Disputes in Schools
I was asked to mediate a dispute between two staff members in a school. The principal had been referred to ma and he was aware that I had chaired the board of management in a different school and so understood issues that might arise in a school environment.
In essence, the two teachers that were at the heart of the dispute had always gotten along together both in the staff room and at any school social functions they were both at. Whilst they were not friendly outside of the school their working relationship was harmonious and they both taught different subjects.
This was until one day in the staff room when it seemed that party A thought he overheard party B calling him names to a third party.
He thought party B had said to the other person that A was a terrible teacher, couldn’t control his class and was still using the same notes as 5 years ago. While party B was telling the third party this he was looking directly at party A so party A had no doubt that the comments referred to him and his teaching. Party A then lost his temper and started shouting at party B and accusing him of being a dreadful teacher and calling him names. As this was shouted everyone in the room was a witness to what A called B.
Both party A and party B made a complaint to the Principal who decided that mediation was the best way forwards.
PRIOR TO THE MEDIATION
I met both of the teachers separately and heard their stories. In my private meetings with each of the parties, party B said that the words that party A had heard (and heard correctly) did not refer to party A. They referred to a completely different person. B wasn’t aware that he was looking at A when he was talking to the third party. Party B was completely taken aback when party A started shouting back at him, calling him names and accusing him of bad teaching. What party B wanted was a public apology.
DURING THE MEDIATION
At the mediation I asked each party to tell their version of events. B told A he had not been speaking about him and gave anecdotal “evidence” as to why that was the case. Eventually A accepted the comments weren’t about him and that B hadn’t been looking at him deliberately when he was making the comments. A then apologised for what he had said and said that he did think he was a good teacher and had only said what he did in retaliation.
Both parties wanted to put the matter behind them and I helped them to craft a joint statement that was to be put on the staff room board for one day only. The parties agreed to treat each other with respect.
The benefit of mediation in this situation was that the parties met very quickly after the incident before it became too entrenched. The mediation allowed for a conversation between the two teachers who could eyeball each other and asses the truth of what they were saying. This would never have happened if there had been a formal process.
The teachers were then able to agree to move on, agree a joint statement which saved face for both of them and enabled them and the staff room to move on past the events.