Sunday night I got a call. It was Barbara. “I have something I need to talk to you about tomorrow at co-op. It’s very important. I’d like Meagan to be there.”
“Uh…ok,” I replied. “Would you like to tell me about it now?”
“No, I’d rather talk about it tomorrow. Is there a time we can all meet?”
“I think we all have first hour free, but I want the rest of the leadership to be there if that is ok.”
“Sure, ok,” she said.
After the call, my mind was certainly wandering. What was going on? Well, I guess I’d find out. I contacted the rest of the team and in the morning we all met in an empty classroom.
Barbara was definitely upset. Some things had happened outside of co-op between her family and Meagan’s. Both families had teenagers. Meagan had already withdrawn one of her sons the week before, but we didn’t really know the details at the time. You could tell Meagan was struggling, but she was trying to be professional and not let her feelings get in the way of classes. Barbara had hit her limit, though, and didn’t want to have any classes where she and Meagan had to work together. She said her husband did not want their kids in classes with Meagan anymore either.
We encouraged her to talk it over with Meagan while we were there, but she was too upset to deal with it head on. Honestly, I think we were all a little stunned. Seriously, you could have picked our jaws off the floor. First of all, we were blindsided by the whole ordeal (well, most of us. I guess one of the leaders knew more about it. But because she was more intimately involved, she didn’t feel she should make a decision on it.) Second, it was obvious to us there was a lot going on that a little communication could have at least helped with. It might not have solved the whole problem, but a little understanding would have gone a long way.
In the moment, I don’t think any of us on the leadership team knew exactly what to do. We decided to put an extra aid in the class where they were both helping for that day, and promised to talk it over and figure out a solution that week.
Well, that never happened. Meagan left crying and decided to withdraw completely. Ugh. That’s when you really feel like you’re loosing as a leader. You know the feeling? When your stomach is in your shoes? When you want to help but you don’t know what to do, or it’s too late, or you wish you had done something different?
Could we have prevented this? I’m not sure. But there were several things I learned from this event.
- If someone calls you and has a problem and says they want to meet with you at co-op, tell them you would really rather they just talk to you right then on the phone. Don’t go into a meeting blind if you can help it. That is what I always tell people now, and it really diffuses a lot of problems if you can get them to just tell you right away. Usually the more someone stews on it, the more of a mountain it becomes in their mind. If you can address it right away it’s always better. You may not be able to solve every problem, but your odds will be greater.
- Don’t ever have a serious meeting involving conflict between people BEFORE co-op i.e. don’t have it in the morning before classes start. Set up the meeting for after. If you have it before, there is often not enough timed to really deal with the situation, especially if the leadership needs to consult about it. Do it AFTER co-op, so that you have a week (or a couple days, or an evening…depending on how often you meet) to get it figured out before everyone has to see each other again.
- You only need to worry about what goes on at co-op. I realized after this that I cannot fix other people’s issues. I’m glad to help if both parties are willing to talk and want a mediator. But if they are just plain mad at each other, there’s nothing I can do about it. BUT, as long as they are at co-op I expect them to treat each other with professional courtesy. If it’s kids that have conflict, I expect them to treat each other with kindness, or at least leave each other alone. If it comes to it, and a family just can’t handle it and wants to drop, then that is their choice. Hopefully, especially if they are teaching or have commitments, they will stick it out. Also, if someone says they don’t want their child with a certain teacher, then, assuming the teacher’s behavior is fine, they need to withdraw their child. I am not reorganizing the co-op around their needs. I’m not in charge of their family, but neither are they in charge of my co-op!
So what was the aftermath? Well, the conflict died down quickly, since one of the families left. I kept in touch with Meagan for a while after, just to check in and see how things were going. I always enjoyed her family being a part of our group and missed having them. And Barbara’s family is great and we are still friends. I know it was just a hard time and the “Mama Bears” came out to defend and take care of their families. Who knows that I wouldn’t have done the same in their situation. We all have times when we don’t see eye to eye or feel overwhelmed or frustrated. But there IS a great basic roadmap for dealing with conflict, gossip, and misunderstanding.
The best thing that came out of that learning experience was our “Trust Agreement“. When all of it went down I called a mentor and she wisely shared this document with me to use in our group. Now EVERYONE is required to sign it before they come to co-op each year. We modified it slightly, but the end result is that it sets up our expectations from the beginning, and since everyone signs it, they are accountable to follow it. Does it prevent every conflict, all gossip, and all misunderstandings? No, but it cuts down on them for sure! Ours includes Bible verses that explain why we set these expectations. But you can use the agreement without the verses if it suites your group better. The main ideas are the same either way. It was given to us, and we’d love to pass it on!
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