Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What are your need-meeting channels?

My last blog post about Needs-Finding Mindsets triggered lots of comments. In this post I am continuing the theme around "Needs Finding" but reframing it from meeting the needs of others to getting our own needs met.

Working in education is an amazing and at the same time tough/daunting/challenging (add your own adjective) job. For sanity's sake educators need places they can go, and people they can talk to, in order to gain perspective and preserve their sanity. Educators are not lucky enough to get 'professional supervision' like other emotionally-charged occupations such as counsellors and police. Instead we turn on our colleagues, relatives and close friends to get these needs met. And there are right ways and wrong ways to do this.

So let's start with the right 'need-meeting' channels. Coming in equal at No 1, are work colleagues and your nearest and dearest. Work colleagues because they have the clearest understanding of the context in which you work including 'how things work around here'. And your nearest and dearest because they have the clearest understanding of how you work - both your strengths and your weaknesses. If possible stick to conversations because these are less prone to being misunderstood than written communications.

At times we are in situations when we can't go to our work colleagues or we are facing something our nearest and dearest has no experience in and this is where organisations such as unions and professional associations are a great help. If you have questions about your employment conditions ring the union. If you don't understand your payslip talk to the person responsible for payroll. If you are unhappy about something that is happening in your school talk to a trusted senior leader. My general rule of thumb is to go to the person most qualified to meet your need.

So what are the wrong 'need-meeting; channels? Answer - anywhere that you do not have control over what happens next with what you divulge. The most powerful way I have seen this explained is to get people to imagine a conversation is like an egg. Once an egg has been cracked open (e.g. you've said or written something) you cannot put the egg back into its shell.

In the physical world most people seem cognisance that it is unprofessional, in social situations to share work stories that divulge personal details. Stories can and do travel fast especially in a small country. People however do not always apply the same caution to online social spaces.

I love social websites such as Facebook. I love that I can keep up with the coming and goings of family and friends. I love that I can share my life experiences. I love sharing great articles and blog posts. I love being able to share in life's celebration and to be able to offer support in times of grief. And all of this 'love' lulls me into a false sense of security.

For many, Facebook and other similar sites, have become integral parts of our lives to the point that we forget that when we hit the 'Post' button we no longer control what happens next. We post to closed groups forgetting that  a closed group only remains closed if every member of the group holds fast to the confidentiality of the group. We forget that a screenshot can be grabbed in an instant and used in multiple (and not always good) ways. We also forget that content posted to sites such as Facebook cedes license to the hosting platform.

In recent years I have witnessed a surge of online communities in which teachers and other professionals share ideas and support each other. Most of this is awesome. I also think it is only a matter of time (if it hasn't happened already) when something posted in a "closed" group becomes part of an employment dispute or ends up in the front page of a national news service. We need to be very protective of our online selves.

Working in education can and does have its challenges. People who commit their lives to serving the future generation often have compelling and urgent needs. There are also lots of channels through which educators can get these needs met. We just need to ensure we use the right ones.

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