The Reflection Pool

Breaking the Silence Barrier

Photo Credit: highersights via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: highersights via Compfight cc

We’ve all the heard the stories: the principal who arrives at 10:00 and leaves by 2:00; no one knows where she is. The superintendent who mentors the men and ignores the women. The teacher who yells at students constantly. The student who bullies other students in the washoom. What do these stories often have in common? No one speaks up.

I know there are many reasons why people don’t say anything, but it really comes down to fear. We think, “What will happen to me if I say something?” The student thinks the bullying will get worse. The other teachers think their colleagues will be angry with them. The school staff think the principal will punish them somehow. Vice principals think they will be held back in their careers.

We all feel the imbalance of power. Even if none of the above happens, we can be reluctant to come forward.

Yet, if we truly believe that we are here in the best interests of students and children, then we need to encourage and support all staff to speak up when conditions are not optimal or damaging to both staff and students.

I have written often in this space about trust and its importance in our work as educators as well as in life. I’ve been thinking about trust for many months, and with Bullying Prevention and Awareness Week coming up on November 17, as well as this post by Seth Godin, I wanted to explore this further.

If staff trusts the culture and the leaders of their workspaces, they are more likely to come forward with a problem solving attitude to work through difficult situations. This is where the work begins. It is up to us to create that culture of trust.

The first time someone reports bullying, discrimination or even neglect of duty and they are ignored or put off, that’s the last time they will report. Inattention to others’ concerns breeds a lack of trust. That’s when you hear, “Why bother? No one will do anything.”

Next time someone tells you one of those stories, how will you respond? Will you listen uncomfortably and shrug? Or will you commit to action?