Question: I took a new job at a Developmentally Delayed Public School classroom and found that in all the classrooms there are assistants who have more power than the teachers. They talk on their cell phones, refuse to sit with the children, are not engaged with the children nor are they redirecting children toward positive behaviors. There is a lot of punishment, harsh discipline and dragging children by the arms. The next school year will begin with a new principal and new special education director, so I would like to give the new leadership a chance to make positive changes. What can I do to make the new school year livable?
Myrna Shure: This must be an extraordinarily frustrating situation for you, but it is not hopeless. Choose an assistant who might be the most responsive of the group. At a moment when she is calm, try approaching her and simply say, “We’ve got a problem and I need your help to solve it.” You will surprise her. By involving her in the solution to the problem, she may feel important in a new, positive way.
Here’s how you can start the conversation.
Stay calm even if the assistant gets emotional.
• Ask, “What is it that seems to be bothering us?”
• How do you feel about this?
• What are your ideas about what we can do to solve this problem?
• I like (name idea or ideas the assistant offered).
• I have some ideas too. We can ____ or _____ (fill in some ideas)
• What do you think of those ideas?
After brainstorming several solutions, ask:
• Which of these ideas should we try?
Pick any ideas the assistant gave and praise her for good thinking. You might say, “You really helped to solve this problem.”
The assistant might feel so empowered, that she will spread the word to the other assistants.
I know of a similar situation that occurred between adults in an office, and the individuals involved made a project of “solving the problem together.” They became best friends!