Barking Dogs and Barking Dogs Who Bite

Thinking of school change from the framework of being intentional and rational about moves and counter moves, as mentioned in the previous post, can be helpful. Remember, a confrontational and forceful community member perceives their job as saying whatever it takes to have you NOT make the school change you are in the process of making.

Part of thinking through moves and counter-moves is knowing when you can and should ignore the issue, or take no action, and when you must do something, perhaps quickly. You have to be able to distinguish between “barking dogs” and “barking dogs that bite.” Many of the critics of the primary grade iPad initiative in Auburn said their piece, then went away. But we had one parent who kept returning to the school committee and to other community groups to blast the initiative. Her arguments were starting to gain traction, even though to those of us implementing the initiative none of them had any credence or basis in fact. She had become a barking dog that bites.

My superintendent was surprised by my solution. I put the parent on our design team. My superintendent wasn’t so sure about the move but trusted that I knew what I was doing. I’m not so sure that I knew what I was doing at the time (and frankly, part of it was the old “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”), but my instinct proved correct. The parent saw how decisions were made and saw that “what was good for children” was at the heart of what we were doing.

She also had a voice in our decisions (as did every design team member) and was now in the position of not being able to pontificate at a board meeting about what she thought we should or shouldn’t do, but now had to work with the team to convince us to do what she thought was right. When her ideas were what one might call extreme or crazy, she was only one voice and her ideas didn’t go far. When her ideas were on point, we collaborated on finding the right way to address the idea. She made quality contributions to the design and implementation of the initiative and even became a cautious supporter, advocating for continued funding for the project at budget time!

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