Before: I am going into a situation where I need to resolve a conflict with a classroom instructor today. There has been a complaint from this instructor about administrative tasks she was asked to do. I will write the reflection tonight. Let’s see what happens.
One basic principle of my approach: One thing at a time. I do not speak about two things at the same time because there’s no point to discuss several things if not even one thing can be changed in the situation. Let’s focus on one thing now and another thing the next time. We don’t want to give distractions but want to see this one issue resolved.
After: Here’s what has happened (Situation) and what was done today (Resolution): (Step 1) what the facts were in the situation; (Step 2) how the feelings of the participants were; (Step 3) what the requests were; (Step 4) the consequences of the discussion; and (Step 5) the start date of the new implementation.
Situation: I am an ESL school manager in charge of several schools. I started working part time last year and have made fewer visits in each school in this new school year. So I had to frequently communicate with my instructors by email. I asked all instructors to send me the student information who request for the school letter in order to verify with their social workers if it was actually requested by them. I did not have any issues with other instructors but this particular instructor. First, the information she sent me was often incorrect. We emailed back and forth and the process got often delayed. Second, miscommunication often occurred: I ask question A and she gives answer B. The communication did not go anywhere to get the work done. Third, I changed my request thinking it would help the communication process easier. I asked her to send me the scanned image of the final letter. I told her I would fax it from my office. The next thing happened (problem) was, she called my supervisor and reported her that I was imposing her more work and she would request the union to take an action on managers including me. She phoned me, asked to stop my involvement in the process, and informed me that she got the complaint call from this instructor.
Step 1: the Facts
- She was emailing me with her small cellphone. It was very inconvenient for her to type all numbers and names with those small buttons. That’s why there were many mistakes. Also, she was receiving so many emails not only from me and she sometimes missed my emails. She was not able to follow all my information (questions and clarifications) I was sending out to her. Therefore, the email communication wasn’t working for her.
- What I was informed about the verification procedure was not accurate. There has been a communication breakdown in our department. No orientation for a new staff member, no consistent instructions for managers to follow by the supervisor, no followup conversations or discussions when there is a staff change regarding one duty, that is, no consistent monitoring and guiding system for managers exists. Therefore, each manager practices differently in the field and this is not monitored.
- This instructor did not know how to attach a scanned image to an email as an attachment even though she had a scanner. She could not comprehend the instructions that I gave regarding ‘scanning and attaching a file to an email’ at all. Her technical competency was way lower than the level of abilities that she believed and told she had which I did not know.
- She actually had spent a lot of time lesson planning to follow the new system implemented by the government. I did not know how much effort she was putting into her lesson planning and documenting before I visited. I understood that today.
- I learned about this instructor as a person today by talking with her for 1.5 hours. She is a person who remembers negative memories and feelings for a long time. For example, her anecdotes she was sharing today were all negative stories. One event she was explaining as if it happened yesterday was an event from 15 years ago. This person is not a happy person. This person would not let go of any negative emotions and rather brood on it over and over and years after another. This person can easily hold a grudge and try to make the other person pay back. She is aggressive. She can be very nasty gossiping or verbally dominating when arguing. She is not good with listening to the other unless the other person expresses the goal of the conversation is to maintain a good working relationship.
Step 2: Feelings
- Compassionate: I was open. I was ready to listen. I decided to be compassionate before I went into the conversation whatever she would talk about and however she would talk.
- Focused: I decided to discuss the letter only but nothing else today. I expected she would bring up so many other complaints and she did. I brought her back to the letter issue till we agreed on how we would do from now on.
- Frustrated: She was frustrated due to the workload.
- Overwhelmed: She was overwhelmed by the new evaluation system implemented by the government.
- Upset and angry: She was upset at the learners who were leaving the classroom for calls or washrooms during the class time. She yelled at them. A counselor visited a learner at the end of the class. She shouted at her too.
- Embarrassed: When she shouted and yelled at her students, I showed indifference on my face by paying attention to other objects in the classroom because I felt embarrassed and did not want to address that today. However, I started the conversation with her by asking her “Why did you yell at them?” expressing my surprise at her inappropriate behavior. I will address this later.
- Cooperative: She apologized for her anger at me and understood I did not mean to impose any more burden on her. I expressed my understanding of her overwhelming workload and gratitude for her effort into lesson planning and documenting. She asked for support and help. I offered her my reviewing her lesson plans and scheduled another visit next week to offer suggestions on more efficient lesson planning in her case.
Step 3: Fair Request
- I asked her to issue the letters whenever necessary and she did not need to report that to me any more. [Reducing unnecessary administrative process]
- I asked her to call the social workers if the learner shows poor attendance.
- I will look into how to improve lesson planning procedure using an online program. Next week, I will bring my suggestions for her. At the end of this month, I will visit her class again in order to assist her to evaluate the learners when she will need to decide on promoting or retaining them.
Step 4: Consequences
- She was heard and understood by her supervisor regarding her difficulties and negative emotions about her workload.
- She understood I wanted to support her.
- We will work toward the improvements in lesson planning and evaluation till the summer.
- HOMEWORK: I now understand how she is. I need to build up strategies to leave the conversation when she leads the talk into a very negative direction. It may drag me because I am a good listener. She does not know when to stop her talk. I need to develop the strategies to interrupt a talk in order to change the subject.
Step 5: Date & Time of Implementation
- Thursday April 6, 9:00 – 12:00
What a long day! I feel good though. I will share more cases. This reflection will help me develop more awareness and strategies in dealing with difficult situations. Thank you for the opportunity of learning!