaders. Making culture and relationships strategic priorities helps set the stage for change.
- Call it out: Leaders and staff must be trained on how to address incivility in a professional and productive way. What you don’t confront you implicitly condone. Remember to praise in public and criticize in private. Change is not going to happen unless everyone does their part to hold each other accountable and makes it safe to speak up.
- Team up: Helping staff get to know each other through team building activities within staff teams and departments helps. Mix it up so they get a sense of their colleagues' work styles, backgrounds, and families. Personality tests can be a starting place and offer practical tools and skills for interacting with those who are different from us.
- Serve Others: Seeing our students, staff, and community as customers and applying some service techniques can keep situations from escalating. Shep Hyken’s book Amaze Every Customer Every Time gives 52 strategies that are easily applied to school district settings. Have your front facing staff try one strategy a week and watch what happens.
We serve students and improving student learning begins by making schools safe and civil. This is foundational to the wellness and success of everyone. Prioritizing civility provides a basis for pandemic recovery and promotes the development of tools for resilience. In the end, our students benefit the most as we offer hope for them, our community, and ourselves that civility might once again become the norm.
About Lance Gibbon
Dr. Lance Gibbon is a dynamic leader in the field of education in the Puget Sound area who excels at providing student opportunities, cultivating connections, and promoting positive, inclusive learning and work environments. He is a passionate community supporter, volunteer, and board member, and was twice recognized as Community Leader of the Year.