Teacher gossip is a pernicious problem in many schools. Many of the administrators who hire me to do workshops and retreats with their staff ask me to help them work on gossip. We know better, but it happens anyway.
When teacher gossip becomes a toxic presence in a school, joy and creativity are stifled. Suspicion and distrust become the new norm. School culture can be ruined by gossip. As a leader, you stand at the forefront of building something more constructive.
What Causes Gossip?
Most of the time gossip is the result of people not having enough information. When they don’t feel safe or know the protocol for getting accurate information, they turn elsewhere. They attempt to fill in the gaps by asking around and sharing what they think they know.
Most people don’t have full blown malicious intent when they engage in gossip. They want to know as much as possible while protecting themselves. You can use your position as a leader to help them know as much as possible.
You have a lot of power to help your staff avoid gossip by being transparent. Give them more information than you think they need. As long as you don’t break confidentiality protocols, share what you know. They can decide what is relevant to them.
Make sure that you are the kind of leader staff know they can come to with concerns. If you aren’t going to act and help them, they won’t bother. When you sit and talk with a staff about a problem they have with a colleague and then you do nothing to act or follow up, you are just participating in gossip.
There is no reason for inaction in most cases. Either direct the complainant to go back to the other person and talk it out, or take action as a leader if it is severe. If they are talking it out, help them practice. Then follow up with them to check in. Eventually, you may need to step up and act with more serious situations.
Your staff should be able to count on you as a person of action and integrity. Show them by truly hearing them and supporting them as they navigate relationships with colleagues.
Even with a gorgeous culture and transparent leadership, teacher gossip will drip into your school at some point. Be ready with strategies for you and your teachers!
Last week I did a workshop with some teachers and we were talking about how to handle gossip. Two very clever assistant teachers suggested that the staff agree on a safe word or phrase that let them set a boundary about gossip without being confrontational. For example, “I need to go arrange some flowers” or “Have you thought about arranging flowers?” This is a clever solution for less confrontational people.
Building safe language into the culture helps to ensure that people of varied temperaments have the tools they need to stop gossip. Invite your staff to pick a safe phrase too!
If you want a visual reminder to help staff avoid gossip, try out this handy free poster I made for you! Print it on 11” x 17” paper, laminate it, and hang it in a bathroom stall or near the coffee pot. Keep a permanent visible reminder of what does and does not count as gossip.
Create Genuine Safety & Autonomy
You might try all of these ideas and find that gossip persists. That might be due to much deeper, possibly toxic school culture issues. If the school doesn’t feel like a genuinely safe place for people to work and exist fully as themselves, gossip will happen.
When there are staff members who behave in truly unprofessional ways. When there are teachers in desperate need of training on microaggressions in the workplace. When people feel genuinely stifled by policies and practices…this is when gossip will be unstoppable. That’s because the issue isn’t teacher gossip, the issue is bad polices and toxic behaviors. Address the underlying issues of feeling safe and autonomous and the gossip will subside naturally.
As a leader, you set the tone for culture in your school. Show everyone that you are a leader of integrity by tackling gossip head on. Take compassionate action and empower your staff to act for themselves. Tell them as much as you can about what is happening in the school so that they don’t fill the information vacuum with their own stories.
With bold leadership, you can keep teacher gossip to a minimum in your school!
Do your problems with gossip and teacher infighting go deeper? Maybe we should talk about doing some coaching together! Jump in now and let’s tackle this problem with compassion and courage!
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