By Trent Provo
Indiana State University
Principal, Meadowlawn Elementary
Twin Lakes School Corporation
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Indiana State University
Soap operas have been airing in the United States for well over fifty years. Most have the following in common: Love triangles, outlandish plots, over-the-top acting, and last, but not least, DRAMA.
What is it that makes these programs so popular that people will watch them for half a century? Is it that they allow people to escape from their everyday lives and experience a fantasy world? Do viewers enjoy the entertainment value of the plot lines? Or could it be the drama?
Soap operas are a lot like some of our schools, it seems.
No single organization is immune to drama and its effects.
In their book, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires, Dr. Nate Regier and Jeff King (2013) define drama as "the pattern of habitual and predictable roles that cover up our best selves, justified by myths, which move us further away from solutions, healthy relationships, and effectiveness" (p. 26). Drama invites us to put on figurative masks and play roles that are certainly not representative of our best selves.
When drama takes place in schools, it leads to a decrease in productivity, morale, and overall effectiveness, not to mention time wasted by principals who are trying to make sense of it all while working to diffuse it.
Let's take a look.
Teacher A: A good teacher. His students are motivated; they achieve above the state average on state assessments and show above-average academic growth. He is dedicated to the school’s mission and champions the cause of the at-risk student. At times, however, he will push his beliefs about classroom management and best practice upon others, and when school leadership does something that he would consider shortsighted, he will not hesitate to hold court in the teachers lounge. At times, his tone comes across as preachy, as if he were saying, "Do you mean to tell me, given the fact that we offered our input, that it was completely discounted? Where’s the commitment to the faculty!?" He has been known from time to time to sidebar with parents at the local Walmart and offer critiques of their children’s current teachers. Every so often, he looks for the faults in others and at times, forsakes others for having a lack of commitment.
Teacher B: A good teacher. Her students are usually at or above the state average on state assessments and show typical growth. She cares about her students and forms relationships with students and parents. She considers her students “her flock,” and at times will over-adapt to them when they are misbehaving. While in distress this teacher acts as a victim. She droops around on some days, not looking as well-accessorized as she does on others, almost as if someone has hurt her feelings. She appears down on herself when things aren’t going her way, and often says that she deserves what she gets. She bemoans how hard she works, yet at times she feels that nothing she ever does is good enough.
Teacher C: A good teacher. Students are performing and love her class. In fact, she is the chairperson of the building’s Teacher Assistance Team. Oftentimes, when other teachers are having problems with students, she will help them with strategies that she feels will make a difference. Yet at times, she’ll go too far. She’ll spend her preparation periods in other teachers’ classes helping supervise off-task students. She’ll even help those students complete their assignments, taking the responsibility off of their shoulders. So that teachers can have more planning time, she’ll even offer to take their classes or their extra-duty assignments so that they have more time to work on curricular alignment or pacing guides. She’s the peace-maker in the teachers lounge and one who often will quietly sweep conflict under the rug by placating as many people as she can, instead of inviting others to be accountable.
In each of the descriptions above, the teachers respond differently to distress. One is a Persecutor; another is a Victim, and a third is a Rescuer. Regier & King (2013) might concur, per the fascinating discoveries of Stephen Karpman that they noteded in their book. In our example, each of these teachers handles his or her distress in a different way, each as part of Karpman’s Drama Triangle.
What does this cycle of drama mean for school leaders?
Imagine if these teachers could avoid this sort of distress, or at least provide for their own needs more effectively so that they would not allow distress to affect their teaching. Kahler (2008) offered tools that a school leader can use to help with this. The most important thing to consider is that we as school leaders must focus on people. In doing so, we can then recognize drama and help to put an end to it. Better relationships allow for educational effectiveness, critical in successful schools.
Teachers need to be as close to their best selves as they can be, everyday. They owe it to their students; they owe it to themselves. If workers at a factory face drama and their effectiveness suffers, then they could produce faulty products. These products, albeit substandard and at times, even unsafe, can be recalled by the manufacturer.
If teachers face drama and are less effective, can we recall the students? Do they have a second chance at market dominance?
We all know the answer.
Schools are creating a product that our country depends on more than anything else. And on the way to becoming economically competitive and socially responsible, our students are relying upon us as both clients and customers. Is a daily Soap Opera the “script” that students arrive at school to purchase?
As school leaders, once we recognize drama, we can use appropriate tools for human relations that we have at our disposal (Kahler, 2008). Our first step is to recognize the personalities of those involved in the drama, as well as the roles our staff members may play in their own Academy Award-Winning Performances. The next is to communicate openly and honestly with our staffs. Regier & King (2013) noted that this is being compassionate with them.
The way these messages are delivered is often more important than the messages themselves. With this in mind, it could be said that one’s channel of communication (Kahler, 2008) can help change the channel on any given day’s hourly broadcast.
Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Six personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates.
Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy Vampires. Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing.
Trent Provo and Ryan Donlan believe DRAMA is quite influential in student and staff underperformance today in our nation’s schools. They wish to invite K-12 education in America to move from where it is to an even better place. If you would like to have a conversation with our authors, please feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.