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"Wait Until YOU Get Alex Next Year!" How to Handle Unsolicited Gossip about Children and Families in your Program

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Regardless of whether it’s a family child care or a center-based program, human nature dictates the   tendency for breaking the code of confidentiality in order to share a juicy tidbit with co-workers.

Maybe it’s something overheard in the hallway or a parent has confided an issue at home that may surely have repercussions on her child’s behavior. The next thing you know, this information is being broadcast among the employees.

We’ve all been there… out on the playground or at a staff meeting… someone just has to share the dirt on what they know or have heard.

Another form of gossip is for a co-worker to tell you all about a child in her room this year that has been nothing but trouble… so you can be prepared when you have him next.

How do YOU react? Do you stand by and listen, walk away, or say something? I guess the answer depends on the strength of your character. Perhaps you may feel that excusing yourself or confronting the issue may alienate you from the group. If you don’t plan to further share the information anyway, what’s the harm in just listening? What’s the big deal?

Well, if it’s a matter of getting that “heads up” on little Alex, it can be a big deal. Every child deserves the benefit of the doubt with every new school year. The new, receiving teacher’s expectations don’t need to be poisoned by the verbal carryover from his previous teacher. A child who may have had a tough time last year will not necessarily have an instant replay… IF he’s given a level playing field with his classmates.

boyOftentimes, the trouble she is reporting may have been more about a temperament or personality clash with the teacher than anything else. With different expectations, some patience, and a new approach, he may very well flourish. It’s worth a wait and see.

Let’s think a minute about our commitment to professionalism We aren’t working in a factory job where gossip is freely shared without regard to people’s feelings, damage to reputation or character.

We are members of a profession that bases its practice on the NAEYC Code of Ethics.We have a responsibility to families, to co-workers, to our community, and to children… promising to do no harm to any of them. Carelessly sharing confidential information is hurtful, damaging, and self-serving. It must not be tolerated. Every time you listen to gossip, you are sending a strong message to that staff member on several levels.

First, you are saying that her behavior is accepted and welcomed. Second, you are implying you and everyone else listening have no regard for the Code of Ethics or for the people who may be exploited by the information being shared. In other words, you are essentially separating yourself from the Early Childhood profession.

Don’t be a tag-along in these situations. Respect yourself and what you do enough to step away and disengage. Better yet, remind the gossipmonger and those who are listening about what is happening. There will undoubtedly be one of two reactions:

      1. The group will have an open mind, see your point of view, and realize their error, or…

      2. They will resent your interference in their gab fest and separate from you.

If you get the first reaction, good for you. A child, a family, and a commitment to professionalism has been preserved. If you get the second reaction, still good for you! You may need to rethink your work environment and if your ethics and those of your co-workers are at the same level. This may become a situation that is intolerable and if your administrator is unable to make acceptable changes, you may need to move on.

The bottom line is not to compromise your own   philosophy or ethics. Staying in a program where everyone around you is compromising theirs…just because you feel you are “needed by those children” is not acceptable or even logical.

Teachers who are conflicted, distracted, and unhappy in their workplace are not capable of doing their professional best for young children, regardless of whether they believe they are or not.

It may be a hard decision, but it is the best one.

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 6 and Radley, almost 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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