Effective Practices : Community Life
Community Life Section 4
1. Does your school have a published guideline that describes for parents the proper approach for sharing and resolving concerns? If yes please explain the ways in which parents are made aware of this policy, and attach a copy. If no such guideline exists, how are parents informed about the proper steps to take when a concern arises?
2. Does your school have a standing group or committee whose role is to work as a liaison between parents and the school when difficulties arise? Attach a copy of this committee’s mandate if available.
3. Does your school have trained mediators or other facilitators on staff or on call for use in particularly sensitive situations? Describe the training and experience of these mediators or meeting facilitators.
4. Whose responsibility is it to look at the various conflicts that arise in the community over time to see if there is a larger trend or issue that needs to be addressed? In what ways does this “big picture” perspective get addressed?
5. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to conflict resolution.
6. What is particularly effective about your school’s work in the area of conflict resolution?
7. If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s conflict resolution processes, what would it be and why?
Does your school have a published guideline that describes for parents the proper approach for sharing and resolving concerns? If yes please explain the ways in which parents are made aware of this policy, and attach a copy. If no such guideline exists, how are parents informed about the proper steps to take when a concern arises?
Every school studied reports having a published guideline that describes the proper approach for sharing and resolving concerns. These guidelines are always included in both the parent handbook and the faculty handbook. They are also shared at the first general parent meeting of the year and are touched on by teachers during their first class parent meeting. Some schools also include a copy of the policy in the acceptance letter that is sent when a child first joins the school. (See: Conflict Resolution Process for Employees and Parents)
Several schools noted that it is very helpful to include another copy of this policy in a letter mailed to the home when there are issues astir in the community. Schools also reprint the policy in their weekly bulletins at such times.
One school noted that once a year its Board reviews the school’s approach to conflict resolution, and discusses other topics such as social inclusion and meeting protocols. The school noted that developing a school culture that is strong in the area of conflict resolution is an ongoing process.
Several schools mentioned other related documents that are very supportive of the creation of an environment that works to minimize conflict and that embraces it as an opportunity for development when it does occur. These documents include a social inclusion policy, a decision roadmap, and a description of a community of inquiry.
- The social inclusion policy is designed with several goals:
- To promote a sprit of social inclusion among the students where each person is accepted and respected and where negative, harmful behaviors are quickly addressed.
- To help students who exhibit bullying and teasing behavior to become aware of and transform their actions, and to teach those who are victims of such behavior to deal with it appropriately.
- To outline methods for the prevention of bullying behaviors and for dealing with them when they occur.
- To provide clear procedures for the communication of such behaviors among teachers and with the parents of the children involved.
While the policy is focused on inappropriate behavior among children it can help minimize opportunities for conflict by ensuring that these sensitive issues are dealt with in a clear and appropriate way. Much of the material included in the policy can also be applied to adults when they exhibit bullying behavior in their relationships within the school community. (See: Social Inclusion Policy)
A decision roadmap is a document that describes the key leadership bodies in the school, their leadership structures, and the kinds of issues that should most appropriately be referred to each group. It also describes briefly the manner in which each group will take up an issue that is referred to it so that parents know where to refer an issue and how it will be handled.
Schools with good practices for conflict resolution often find that they are successful due to their commitment to being a community of inquiry. These communities exist to help each of the members think critically, creatively, sensitively, compassionately, and effectively about matters of significance. They find that such thinking often leads to both individual and group action followed by reflection, analysis, planning and further action. A description of the characteristics and attitudes essential to crating a community of inquiry, and the basic guidelines for participating in such a community are published regularly by the school to ensure that all community members are aware of the school’s approach in this area. (See: Community of Inquiry Statement)
Schools repeatedly shared the importance of having agreements up front about process during times when communication is difficult. These policies and frequent reminders of how and when they are to be used can make a big difference in the ability of a school’s faculty and community members to work for positive resolution of concerns.
Does your school have a standing group or committee whose role is to work as a liaison between parents and the school when difficulties arise? Attach a copy of this committee’s mandate if available.
One school described their Parent Council Advisory Committee as a parent teacher body which exists to facilitate communication between parents and teachers and to aid in resolving parent-teacher issues.
The Advisory Committee is comprised of four members: one member of the school’s leadership committee, one faculty member chosen by the College of Teachers, and two parents. The parents are chosen as follows: All parents are given an opportunity to submit the name(s) in writing of the parent(s) they feel are qualified. The College of Teachers selects two qualified names from that list.
All members of the Advisory Committee are chosen because of their understanding of Waldorf Education, their familiarity with the procedures of the school, their ability to be objective, and their skill in bridge building and communication. If any of the members of the committee are involved in the issue, alternate members will be chosen. The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to help all parties involved see both sides of the situation, to help everyone understand each other’s expectations, and to help formulate a solution that is acceptable to all.
Does your school have trained mediators or other facilitators on staff or on call for use in particularly sensitive situations? Describe the training and experience of these mediators or meeting facilitators.
Many of the schools studied have had several members of their administrative staff and faculty trained in meeting facilitation and conflict resolution procedures. While these individuals are not a standing committee per se, it is essential that the school have an ongoing commitment to providing training to staff members who are interested in this type of work. A commitment to working positively with conflict is not something that is handled once and then is done - it requires ongoing training, conversation and commitment if a true community of inquiry is to be created.
These schools noted that their staff members were trained in consensus facilitation through the workshops offered by the Alpha Institute. This training teaches skills that allow a facilitator to crate an environment where opposing perspectives can be shared so that a common picture can be formed and joint resolutions crafted.
Other members of the community who are often involved in communications in difficult situations include the college or faculty chair for pedagogical matters, the administrator for financial or procedural issues, and the student’s advisor in matters involving high school students.
Several schools have done work with Kim Payne, typically engaging him for weekend-long workshops on social inclusion and training in related techniques. Another school has had success with training its faculty in responsive classroom techniques, an approach used with students to create a safe classroom environment and to deal with the emotional issues that come up inside the classroom.
Some schools have used professional mediators in the larger community when the particular conflict has involved some of the people in leadership positions in the school. In these cases it is often difficult for someone inside the school community to be objective (or to be viewed as objective) and an outside presence can be essential to finding a true resolution to the concern.
Again, several schools noted that these trainings are pulled from a variety of available resources. The key is not the training itself, but a commitment by the school to provide ongoing training on conflict resolution related processes. This commitment to ongoing training must be coupled with the creation of an environment where conflicts are viewed as opportunities for growth.
Whose responsibility is it to look at the various conflicts that arise in the community over time to see if there is a larger trend or issue that needs to be addressed? In what ways does this “big picture” perspective get addressed?
Some schools in the study noted that it is the responsibility of the school’s leadership team to look at the various conflicts that arise over time to see if there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed. The leadership team is a small group that typically includes the faculty and/or college chair, the administrator, and the community development officer. The team may also include the Board president and a representative from the parent council.
It was interesting to note that several schools mentioned that the group that meets with families about tuition assistance does a review each year of what it has heard from parents. At times this review surfaces issues or trends in the financial dealings of the school or in the work with volunteers that need attention.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to conflict resolution.
Everyone has a piece of the puzzle. We need to hear everyone’s perspective.
It is better to embrace conflict for the creative ideas that come from it than to suppress it.
Finding ways to bring a dissenting voice into the work is far more productive than shunning the person bringing the differing views.
Creating an environment where blame isn’t laid for dissenting ideas is a difficult task. It requires an ongoing commitment to this approach and continual training to have it work.
Blame doesn’t serve.
Listening and allowing people to have their say are keys to being able to successfully resolve a conflict.
Following through on the issues, plans and strategies that come out of the conversations is essential. We need to listen and then do what we say we’re going to do.
Clarity is essential. It is important that good note taking be in place at these meetings and that we clearly document what the next steps will be as a result of the conversation.
We always try to keep our love for the child/children in focus. We try to keep what is best for the child foremost in our deliberations. We seek to find a solution that balances responsiveness and a willingness to be flexible with staying true to the core values of a Waldorf education.
When a complaint comes to the wrong person it is important that it is redirected to the proper person, rather than allowing the person receiving the complaint to get involved in the matter himself. It is critical that the board, faculty and administrative chair be very disciplined in this way so that issues get properly heard and handled at the very earliest stage possible.
Listening to others is a key to positive conflict resolution.
The school must be willing to accept that a parent’s perception is his or her reality.
It is important to look for the kernel of truth in another’s comments, rather than being defensive about someone else’s experience or perspective.
There are times when a conflict cannot be resolved and a family needs to be asked to leave. There are also parents who stir things up but then are able to quickly move on. It is an important skill to be able to differentiate between these two types of situations.
We try to be frank and courageous, rather than letting things lie or sweeping them under the carpet.
The school’s approach to conflict resolution is to value each person’s thoughts, feelings and opinions.
It is important for all parts of the school to work together well if the children are to receive the maximum benefit from their Waldorf education. For this reason an interest in others’ points of view and sensitivity to their feelings is a key part of the school’s conflict resolution procedure.
What is particularly effective about your school’s work in the area of conflict resolution?
The written guidelines that the school has set forth work well. The guidelines in the handbook that outline how parents and teachers should work together to resolve issues have been in place for many years and have served the community well.
The school’s attrition rate has improved progressively each year, and this improvement seems to have followed the implementation of clear communication and process guidelines for resolving conflict.
Everyone acknowledges that there is genuine effort and a commitment of time to resolving issues and conflicts.
The moment there is a conflict the person who is the focus of that conflict starts to feel themselves as being on the outside. Being aware of this separation can help us be sensitive to this painful aspect of a conflict. We always try to provide an advocate or support person for someone who is having difficulty with the school in hopes of minimizing this feeling of separation and maximizing the possibility that if the difficulty can be resolved that the person involved can once again feel himself as a full member of the community.
Good documentation is very helpful. It is also true that good documentation is a reflection of the consciousness that has gone into working through a difficult issue, and it is not surprising that when there is good documentation a difficult situation can be resolved in a reasonably amicable way, even when the person involved does not get the outcome he would have hoped for.
The best conflict resolution is the conflict you don’t ever have. We are good at cultivating positive partnerships with parents early in their tenure with the school. These efforts are money in the bank when challenges occur. We do this through home visits, parent education, parent nights, class socials (adults only and all-family,) volunteerism, etc.
The school’s leadership team has gotten good at seeing problems as they arise and addressing them proactively. This has made a big difference in the school’s ability to prevent difficulties and to resolve them before they take on a larger proportion.
We create forums for conflict to play out, and try to make them safe venues for all involved.
We are open to working with people.
We have pretty strict standards for confidentiality so that people trust they can enter into a process with respect.
We take our time.
We work hard not to make difficult situations worse. “Above all, do no harm.”
“Training, training, training”, is the key to success.
We want parents to honor the social inclusion model that has been chosen by the school, and ask that anyone who chooses to be an advocate for a parent’s concerns honor that chosen model.
If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s conflict resolution processes, what would it be and why?
It would be great to find ways to address the issues between parents and teachers sooner when it is possible. Sometimes issues don’t seem big enough to deal with, but these small issues that do not get resolved or adequately addressed can escalate over time into something much bigger.
Provide every teacher with training on conflict resolution. Often the people who resist this training the most are the ones who have the greatest fear about confrontation, and are often the victims of failing to deal with issues when they could be more readily resolved. We can’t require parents to have this training, but we could require this of all members of our own faculty and staff. All of our job descriptions require us to be able to deal collegially with others and have good classroom management skills - as a school we have an obligation to provide training and support so people can be successful in this aspect of their jobs.
We need to get better about encouraging people to bring up the issues that are living in them but that they aren’t bringing up. We need to find new ways to encourage people to speak what’s on their minds.
The school would benefit from providing updated training on mediation skills.
We should be a little more willing to confront each other when we are doing things (or NOT doing things!) that are alienating others and contributing to failed conflict resolution. Sometimes when failed conflict resolution leads to a family or student leaving the school we are a little too willing to blame the other and we inadequately own our part in the failure.
Institutional memory is a key. As the faculty and other members of the community turn over, we can lose track of the good practices we’ve established in the past, and often find ourselves redeveloping good practices.