10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Potentially Making a Fool of Yourself in Public

The Dilemma of the Parched Pupils

As we begin a new school year, my social media is again crowded with the traditional school supply hunt for the specific folder with 14 silver colored brads or the global complaints about the car-rider line being too long. However, this year I read something legitimately disturbing. A parent friend of mine expressed concern over her child’s local public elementary school that had incorporated a reinforcement plan to reward students for NOT using the bathroom during the school day and had eliminated their post-lunch classwide bathroom breaks. Thus her smart son had devised a plan to not drink liquids before or during school on any school day.

It appears that this school obviously understands the basic behavioral principles of reinforcement and schedules of reinforcement by having a daily potent reward for each parched pupil. However, they missed the general idea of what the purpose of the bathroom is. I’m not going to go into detail about that, but it’s safe to say that institutional public health is vital in government run institutions, especially with children.

I have not heard an update after this parent, who is extremely capable of understating all of the factors involved and communicating them effectively, discussed those concerns with the school. While anxiously anticipating an update, I thought of a few tips for educators to help parents involved in situations like this. It could be in prepping for a parent-teacher conference, writing a memo, talking to the media, using social media about yourself –family – kids, -students, discussing adult decisions in earshot of little ones, or in general anytime a person is listening. This is not an exhaustive list, just a starter.

  • Does this action help?

    It’s like complaining about the preaching ever single Sunday. Unless you do something about it, like discuss with the preacher your concerns, it’s not helpful. Sometimes we can get in a cycle of “admiring the problem.” Sometimes action or words are needed. Often, they are not. Of course sometimes action can hurt. No all hurt is “bad,” like medicine or remediation – a pairing of hurt to get to a good outcome. But some hurt is just hurt – eliminate it. We also need to think about who else could get hurt. If you’re an educator, you must think about the student cost.

  • Am I doing this as a result of my emotional state?

    I had heard as a pre-service teacher in college that everyone gets frustrated in the classroom and if you don’t address it you will “go-off” at some point. I didn’t really believe the talking heads about that one, until week 3 of student teaching. It was with one of those students that you never forget tragic home situation & a tragic educational history that was finally being remedied. Being emotionally and physically exhausted every day took its toll on me. That class also confirmed my decision to become a school psychologist, so that I would be able to help teachers like me who feel like they are beating their heads against a wall with little or slow results.

  • Do I know & have I verified all of the facts?

    We’ve all seen or experienced the horror of realizing our sources had it all wrong. But a crucial piece here is to also check to see if you know all of the facts so that you have the whole picture. I recently was organizing a mission project and was informed that a student participant would need a less physically intensive work site due to her orthopedic impairment. As an educator I thought I was going above and beyond by following up with her youth group leader by asking if anything else could be done to assist her. That’s where I messed up. I never asked her. I thought I had all of the facts but the leader didn’t have all of the facts. In her public life, we had everything going smoothly. However, we missed the need for specific showers and grips for her to walk in the bathrooms. It all worked out, but I should have verified all of the facts.

  • Am I doing this to prop myself up/impress?

    Think of any school assembly you’ve ever been to, or worse-welcome back professional development days. Hours of our lives have been dedicated to hearing the same presentation in multiple venues. My rule of thumb is that if it could be said in an edited memo, do that instead.

  • Can this action be misunderstood easily?

    So many text messages, or social media posts are misinterpreted. Self-editing is a good skill. However, in the video world, you don’t get to edit your own work. My parents had a house rule that we were never allowed to talk to a reporter on or off camera. Their thought was that the dumbest thing we said would be the soundbite that made the air. It’s not a bad rule or theory.

  • Am I the right person for this action?

    This question could go down a rabbit hole of subsections like “Am I prepared (content, emotionally, physically, attire, etc.)?” or “Is this task in someone else’s role?” Essentially, you are not responsible for doing everything. Even in a crisis or disaster, you do not have to be all to all. Sometimes giving others the opportunity to act creates a space for you to take a well-needed step back. I have a good friend that has begun streamlining her scheduled and paring down her possessions in education, as we becoming collectors of so many things. Part of her new mantra is to never accept a leadership position or new role without spending a week considering it. If they need someone sooner, her idea is that they need someone else for the role.

  • Will this action prevent me from growing in some way?

    Opportunities can be given or taken away for so many reasons. Your professional and personal growth is not always about opportunities, but your goals may include them. Refocusing on what your values and your personal growth plan is for the short and long-term, may help in decision making.

  • What is at stake if I take this action?

    Legally, ethically, personally, and professionally we must think about the possible reproductions of our actions. It may be as simple as not getting invited to the girl’s night out, or worse, your kid not getting an invite to a party. All of that is ridiculous, but we know it happens. The old-school T-chart can help you reframe and plan strategically.

  • Is now the right timing for this action?

    If a major decision can wait a day – wait. Sometimes waiting a year might be a good idea. Waiting for backup, feedback, or your emotional and/or physical wellness to be fully functional may save you time and heartache in the future.

  • What else do I need to make the BEST decision in this situation?

    Sometimes laying out all of the options and seeking other options if none seem helpful is a good plan. The “what else do I need” part may take the form of more education, a professional consultation with a colleague, or any of a host of relaxing get a-ways like a good night’s rest, a jog with your dog, a hot bath, family time, an afternoon at the lake, or for me a morning kayak trip on the bayou.

Meagan Medley

Dr. Meagan Medley received her doctorate in School Psychology at Mississippi State University. Her school based work includes a focus in Response to Intervention (RTI), Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), Crisis Prevention and Management, systems-wide data analysis, eligibility evaluation, and Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). Dr. Medley has published research concerning the Response to Intervention and special education. Her current research interests include treatment integrity, educational practice with students with vision impairments and blindness, best practices in school-based service, school-based crisis, and international education.

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