Pervasive Undermining in Education and What to do About it

As dedicated professionals, we all understand the critical role that educators play in shaping the future of our students and, ultimately, society as a whole. However, it’s disheartening to see that some educators are experiencing situations where their authority, expertise, and well-being are being undermined. Undermining is the process by which one individual decreases someone else’s effectiveness, power, or ability.

Some examples of undermining in education include the following:

  • Disruptive Student Behavior: defiant, disrespectful, or uncooperative behavior
  • Lack of Parental Support: unsupportive of teacher’s authority or discipline decisions
  • Colleague Interference: not collectively following school rules/policies together, spreading rumors, questioning a colleague’s competence, or not collaborating
  • Administrative Neglect and Lack of Support: discipline, resource allocation, etc.
  • Lack of Respect for Expertise
  • Excessive Workload
  • Micromanagement

Damages of Undermining may include the following:

  • Increased anxiety, depression, irritability, stress, and burnout
  • Reduced self-confidence and feeling demoralized
  • Decreased work ethic and job satisfaction 
  • Increased resentment in professional relationships and eroded trust 
  • Increased educator turnover rates
  • Decreased student performance 
  • Increased triangulation among staff, students, parents, and guardians
  • Decreased educator autonomy

Addressing Undermining:

Addressing colleagues, parents, guardians, students, or administrators who undermine you can be a delicate but essential task to maintain a positive and effective working environment. Here are some steps you can take to handle such situations:

  • If it doesn’t impact you, you don’t work with this person often or have enough information to confront – Ignore the behavior and remain cordial and professional as you gather more information.
  • If they make snide comments or underhanded jokes about you- Ask questions for clarification, like “What do you mean by that?”
  • Reduce personalization to help you remain confident: Make an effort to understand why this person might be undermining you. Is it due to jealousy? Do they have a need to be important, seen as competent, or in control? Do they have an agenda? Is this how they treat everyone, or is it just with you?
  • Involve administration when appropriate. 

When you have enough information, you can address the behavior directly with an open and honest conversation.

Here are some steps for a direct conversation:

  1. Self-Reflection: Before confronting, take some time for self-reflection. Ensure that you’re not misinterpreting their actions or that you haven’t contributed to the issue in any way. Be open to the possibility that there might be a misunderstanding.
  2. Private Conversation: Choose a private and neutral setting for a one-on-one conversation to reduce embarrassment or defensiveness in a public confrontation.
  3. Stay Calm and Professional: Maintain a calm and professional demeanor during the conversation. Focus on the specific behaviors or actions concerning you rather than making it personal. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and concerns.
  4. Be Specific: Clearly and concisely describe the undermining behavior. Use concrete examples to illustrate the issue so your colleague understands what you’re referring to.
  5. Listen Actively: Allow the person to respond and share their perspective. They may not be aware of how their actions are affecting you or the learning environment. Be willing to hear feedback about your behavior.
  6. Seek Common Ground: Try to find common ground or areas of agreement during the conversation. Emphasize your shared commitment to the well-being of students and the institution.
  7. Propose Solutions: Suggest potential solutions or compromises to address the issue. Show your willingness to work together to improve the situation.
  8. Document the Conversation: Document the critical points discussed and any agreements reached after the conversation. Documentation can be helpful if the issue persists and you need to involve higher authorities.
  9. Involve a Third Party: If the issue persists or the conversation doesn’t lead to a resolution, you may need to involve a supervisor, department head, or HR representative. Be prepared to provide documented evidence of your concerns.
  10. Maintain Professionalism: Regardless of the outcome, maintain professionalism and a respectful attitude toward the person undermining you. Continue focusing on your teaching responsibilities, connecting to your students, smiling, and enjoying the other aspects of your job.
  11. Self-Care: Dealing with undermining can be emotionally taxing. Practice self-care and seek support from friends, mentors, or counselors.

Remember that your goal in addressing undermining is to create a more supportive and positive working environment for yourself and your students. While it may not always lead to an immediate resolution, addressing the issue directly is an important step toward a healthier educational community.

To learn more about creating Healthy Teams and managing the feelings and emotions of setting healthy boundaries, take our online class Healing Discipline, Part 2, The Joy Continues. You can also take a live course or an on demand course or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.”  We are happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at info@healingchildren.com.

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