Maybe it’s the fact that, just last week, I delivered a keynote presentation in Florida about child abuse. Maybe it’s that, just yesterday, a safety officer for a state association told me of his worry that too much attention is on the threat of the “active shooter” in our schools to the exclusion of the continuing threat to students from sexual violence and domestic abuse. Either way, as I read an article in my local newspaper this morning about the firing of Rutgers College basketball coach Mike Rice, I was frightened by the potential parallels to adults who work with students with special needs – including school bus drivers. Read the rest of this entry
I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen. In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.
The challenge, as a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself. As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.
To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too. Count the number of statements you agree with.
- When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
- When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
- When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
- When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
- “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
- When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
- When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
- When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
- The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
- I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
- Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.
If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist. Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)
I noticed a long time ago that even people I respected as highly intelligent and effective in their lives struggled with self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is widely recognized as an essential skill for each student in order to contribute to post-K-12 success as an independent citizen. Are we failing to teach that skill, or are many adults failing to retain it? When students’ IEP’s and Section 504 plans included language such as “Student will let teacher know when he doesn’t understand the homework assignment,” I have wondered how these students will achieve this goal when so many of the very capable adults I’ve known might well have failed to accomplish it.
Just last evening, a woman I admire, with academic and career credentials anyone would be proud to have, described her inability to ask a person whom she had hired to do work in her home to deliver the result he had been hired to deliver. The problem wasn’t that the worker was unable to meet my friend’s needs, but that my friend was uncomfortable simply asking for what she was paying for.
Maybe my friend’s reluctance was a creature of past discouragement. If one doesn’t think “asking” will work, why put oneself “out there”? Poet Maya Angelou said “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” Maybe we’re somehow afraid of success.
Or maybe self-advocacy is too often identified with being “pushy” or “aggressive,” rather than task-oriented and self-assured. Are people reluctant to go after their needs because they simply are insecure about how to do so?
But let me encourage you a bit, at least as self-advocacy applies to your position as a pupil transportation professional. Consider carving out those requests that you must make for the sake of your student riders, from those things you’d just like to have in your work environment. Practice asserting yourself with supervisors to get the equipment, the changes, the personnel that you need to keep students safe. When self-advocacy is, in reality, for the benefit of students whose safety depends upon you, you’re obligated to take the plunge. Maybe if you (1) identify what they need; (2) develop a plan to get it for them; and (3) carry it out with good timing, respect, and awareness of the style and limitations of the people with the power to give you what you need for students, you’ll find you’re successful – at least some of the time. Maybe, then, you’ll try it in your personal life as well.
Long-time star of the Tonight Show, comedian Johnny Carson frequently played the role of Carnac the Magnificent, a “mystic from the east” who could psychically “divine” unseen answers to unknown questions. When student safety is in your hands, you can’t depend upon others being mind-readers. You’ve got to ask for what you need to keep students safe.
I had a gum graft last week. No fun, but not as bad as I’d anticipated. In fact, I was made more comfortable during the procedure with the help of a healthy dose of nitrous oxide. It’s a good drug, even if “laughing gas” is a bit of a misnomer. And, it’s not nearly as “magical” as the medication they administer intravenously so that one’s colonoscopy is less fearful than the preparation for it. But, I digress. The point of my story is that I had some insights during my “twilight time” to what it might feel like to be a student with a disability – restrained, movement limited, and in some cases (like mine, yesterday), basically unable to communicate. I couldn’t “do”; I was “done to.” I was at the mercy of the periodontist and his assistant. I trusted in their expertise, but couldn’t help wondering in the semi-paranoia induced by both the nitrous and the situation, if they knew what they were doing.
I amused myself by focusing on what I might say about this in a blog. That diversion helped to make me somewhat objective about the complete vulnerability I felt. Here are some observations.
• Sometimes touching a student’s body in the course of securing him or her cannot be avoided. Be aware that you’re doing it. Say something that recognizes and apologizes for what may constitute a privacy intrusion.
• Assume that the student is hearing and understanding every word you say to another person with whom you’re working. I happen to think my periodontist is a terrific guy, and I really like his assistant, but I didn’t want to hear even a little bit of conversing about their holidays – I wanted total concentration on my mouth.
• Soothe the student with reassurance that everything is going well. At the end of the procedure, Dr. Thomas said “You did awesome,” to which I replied, “How did you do – that’s the important thing!” In the course of the hour long procedure, I might have liked to know what stage we were at. I might have been glad to know that there was very little bleeding – an indication that I was unlikely to have the excessive bleeding reflected on my post-procedure instructions that would require extra care. You get the point. I’m not enjoying reliving the experience, and you probably don’t want to read more details about it. So, getting back to the student and the CSRS – It may seem obvious, and even patronizing to say “You’re all secure and ready for a safe ride,” but it can be very reassuring to the student.
Anyway, it might be valuable for you to reflect deeply about what it must feel like to be at the mercy of another. I highly recommend reading Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, an award-winning book about a teenager who is “glued to his wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle-he can’t even move his eyes.“ Narrated by the fictional boy, it will add to your vision of vulnerability, much as yesterday’s experience added to mine.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Guangzhou (Canton) in the People’s Republic of China. Since this isn’t a travel blog I won’t bore you with the usual references to exotic sites and fascinating people. Among the many lasting impressions I will keep is a set of circumstances that are seared into my mind. Near death experiences have a way of doing that.
I’ve experienced countless unsafe modes of transport including Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok, dirt bikes in West Texas, illegal taxis in central Mexico, parachutes in San Diego, and elephants in Chang Mai. However, taxi rides in Guangzhou had the special distinction of bringing me face-to-face with death. As a matter of course, a Cantonese taxi ride involves prolonged periods where the car straddles the lane line. No doubt, in the driver’s mind this increases their options. At any instant they can switch lanes because, after all, they’re already partially in the other lane already. As a result, a taxi ride is frequently an exercise in attacking and defending. Sort of like a perverse fencing match with potentially similar results.
Near misses, in this setting, are extremely common. You would think that after one or two near misses the driver would learn to be a bit more cautious. However, we humans have a unique and amazing ability. We can rationalize and explain away these experiences so that we are more comfortable when we repeat them. This may sound trite and even whiny. However, in any safety sensitive business this is extremely troublesome. In fact, two Georgetown University researchers (Dillon-Merrill & Tinsley) have shown that people who escape near-misses are even more likely to repeat the risky behavior. Unfortunately for many of us, surviving a near miss teaches us how good we are at surviving rather than how close we’ve come to disaster. Each time we miss we become a little more confident and a little less cautious.
There is a reason the FAA defines a near miss as an event where two planes come within a mile of each other. Pilots are required to report these near misses. Were it not for this rule (verified by radar), most professional pilots (like some professional bus drivers) would be too self-confident to report it. More significantly they would be unlikely to change any of their behaviors or procedures. That is, of course, until the near miss isn’t a miss at all.
NOTE: Peggy and Pete will be taking a break for a couple of weeks. We’ll be back early next year to share, discuss, ponder, and laugh in our usual manner. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy we will be keeping our friends and families just a little bit closer during this holiday season. We encourage you to do the same.