Posted by: Tammy Cravit | January 11, 2011

Keep Both Eyes on the Ball

Picture this scene in your mind:

Teacher, resource teacher, parent, and principal are gathered around a table. Maybe a school psychologist’s there. They’re doing an annual review of an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The parent demands more services for her son, accusing the school of failing to do enough. The school staff get defensive. The tension in the room rises, until finally the parent storms out, threatening to call a lawyer.

If you’re involved in the Special Education Process, you’ve probably seen interactions play out that way before. In my work as a facilitator for parents of children with special educational needs, I see it all the time. These kinds of non-productive arguments arise because of a simple mistake: The people involved in the meeting take their eye off the ball. They shift their focus from the child to the conflict.

This is hardly surprising behavior. Once we perceive that we’re in a conflict, it’s often human nature to want to be right. Few people like losing, once they perceive that they’re in a battle. This is why conflicts naturally tend to escalate, why resentments simmer and eventually explode, and why diplomacy so often gives way to war.

If you find yourself in a situation like the one I’ve described above, what can you do? Mentally take a step back from the conflict and recognize that you’re focused on the wrong target. Being right, or winning the battle, isn’t what’s important. In an education context, the needs of the student should always be in the forefront, and if you’re focused on the conflict and not the student, your eye is on the wrong ball. This is easier said than done, sometimes, and it takes practice to develop the ability to mentally disengage. The benefit is worth the effort, though.

It’s easy to let ourselves get sucked into conflict. When we do that, though, we may find ourselves winning the battle and losing the war. Such an outcome benefits nobody.


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