DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN SCHOOLS
How should any organization, particularly large ones, handle complaints? In this day of Facebook and other instant and public communications it is not a trivial matter to consider. In my view, the key issue is to keep such matters private and internal to the organization itself to launch, review and ultimately resolve disputes. Only after that internal review has been completed and a clear record of how it was handled should disputes then be taken to more public forums, including launching legal action in courts.
Of course such a process runs directly into the face of Freedom of Speech. So what to do becomes the question.
The first step is defining exactly what a dispute might be. It can range for a simple direction from one person to another, a teacher to a student, an administrator to a teacher, etc. to do something differently.
“Stop talking in class” can be a perfect example, direction from a teacher to a student disrupting the entire class. Some students simply do not want to “stop talking” and thus resent the teacher’s interference with such activities. They might stop for a moment and then resume that same disruption a moment later, when the teacher’s back is turned so to speak. So what to do about that simple and frequent dispute?
It is not my intention to try to tell teachers how to control kids in their classes. I only point out that it is the teacher’s responsibility to do exactly that. When it doesn’t happen and the class continues to be disrupted, it is the teacher’s fault, ultimately.
The best tool in a teacher’s kit of actions to be taken when students fail to achieve reasonable standards is to lower a student’s grade. When a student fails to demonstrate proficiency in academics that student’s grade should reflect failure of such. Teachers not only should assign low grades, they must do so if they are expected to hold students accountable to reasonable standards, in terms of both academics and behavior.
But today teachers do not assign grades to students for behavior, good or bad. Why not? I suggest a “citizenship” grade be assigned to every student in every class by every teacher and such grades should be a permanent part of any school record.
Next step in any dispute process is the ability, actually the “right” of any party that believes they have been unjustly harmed, to take the dispute to a higher level. Say a student receives a lower than expected grade. The student and his parents, together, must be allowed to challenge a grade assigned by any teacher. No, a student, a child legally, should not have that ability, other than a quiet conversation with the teacher. But if a student convinces his parent(s) that justice in grading was wrong, then a process must be present to resolve that dispute, between adults, not kids still learning.
I won’t go into detail about how to administratively handle such a process but will say the process must be clearly laid out in BOE policies and records and written records of such adult disputes must be maintained as a part of any student’s official record, period. Such records must be available for review by anyone in the chain of command within, but not outside of any school, up to and including members of the BOE. No private citizen should ever have access to any student record. Only directly involved adults, parents, counselors, administrators and teachers Of THAT CHILD (in other classes) should have such access, up to any member of the BOE as well.
Said another way, if a student is constantly complaining, incorrectly in the opinion of a teacher, assign that child a low grade in citizenship. But if a parent decides to complain, it must be official and recorded in that student’s permanent record.
Let’s now consider disputes that originate between two adults, say a teacher and a supervisor of that teacher. Again, a private and quiet conversation is the usual manner to resolve such differences, disputes, between two professional adults. When such professional interaction fails to resolve the differences, disputes, the same clear, formal and written process must be available and a permanent record of same kept in any adult’s record as long as they are employees within that organization.
Same would apply if a Principal disputed directions from authorities in that organization senior in position to that Principal. Settle the matter as professionals or make it official and keep a record of same. And such records must again be available for review by anyone within the chain of command of that organization, up to and including any member of the BOE.
I would also suggest this process should work both ways. If a supervisor observes repeated problems with an employee, that supervisor should have the authority to make it a matter of record, in the employee’s official record. Then the dispute process works in reverse, with the employee officially responding as a matter of record. That goes on until resolution is reached and recorded officially, with no deletions of any records allowed as well.
Decide to make it official and it then remains official, second thoughts not allowed for mistakes, officially.
Of course initiating and maintaining permanent records, written records of such matters is a real pain in the butt. But the reality of working in today’s world of instant communications, even publicly through social media, demands such records in my view, today. No school can dictate NOT complaining on social media by anyone, but a school can then “go to the record” to see if official action has been taken to resolve the issue. If no such action has been taken, then ignoring the social media outrage expressed by someone is fine and such outbursts should just be officially ignored. BUT as well……..
There is nothing wrong with keeping a record in the student’s or teacher’s file showing such lack of adherence to BOE policy related to internal dispute resolution as well. Complain in public, social media, and any organization should have the ability to make that complaint a matter of official and personal records, period. A school should not have to do so, but must be allowed to do so, thru BOE policy, when a school is criticized publicly by employees or students of that school without first attempting to resolve the dispute internally.
Keep such records on file and when an official complaint arises and a student’s or teacher’s or administrator’s record will reflect their unwillingness to use the official process in the past. Complain in public and expect a record of such will be maintained in one’s official record within that school. Constant public outbursts against an organization or individuals within that organization, without first using the official process to resolve disputes, is a very good indicator of lack of simple professional performance by complainers, constant and public complainers. In extreme cases for adults, termination of employment should be considered by leaders within the organization
Unions do that all the time for their members by filing grievances. Usually those employees are not college graduates that should know how to protect themselves and get their disputes settled, professionally, as any teacher should know how to do. Even if teachers are members of a union, they should be able to protect themselves within any organization, officially, one on one within the “system”. And if a bunch of teachers feel they have experienced the same mistreatment then there should be a large number of official records to reflect such concerns. Or of course their union can take up the issue, very officially as well.
Permit me to offer an example of how such an official record could be maintained, a computerized record. Any teacher should have access to their official record, anytime, through password protected computer access. Any supervisor, official supervisor in a well-defined by BOE policy directive, should have the same access to any teacher’s record. Allowing unauthorized access to others of such records should be considered a very serious violation of BOE policy, period.
An official complaint can easily be launched, officially, by inserting that written complaint by a teacher IN THE TEACHERS OFFICIAL RECORD. A teacher can “write a blog” if they so choose to do so, but in a permanent record. Then “comments on that blog” can be inserted into that record as well, in writing. Such comment by a supervisor COULD SAY, “I have reviewed the complaint and have resolved it by ……..” That’s it, dispute resolved, officially and in writing and life moves on for both parties.
Ah, you say, what if the teacher still wants to take the dispute to a higher level. Fine, write in the comments to that “blog” (a very official one) why one disagrees and request, in the “blog” further review and action (stating what action is requested) on up the chain of command. Hell such a written record could be pushed, step by step all the way up the chain of command.
Some would say such a system is far too onerous. Some employees will misuse the system and think every little thing must go all the way to the Superintendent to resolve all trivial matters. Not so in my view. A supervisor can state, in writing, “That’s it” and the dispute goes no higher, officially and the case is officially closed. Of course the teacher or other employee can write all they want in THEIR official record, computerized with lots of memory space, but no further action would be required by the chain of command in that particular case.
One more point. Such computer records must be “read only” protected. Once someone hits “enter” to a written complaint or comment to same, that’s it, it is part of the official record and NO ONE can go back and change it, period.
I also see no reason that student disputes cannot be so computerized as well as long as they have an adult (a parent or guardian) acknowledge and be responsible for such comments in such records, each entered comment or complaint. Kids, students should not be expected to participate in such a formal process, even high school students. Formal disputes must be adult to adult disputes, not kids complaining about other kids or other adults.
One last point. If a teacher has a complaint about the “system”, go ahead and launch such a complaint in their own official record. The individual responsible for that “system” should then resolve the complaint. If 100 teachers want to complain, then put them in one “package” a computer file, and require only one response to that file, officially.
Let’s assume a large group of teachers don’t like a particular BOE policy. They can complain, dispute that BOE policy in ALL (individually) teacher records. That makes it very clear all the parties to the complaint. Then the BOE spokesperson, maybe the President of the BOE states, “The policy has been considered in view of this complaint and will remain unchanged”, period, that is it.
Don’t like that response and someone can then ask to speak before the BOE officially and publicly, but not before such a complaint has been answered by the BOE, in writing.
If a number of teachers believe that someone “cheats on his taxes”, THAT is not a matter for the school to adjudicate. Such a complaint should be directed by an adult citizen to the appropriate tax authority, the IRS for example. As well a copy of such complaint should be made available to the party so accused, as a matter of professional courtesy. NO action should be taken by the school system or the BOE in such legal questions. Let legal authorities deal with the issue.
Complaints within an organizational system should be handled, administratively, by that organization, complete with the appropriate privacy in such matters, for all parties involved. If illegal actions are noted, then make legal complaints, as the law allows, not the BOE policy. As well, any employee launching such a legal complaint should expect that complaint to become part of their organizational official record. After all such legal action is a public matter and would not have been noted had the complainer not have been part of the organization.
As well such responses to non-legal complaints do not require a complete and legal investigation by anyone within the organization. It is an administrative action within an organization, a private complaint and response maintained within the organization. Want to take it public, then file a lawsuit and take it to court. And yes, such organizational records must be available in any legal proceedings undertaken by both sides in a legal dispute. Same applies when the BOE approves administrative action to withhold a new contract or otherwise takes action against any employee. The employee’s record would have to show written evidence of why the BOE took such action. But of course that record remains private within the system unless courts get involved.
Let me be clear. Any employee should always be able to “complain to their boss” about perceived problems and “bosses” must attempt to resolve such issues, quietly and unofficially with no record of such discussions. Certainly private notes can be kept by each party, but no official records, yet.
But if any employee remains aggrieved after such private and professional interactions, then the employee must be offered a path to further complain, officially. Official complaints MUST be recorded and the actions taken by all involved kept as a matter of record, hopefully a simple computerized record with no changes to such by anyone once “enter” is hit by anyone within the chain of command. Comments from outside the chain of command would not be permitted as well, by anyone.
Obviously complaints from outside the system by people not directly involved within the system must always be simply ignored by employees. If a political figure is chastised by private citizens, then that political figure can respond however they choose to do so as well. That is pure politics and not part of an organizational dispute resolution process.
This blog is a perfect example. No employee should consider challenging or supporting this blog, officially. I can say whatever I like, but no employee should ever respond to me “officially”. As well if they chose to respond to this blog anonymously, then I can let it stand or delete it as I like. This is MY blog and no one else’s. But I assure anyone as well that if you put your name, rank or serial number, so to speak in a comment herein, I will let it stand. However if it is offensive to others, not just me, I reserve the right to let “others” know about it as well. Same goes with high praise for others as well if either praise or condemnation is publicly stated in this public blog.