When my son was in preschool he came home with this mantra one day, “Secrets, secrets are not nice… even for little mice.” When he came home with this little gem, I thought about my own secret keeping skills. But the more I thought about this little chant the more I thought, “This is SO wrong!” The leading sentence should be updated to: “Gossip, gossip, is not nice…” It’s not the secret that causes the problem but rather the spreading of secrets that does.
Gossip runs rampant in a school community. Amongst students, gossip is a behavior we try to abolish through education about empathy, open-mindedness, perspectives, and compassion. But gossip amongst the parent community can have detrimental effects on a school community and schools have limited ways to curb the tempers that ensue.
In my years of teaching, I’ve had a number of parents talk to me (as a teacher and parent) about other students in their child’s classroom community: “Can you believe that Ethan* has not been suspended from school after he kicked Janice on the playground?” or “I think Mrs. Smith lets that boy get away with anything he wants to in class” or ” We won’t be inviting her to our daughter’s birthday party because she is such a naughty child.”
The truth of the matter is–we all only know half of the story. And even if you were a participant in the event that has lead to the story that is being spread, you have your own perspective that can skew the story.
So here are my 4 best tips for curbing gossip:
- Avoid. Don’t participate in it! It’s as simple as that. If you hear someone start gossiping about a student, parent, or colleague you need to take control of your behavior and say something, change the subject, or walk away.
- Pause. Take a minute to reflect on why you are listening to the gossip. If you choose to listen and/or spread gossip, consider what it say about you and your character.
- Empathize. Think back to a time when someone gossiped about you. How did it feel? Were you mad at the gossip creator or the one(s) spreading it? So why are you part of that same cycle?
- Speak up. I can tell you, this is the tip I find most challenging (as a parent) but quite easy as a teacher. When parents come to me as an educator, I sort of have the upper hand and can tell them that I need to listen to all sides of the story with an open mind. As a parent, I find that gossip is so pervasive at birthday parties and social events that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to quash. As often as I feel confident, I try to speak up and say something of value about the person they are gossiping about. Defending the person at the crux of the story often stops the gossipers in their tracks as people often gossip when they feel that their audience has a sense of disdain for the person being talked about. A compliment skews their perception of me and gives the person a good quality–and it’s hard to gossip about people who are good.
As a teacher, I would add one additional thought I’d like you to consider: If you are listening to parents talking about how that “Mean girl hits other students” keep in mind, you and your child may be the next target of such gossip.
What will you do differently tomorrow?
*Names have been changed for child protection.