My View

A Rant About Civility
By ROARK HORN/School Administrator, September 2017

I KNOW THAT ranting about civility may seem like an oxymoron, but it also illustrates my confusion about what is going on out in the world. Is it just me, or has our society gotten a lot less civil?

Every time I turn on the TV (and that is becoming less and less often), people are yelling at each other. They are doing this because they disagree, but when I listen closely, those talking are often close to agreement — and yet they still are YELLING. If I judge by only what I see on TV, it appears as if many people today only know how to communicate by raising their voices and talking over each other.

Countering Actions
A good question to ask is how did we get to the point where we have no tolerance for other’s thoughts and opinions unless they line up neatly with ours? Answering that could get us to the root cause of the problem. But I also think we could study that a long time and never get to an answer that we agree on … at which point we might start yelling at each other, thus adding to the insanity of the situation.

Instead, I say let’s focus on what this incivility means for us as school leaders, and what we might do to counteract it.

First, consider what growing up in a world of incivility is doing to our children. Up to a certain age, children look to adults as models of how to behave. If the models they see are always in verbal attack mode, then that is the behavior they will emulate.

Can you imagine a school building where the children are all behaving like so many of the people we see on TV? Your answer must be no because you simply do not allow that kind of behavior in your building. Thus you already are providing one counteractive measure by promoting a nurturing environment where students recognize what a considerate, caring world can look like.

Not only are you providing that kind of environment, you also are personally modeling the behavior you expect. Here’s a loaded question: When was the last time you yelled at a student or one of your staff members? Probably never. When was the last time you were even mildly uncivil? Again, probably never.

That is because even though society is tacking toward incivility, we EXPECT (sorry for yelling) our school leaders to act civilly. This does not mean you have to agree or acquiesce to everything — in fact, you actually spend a lot of time having to tell people they can’t get what they want. “No, I am not going to fire the team’s coach because your son is not playing.” “I agree your teacher expects a lot out of you — that’s because she cares.”

But as leaders we have learned to explain our rationale in a civil way so that even though those people being denied might not agree with the decision, they understand it comes from a leader who listened and gave thoughtful consideration, but ultimately could not agree to their request.

Modeling Decorum
By creating respectful environments for learning and by modeling how to behave, you already are doing what you can to bring civility to an uncivil world. Your professionalism might be one of the few examples others have for how to conduct themselves when things aren’t going their way.

Although I understand that behaving well when others get to misbehave in front of us can be exhausting and test our patience, every time you choose to take the high road you are raising the bar for others. You are setting a shining example for those who look up to you. You can’t hear this often enough: Thank you for rising above the fray and, in the process, lifting others up.

ROARK HORN is executive director of School Administrators of Iowa in Clive, Iowa. E-mail: Twitter: @roarkhorn