Educators – Dealing With a Toxic Environment

“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

In the unfortunate instance where you have found yourself working in a toxic environment, the negative ramifications are countless. You have some choices about what you can do…and not a single one of them is easy to do….However, neither is it easy (nor healthy) to try to work day in and day out in an environment that is eating you up. The ideas in this article are not listed in any particular order. Since you are a teacher, I will assume you are smart and can figure out which one you haven’t tried yet–and try that one.

  1. Get out. Leave. Find a different school or a different school district where you can work. This is ALWAYS an option. It may not be the easiest option, but unless you spend your days in prison (as a prisoner, that is), you can leave. You could also leave education altogether, but that is a tragedy if you choose that option because toxic colleagues drove you out.
  2. If you CHOOSE to stay, consider every way possible to alert management (short of tattling) about the problems that exist. If the administration is the problem (and I know this is often the case) then you may have to go higher. It depends on how bad you consider the situation to be.
  3. One of my favorite quotes (and the basis for a workshop I do entitled “Conciliating the Tiger: Do You Have a Choice)?” is this one by Konrad Adenauer: “An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.” Buy and read the book, The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workpace and Surviving One that Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton. It’s fabulous!
  4. Identify the source of the toxicity. Is it a person with whom you work? Is it the language that is used at school? Is it the politics, back-biting, or gossiping? Is it parents who berate teachers and no one does anything about it? I don’t know what it is for you, but if you’ve identified your place of work as a toxic environment, you first need to figure out what the source is.
  5. Once you identify the source of the toxicity, determine if you can have any effect on eliminating that toxin. For example, if the people around you constantly tell racist jokes or make unconscionable statements, is there a way to get them to stop or will it take something from a legal standpoint to eliminate the toxic situation?
  6. If the toxin can/should be removed, take steps to make that happen. If you know it can be, then take action. It’s scary and uncomfortable, but I go back to my original statement–it’s unbearable to spend 8 – 10 hours each day in a setting that you find unbearable. Do something about it. It’s not just affecting you, it’s affecting other adults–and it’s having a negative impact on the children or teenagers at your school.
  7. Draw attention, in a professional and assertive manner, to what is happening–to you and to others in the school. The cost of losing great employees is usually (although not always) of concern for a principal, superintendent, parents, school board members, and others with a vested interest in the success of an organization. Think through carefully what you want to say to someone in this role and then bravely present your thoughts.
  8. Buy and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. There is no better book anywhere to help you think through how to have honest, direct, meaningful conversations–as well as to consider the cost when you don’t. It’s in paperback and is a bargain.
  9. Boldly deal with the toxic situation head on. A bad day or week at work is not a toxic situation. It’s a bad day or week. Something doesn’t become identified as toxic until it has been continuing for weeks, months….years. When it’s taking a toll on your health, productivity, relationships outside of work, and so forth, then you need to do something about it.
  10. Here’s a question: Are you adding to the toxic environment? If so, take immediate measures to communicate more professionally on the job. Most of us can look at ourselves and realize that we have a few areas of our lives where we can improve, too. Just check it out with yourself and see if, by any chance, you are contributing to–or exacerbating–the toxic situation.

Note: For the purposes of this article, I am referring to a psychologically toxic environment vs. a physically toxic one, i.e., one filled with hazardous chemicals and the like. If you are in that type of environment, you need to be calling OSHA or some other agency.

I hope these ideas help you if you’re in this situation. I’ve been there…and I needed a kick in the ____ to get moving on making changes. If you, thankfully, aren’t in this situation, but have a friend or colleague who is, send this article along to that person.

What Are Special Education Dragons, and 4 Tips to Deal With Them to Benefit Your Child’s Education!

Are you a parent with a child with autism or learning disabilities that receive special education services? Have you been trying to advocate that your child receive needed services to no avail? Then you may be dealing with a special education dragon!

When my first book came out in 2007, I included a section about why some educators lied to parents.

These reasons are:

1. Some lie or provide misinformation because they do not know the law (or pretend they do not know the law).
2. Some lie because they want parents to believe that the law gives them more power than it actually does.
3. Some lie because they believe the parent may be vulnerable in some way (divorce, single parent, etc.)
4. Some lie about a child’s progress (overstating such progress) so that they can deny intensive services.
5. Some lie, and state that they do not pay for certain services so that they do not set a precedent of paying for those services (Applied Behavioral Analysis, private tutoring, etc.).

An educator that would lie to a parent for any reason is a special education dragon, in my opinion.

A few more characteristics are:

1. They blame the child and/or the parent for the child’s disabilities and lack of educational progress (rather than blaming themselves for the child not learning).
2. They act as a gatekeeper to prevent children from receiving vital needed educational services (even when proven by an independent educational evaluation-IEE).
3. They intimidate, scream, manipulate the school team (and the parent) so that the parent gives up and goes away (I have seen this activity many times for my children and in my advocacy).
4. They retaliate against the child and the parent when the parent is advocating for their child (which is a protected activity under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act).

If you are dealing with a special education dragon, here are a few tips to deal with them:

1. Dragons can be overcome by assertive and persistent advocacy for as long as it takes for your child to receive an appropriate education!
2. Knowledge of federal and state special education and disability laws (IDEA 2004, ADAAA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act—and your states laws), and use of those laws in your advocacy, will go a long way in overcoming dragons.
3. Using a well-trained advocate to attend IEP meetings, can also help overcome these school personnel’s tactics.
4. Become familiar and willing to use the dispute resolution processes that are available to you (State complaints, Mediation, Due Process, OCR complaints).

I have been dealing with special education dragons for a long time, and am amazed at their insistence that they are right, even when they are proven wrong. One time at a meeting I was frustrated with a school person who kept stating something over and over. I picked up my IDEA 2004 regulations, opened it up and read the section about the issue we were discussing and then preceded to say “There it is read-em-and-weep!” I would not suggest getting upset but they seemed to get it! Good luck—never give up fighting these dragons for the good of your child’s education!

Home School Physical Education

Providing a physical education component while home schooling is an important part of the education of your child and it is actually one of the major challenges faced by parents that choose to use a homeschooling program to educate their kids. The good news is that it is rather simple to include a good P.E. curriculum to your home school schedule and it can also be done without having to use or consult any help from outside the home.

It’s important to remember that the stress of most people’s and student’s daily lives often leave them feeling tired with little energy, which is why taking a bike ride or a nature walk, or even teaching your child how to play a sport can be so helpful. So even if you hated gym class as a kid, or even loved it, physical education and exercise is really something that should not be overlooked. Because after all, a sharp mind and healthy body will make it easier for your child to do well academically anyway.

Furthermore, physical education deals with more than just learning how to play certain sports; it should encompass a well planned instructional program that is aimed specifically at helping your student or child meet and achieve a series of pre-defined objectives. Thus, home school physical education, which should be a necessary component of your child’s overall curriculum, needs to go beyond simply teaching him or her how to play a sport; it needs to teach overall fitness and self responsibility, along with the enjoyment of engaging in physical activities.