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December 6, 2021
Vol. 79
No. 4

Ask an ASCD Expert / A Substitute's Frustration with Staff Double Standards

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School Culture
A Substitute's Frustration with Staff Double Standards (thumbnail)
Credit: ©2015 Susie Fitzhugh
Q: I am a substitute teacher. How do I handle staff members and administrators approaching me about rules when they aren't following them themselves?
Feeling Frustrated
A: I had to let your question simmer a while. The question, which can be interpreted several ways, shows how multi-faceted your issue is. There are two ways in which I will respond to it: (1) in terms of how you, as someone not in a perceived "position of power," can deal with the issue of staff asking you to do things that they are not modeling nor doing themselves, and (2) in terms of professional school culture. Your question exposes vulnerabilities in modeling best practices for professionals and adherence to professional expectations.
First, as a professional, you are responsible for setting boundaries for yourself within your work arena. Additionally, you hold the responsibility to know the details of your position and keep a copy of your job description. What are you supposed to do? What are the things that are clearly not a part of your job? What exactly does the phrase "and other duties as assigned" mean? No matter your title, you need to know your professional responsibility. If you do not, you can be taken advantage by individuals who interpret their positions as powerful, higher echelon, or more important than yours. Simply put, bullying occurs in adulthood as well.
There is a thin line between being a team player and being taken advantage of. As an employee, it is your choice to do the extras unless noted in your job description. At any time, you have the right and responsibility to file a grievance with your bargaining unit, with documented evidence that you are being asked (or pressured) to completed task that are not your responsibility. Remember, silence on your part is complacency.
Second, your question touches on issues of school culture. In my role as a school leader, any question from staff members is welcomed, supported, and encouraged. School leaders should be seen throughout the building and not as a fixture in a chair behind a desk. We must make certain that all stakeholders feel comfortable to discuss any issues they wish to address, especially around job expectations and responsibilities. As a leader, I am keenly aware of who is responsible for the work within our school setting. Therefore, when there is clearly a task that needs to be done that is outside of the scope of an employee's work, I humbly ask for volunteers. I am very transparent that the ask is out of the scope of work, but is directly connected to students. I also meet with their collective bargaining unit to ensure that the specific ask is, or is not, outside of the employee's job description.
Last, my stance when approached by staff in reference to rules not being followed is simple. I have three guiding principles: transparency, grace and mercy, and high expectations. From day one, I educate my staff in clear language about the non-negotiables of professional behavior and expectations. Scenarios are acted out, staff are broken into small groups to discuss expectations, and I model professional expectations along with my administrative team. This may seem daunting, but it is well worth it. This is a sure-fire way to keep everyone focused on their tasks so that everyone feels appreciated and knows their professional expectations.

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Crystal M. Edwards washes the feet of communities through educational leadership and consistent engagement. Recently featured on CBS This Morning due to her outstanding work in the community, Gayle King stated, "Love everything about Dr. Crystal Edwards, including her glasses!" While Anthony Mason replied, "Dr. Crystal Edwards is a formidable woman! I can see how she can take charge! I love it!"

Edwards serves as a principal in one of the largest, urban school districts. Dr. Edwards is an active board member of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Temple University Black Alumni Association and Philadelphia Outward Bound School.

She began her career in education as a high school language arts teacher before moving to an elementary school to teach 5th grade. She served as a senior teacher, instructional leadership coach, dean of students, assistant principal, curriculum designer for culture and climate, and principal.

As a researcher, author, motivational speaker and education activist, Edwards is a creative-thinker poised to develop lasting solutions for numerous educational communities for the benefit of student achievement. She writes, mentors, leads by letting passion guide her steps. That passion is coupled with 24 years of educational experience, impacting all educational stakeholders.

Dr. Edwards holds a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Gwynedd Mercy University, a Master's degree in Urban Education from Eastern University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting-Television-Mass Media from Temple University.

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