Going Negative

I do my best to present a positive and constructive outlook. For those times when I lack the emotional energy to do so, I try hard to avoid being negative. I don’t like listening to complaining, whining, and unfair criticism, so it’s only fair that I avoid doing this myself. Being negative is usually a last resort.

I chose to ‘go negative’ in a recent interaction with the local school district. Our Director of Special Education is retiring this summer and we expect that the favored candidate is a particular employee already in the school system. My wife and I believe (very strongly) that this individual does not have the skills needed to successfully interact with parents of children in special education. Considering that the Special Education Director is generally the last person able to prevent a disagreement with parents from moving to the legal system, I consider those ‘people skills’ very important.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to present evidence to the personnel department and the school board to support such a position about ‘soft skills’ like getting along with others. There’s no way to get this across to someone without being negative, even if you can back it up with lots of examples.

The retirement of our director caught us somewhat by surprise. We’ve been paying more attention to the kids than we have to finding and reading the minutes from the school board meetings. The hiring process started before we even knew the current director was leaving. There was no time to engage other parents to join together in advocating, although we knew a lot that felt the same way. Instead, we briefly spoke at a school board meeting indicating what type of skills we believed were necessary for the role and fired off a quick, and very negative, letter to the superintendent, personnel director and the school board indicating why we felt this potential candidate would not be good for the district.

With more time, and perhaps more savvy people skills on our part, we could have spoken to each school board member personally. We could have established a polite relationship that would help balance the negative message that we had to deliver. We could have worked behind the scenes and potentially had more of an impact than 3 minutes at a school board meeting allowed. Mabye this could have developed into a little more influence in current and future matters that the school board faces concerning special education. All of these things needed more time.

We made a choice. The dozens of hours required to take a softer approach were better spent on our kids and our jobs. I decided to spend only a single hour writing a letter describing our view of this individual’s past job performance, even if it’s looks like I’m a complainer and a trouble maker.

Ultimately I realized that the ability to ‘go negative’ is just one of many tools that we need to use to advocate for our kids. I prefer to keep this particular tool in the toolbox, and use others to do most of my advocating. But I’m not afraid to take it out and use it.

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2 Responses to Going Negative

  1. Wade Rankin says:

    I know well what you mean. Although I tend to take a more positive approach in the endless meetings we’ve had with the school and the school district, etc., on occasion I have “gone negative” to highlight their failure to live up to their obligations. To paraphrase the late Barry Goldwater, “extremism in the service of our children is no vice.”

  2. Julia says:

    I haven’t had to go there yet (haven’t been at this for all that long, either), then again, I don’t live in the school district immediately to the west, and if I did, I probably would have had to by now, unfortunately. (We seem to have REASONABLE people in charge of things here, which is nice.)

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