January 25, 2015 in School Culture

“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.” – Joe Walsh        

High levels of complaining can become a normal occurrence in schools. Complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person. Complaining is like spinning our wheels- we spend a lot of energy but go nowhere. Some neuropsychologists have even suggested that complaining is bad for our brains. Exposure to negativity for 30 minutes or more impacts the neurons in the hippocampus, impairing the ability to problem solve. We give away our power and become victims when we focus on complaints over solutions. We must be keenly aware that complaining is contagious and contributes to a toxic school culture.

I recently attended an interesting session at EdCamp Orange titled “Things That Suck." Participants passionately discussed their views about what is wrong in education.We covered high stakes testing, invalid performance pay measures and one size fits all homework practices. We could have discussed these issues all day. Don’t get me wrong, there are many detrimental policies and practices in education. And I’ll admit that by the end of the session, I was fired up. However, I wasn’t sure exactly how to channel that outrage. I left the session with a general notion about advocating but without a specific action plan.

The best antidote for complaining is commitment to changing things that are not working and acceptance of things that can’t be changed. Try adding the word so after every complaint followed by the action you are going to take to correct the situation. For example, instead of complaining about students’ behavior in the cafeteria, you might say, “Students are inappropriate and noisy in the cafeteria; so let’s think of some incentives for better choices.” Make it a policy in your school that anyone who brings a complaint must also bring a possible solution. Commit to changing the complaining habit at your school today.

Questions for reflection:

What have you complained about lately? What strategies can you use to change complaining into problem solving? How can you refrain from complaining about things you can’t control?


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