Friday, April 17, 2009

Sharing bad news?

Like many towns and cities across the country, our school district is facing tough economic times. There has been a flurry of news stories about how many teachers would be laid off, what the union has said, what they mayors thinks, and what the school department is really going to. Each day a new story, with different numbers of projected teacher layoffs.

In my building there has been plenty of speculation about who was going to be laid off and who was going to keep their current position. At this time, the decisions seem to be made based on seniority and not performance. Anyway one teacher suspected that she would be laid off and anticipated that in the coming weeks, the principal would take her and a few other teachers into his office and give them a heads up. This simple act of decency was ignored.

Two of the teachers received a letter via certified mail explaining that they no longer had positions as of June 30, 2009. Certified mail? It is shocking and appalling to me that the principal or assistant principal or someone from Human resources couldn't have had a face to face conversation with these teachers. During the time that they were waiting to hear about their future, they could have been researching other positions and or possibly interviewing. I am sure to some people that this is just part of their daily business, sometimes you hire new people and sometimes you lay off others. No big deal, right?

Unless you are the person affected by those decisions. I know my principal seeks to avoid confrontation at all possible costs, but to not have enough nerve to be straightforward with people who are being laid off? As Mr. K1 teacher said, it is an easier firing because it has nothing to do with poor performance, just lack of funding for their positions. Part of being a leader in any industry means that you have to communicate with people. Sometimes the content of what you have to communicate is not always pleasant, but as a leader, it is still your to do it.

If it were up to me, I would have called the people into my office individually and explained the situation to them. I would have offered to network on their behalf with other principals I know. I certainly would have offered to write them a letter of recommendation (assuming poor performance was not an issue) and maybe would have asked if they wanted to be on the sub list for next year. I certainly would have done more than send letters to their homes via certified mail and then simply shrug my shoulders when I am confronted about it.

How do you prefer to receive bad news, face to face or in the privacy of your own home? How do you deliver unpleasant news? Do you face the music or hide from possible confrontation?

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