A Piece Full World

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Bullied By Your Principal? Start Here.
An Abuse Full World: Kim's Personal Story
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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Little Help to Offer...

I am contacted weekly by bullied educators who, in their desperation, have found A Piece Full World. I have little real help to offer. 

It's clear to me, after much research, that workplace bullying's dynamics--in my case in public schools--are nauseatingly boring and the same in all cases.  

In public schools, however, the ultimate victims are our children.

How does it begin?  Some awful and abusive individual gets into a position of school district power. Is she charming?  Is she...smarter than the next guy?  Has she "proved" herself with some kind of manipulation of data and documentation to make herself look good?  Is she "buddy-buddy"--sucking up and batting eye lashes?--to the boss layer above her?  

How, with the full knowledge of a school board--at least inklings--of her having placed her abusive friends in principalships, does she remain in this power position?

And what about those school boards and their members?  Who are these members? Why did we elect them? We citizens--taxpayers and parents; community activists and leaders--need to be careful. For to have a school board member looking out for his friends, instead of looking out for our children--did they go to high school together?--means not a "drip down" of abuse to the classroom, but a flood.

I've put my experience of abuse in a public school by a public school principal under microscopes and in spot lights.  I've picked it apart as if I were the coroner of my career's death.  "I see a lesion in the frontal lobe," I, the coroner, might say as I peered at my exposed and dead brain.  "Some repeated blunt force--possibly screams and profanity witnessed and experienced; emotional violence. I've seen this kind of trauma before; mostly in workplace bullying targets."

I've been the circus ringmaster; entertained in the center ring; put my abusive experience in the spot light. "Watch as I teeter on the high wire of truth!"; I've bellowed. "Will I fall?  For if I fall, no net will catch me; no spotters assist.  Mine is a certain career death!"

I've not yet fallen.  But just as I arrive to the tiny platform of safety, I discover I must go back.  Risk it all again.  For my "performance" is not mine alone.  My "performance" is played out in schools across the nation.  In my case, at my former school, many educators have teetered on the truth wire with me. Many have fallen to their career deaths. 

Our "performance" is so boringly common that I'm surprised anyone buys tickets to this big top show.

But here you all are; packed into my abuse circus tent...

I am reading a book by Dr. Matt Spencer called: "Exploiting Children; School Board Members Who Cross the Line."  Dr. Spencer is a former school superintendent. An ethical man, he addresses the rampant cronyism and abuse in our public schools.  He also writes of the lasting ill effects of all of that for our nation's children. Chapters' titles like: "The Tactics and Weapons of War," and "Promoting and Perpetuating Incompetence" give us an idea that Dr. Spencer is, himself, using his weapons; weapons of truth. He exposes the rampant bullying, favoritism, and cronyism in public schools and directly hands the blame for our current crisis in education to school boards across America. In the end, that's exactly where it belongs.

So, a recap of my experience: I was bullied and harassed by a principal who has friends in high places.  He's still a principal.

In my bullying prevention efforts for children, I've been warned to "watch it" by a different principal--also with friends in high places. 

I've been called by district leaders, not to thank me for my hard work in bullying prevention (although for the Broad Prize, I was courted to be interviewed because the district had offered the Olweus program as evidence of bullying prevention and I am the only trainer in the district) but to tell me to "stay out" and "back off."

I've been visited in my school's office by the director of my district's bullying and harassment policy and told to "be careful."  She later was reported for bullying by those who worked directly for her--demands for Mothers' Day and birthday gifts; profanity "de rigueur"--so my frustrated feelings at my district's allowing such a bullying individual to lead our anti-bullying program were vindicated. 

I lead, though, an optimistic life. I think that there must be one "at-the-tippy-top" school district leader or, an "I-really-care-about-children-I-really-do" school board member who will soon rousingly say: "Good job, Ms. Werner!"

Until then, I'm getting a lot of experience on this high wire.

On with the show!

7:16 am edt          Comments

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Presence of Mind..."

The quiet.  Sunrises. A mourning dove, plump on the telephone wire. Her greeting.  Pungent grass freshly mown.  

But mostly the quiet.

In our backyard avocado tree, birds built a nest.  The nest was hidden in a hole in one of the tree's limbs.  It was the tiny birds' hungry cries that led me to them.  Just as I eagerly looked into the gaping space in the old avocado tree, their mouths opened like flowers extending towards the sun.  

I was, I can only say, filled with joy.

I spent more than an hour with binoculars watching the comings and goings of the tiny birds' parents.  I thought to myself as the adult birds, over and over, flew away and returned: "That's determination! That's patience!" For truly, those were demanding baby birds!

The delight of watching birds' flights--"my" birds--with worms and such hanging from their mouths shut off my head's incessant voice.  There, for awhile, in my backyard with binoculars at the ready, the "you-should-be-doing-something-else" chatter stopped. I didn't look at leaves to be raked.  I didn't plan dinner or mentally list chores to accomplish: like ironing clothes and hanging them side by side (Monday-Friday), so that my morning's office wear is a "grab-and-go" event.

All of that did not chip away at my sweet moment.  Captivated and held tight by my awe, I was joyous.  I almost wrote "allowed myself to be joyous" but that seems silly to me.  If I can allow myself joy, then why not allow myself joy all of the time?   

My husband, our children and I are, as I write, at Disney World.  We're staying at one of the Disney resorts and, as you might expect, it's really nice.  Our resort is Mexican themed and prominently features the "Tres Amigos" by the "cantina."  The amigos are formed from plants--bushes shaped into Mexican hats and birds' beaks--and just that feat could boggle minds.  "Who did that?," one might ponder.  "Who is skilled enough to maintain that display?" One wrong slice of the electric garden shears and Panchito would no longer have a beckoning index finger. 

But at Disney, we've all come to expect that kind of perfection and so Panchito and his two friends barely elicit a pause from the cantina's patrons.  I'd stopped for a moment's marvel and almost immediately heard: "Mom, come on! We're in a hurry!"

Joy.  Peace.  In my youth I sang "Let There Be Peace On Earth" in a girls' quartet. The song's plea was to: "Let peace begin with me"; to "let this be the moment now."  Its words say to me that peace and joy are decisions to be made; that, although I may need some divine help, that peace and joy can be actively sought. They remind me that I don't need quiet on the outside to be quiet on the inside...for I have often not been that in the stillest of places.

Where did the phrase "presence of mind" come from? I've many times, heard: "I didn't have the presence of mind to"...to do/say/be what?  "I didn't have the presence of mind" to, for example, say the pithy, "just right" thing or, do the something that would have "saved the day"?  I've often thought of that phrase as being preceded by some lacking; a vast failure area followed by a sigh heaved; a judgement of self made.  "I didn't have the presence of mind" indicates that often I DO have mind presence; that not having it is unusual. But it isn't. 

My mind rarely remains in the present. It plots future activities or probes past events; dissects them for nuance and meaning and thereby loses current moments' glory. 

I rarely--ever?--have "presence of mind." My mind fills, for instance, anxieties about my children and their futures. Most often those anxieties are brought forth by a messy room or a poor academic grade.  Those messes and "D's" on assignments (and yes, an occasional "we-are-doomed-'F!'"or "Z" for zero)--in my mind--translate to a desolate future for my children.  

God help me.

But today, just today, I had the presence of mind to feel sunshine on my shoulders without worrying they'd burn; to observe toddlers running on unsteady legs without fretting they'd fall; to laugh at my children's urgent command to "get going!" without feeling impatient.  So, I said an amused and silent inner "adiós" to Panchito and his buddies, joined my family, and together we embarked on our May 18th, 2014 Disney adventure.

I think Panchito winked at me.
8:09 am edt          Comments

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Letting others speak...."
Recent comments--now 841--on the NEA site:

Rooney says: "Hi everyone. Man, I thought I was alone. I just started to teach math at a middle school for gifted children in the Chicago public school system. I have worked literally day and night. My principal gave me a below average rating, even though I raised test scored dramatically. The principal (who is very young and inexperienced)hasn’t responded to any of my emails, and makes continues sarcastic comments I should step it up. I really don’t get it. I am pretty sure I am being let go very soon. I am on medication to deal with the stress. Again, I feel with my fellow teachers, who do a great job, but are getting bullied continuously. I truly love teaching, but being in my mid thirties, and still relatively young, I am ready to get out of teaching and take a lower paying job."

Beth says: "I’m starting to think that a small tape recorder should be every teacher’s friend. When a principal or administrator decides to bully, it’s just a matter of putting your hand in your pocket and pushing the record button.

In many states, there are no longer teacher’s unions. That was the first thing the new governor eliminated when he got into office 4 years ago. States were looking at ours – Wisconsin – in hope we cod set a precedent, and we did our best.

Teachers are now threatened with job loss because of test scores. Smart people know that test scores only represent how well or how poorly a child is doing on the day of the test….and only on the day of the test..."
8:26 am edt          Comments

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"How did he get so connected...?"


I am reading a book by Dr. Matt Spencer.  The book is called "Exploiting Children; School Board Members Who Cross the Line." Dr. Spencer, a former public school superintendent--one who directly addressed a rogue school board member--is now the senior consultant with the Workplace Bullying Institute.  Dr. Spencer--directly quoted from his book,--"champions efforts to ensure that the schoolhouse is a safe, productive, and abuse-free environment for students to learn and employees to serve."

Today, while driving, my pondering of what I'd read in Dr. Spencer's book, had my hand cover my mouth; had my head slowing shaking side to side; had my eyes widen and my leg stiffen on the gas pedal....for the depths of the woes of public education are sinister and deep and convoluted and hellish. A window into the abyss was mine. I saw in that moment through the window, beyond the torment within schoolhouses' walls; I saw where that torment truly begins--the school board and its members.  

"Is it everywhere? Governments and businesses and charity organizations?  Is cronyism and exploitation and abuse everywhere? In the smallest of places and in my own urban "backyard?"

Where do the good and fine; ethical and courageous leaders work? 

Because I want to work with them...."

My leg, then, relaxed and my hand traveled from covering my mouth to gripping the steering wheel.  Because there are Matt Spencers and David Lawrence Jrs. in the world; fine and ethical people who are in positions of leadership and who are not asking: "What's in it for me?"; They're asking: "What's in all of this for children?" 

But I felt again--although last year I was "on to something" with the following piece--like a naive fool for ever thinking that the workplace abuse I'd experienced at a public school by a public school principal was rare.

I wrote the following last year about my personal experience.  It speaks to Dr. Spencer's analysis of the detrimental effects to entire school districts when exploitation and cronyism are allowed to flourish.  Both are at work in my school district...

Here's the piece:

"I think my superintendent missed a grand opportunity to do something great for his region and for his employees. He had an opportunity to rid a school of an abusive principal and by doing that make a statement. The statement to his teachers would have been this: 

'I support our children. I support you. I will not allow abusive leadership to interfere with your classrooms. 

For those of you who have been targeted for abuse, please accept my apology for not keeping you safe. I will not allow abusive leadership to ruin your careers and your health. I know all about these leaders. I know of all of your reports. 

For those of you who have become your abusive leaders' followers, know this: I understand. I apologize for not keeping you safe either. I apologize for putting your integrity at risk. Know that I understand that you aligned yourselves with bullying principals because you knew that was the only way not to be targeted. 

For all the rest of you who are watching and waiting to see what I do, I apologize to you too. And know this: I will remove them from your schools. I will keep you safe. 

I got your backs."

Here are excerpts from Dr. Spencer's book: 

"Exploiters demand blind compliance with their directives, so courageous leaders who nobly stand up for what is right generally pay a great price, they become targets on the Exploiter's hit list.  It's only a matter of time before they are fired or their contracts are not renewed.  By whatever means are convenient, they are expelled from the school system by the Exploiter...

...The second group of the current educational leaders will not choose to confront the selfishness and exploitation at the board level.  They take the attitude that they will try to make the most of a bad situation. I refer to this type of administrator as a capitulator.  Capitulators are generally good people and good professionals, but they take a different approach to the situation as compared to the courageous leader. They value their career in which they have invested much time and money and do not want to take the risk it will be destroyed.  For all of these reasons and more, they try to "keep their heads down" and endure the dysfunction....

...[ At the other end of the spectrum]...the loyalist (to the Exploiter) will prove to be the most destructive to the school system...they become the Exploiter's henchmen.  They do anything to anybody when ordered to do so.  They do not hesitate to be mean, cruel, and vindictive whenever necessary.  They abuse their supervisory power and authority. They destroy the careers of innocent colleagues.  They ruin lives.  Why?  These disgraceful traitors to the educational profession know the position they hold in the Exploiter's kingdom, and the handsome paycheck they get each month, is something that would likely not be possible elsewhere.  Somehow, some way, they rationalize destroying the careers and lives of their colleagues and stealing a quality education from the children.  How they sleep at night is something I could never understand."

I will share more and more and more of Dr. Spencer's book.  His honesty is refreshing.  

10:36 am edt          Comments

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Another one (does not) bite the dust...."

Please don't think I am a "broken record."  Please don't think I haven't moved beyond the teetering real possibility four years ago of plummeting into the "just-do-what-he-says" abuse abyss like so many others before me.

Please know that my only desire is to help other abused educators and the only way I know how to do that is to tell my story. 

And so; I sit today at my kitchen counter surrounded by mounds of papers and documents.  I am alone.  I am refreshed from luscious hours of sleep.  It's cloudy and quiet.  

I am pleased. I see that my book on workplace bullying in schools--a book that has pressed incessantly upon the inside of my skull wanting out-- is, after four years of processing my personal hell and subsequent liberation from that hell, almost written.....

Here's a different quiet moment from 2011. I began to gain strength.  I began to process my experience...

From Kim's diary: 

January 17, 2011.  Monday

"I must write; keep going.  I have been out of my work at (school's name) since late September.  I took a medical leave.  I felt vulnerable to the principal--the most bullying, arrogant, dangerous man I have ever met; a violent man left in charge; left in control when he has so little control.  A pathetic and fearful man.  A tyrant.

A man who has brought me to Christ.

I begin with my LEAVING. I didn't fully think it through--I just felt desperate following a year of bullying.  The 2009-2010 school year was impossible.  Isolation; intimidation; demands to do illegal things.

Since I left--and following the court case (oh yeah, it was all over the news)--I have learned and I have researched.  I have DOCUMENTED and I have reported the lies to my region's superintendent and to an investigator.  (Principal's name) is (maybe) going to be held accountable for violations of two school board rule: Duties and Responsibilities and Code of Ethics.  Wow!

The Bullying and Harassment Policy Compliance Checklist is KEY and is truly the reason for the investigation.  The day following his demand that I fill it out, he gave it to [appears to be (other counselor's name)] and she filled it out with LIES, to the point of documenting in three places [that work was done] on SUNDAYS as policy training dates to staff and to parents!  SUNDAYS!!!

I revisit that day--and that year of hell--but that day--often.  That day 3/16/10 was a defining day.  I DID NOT FOLD.  I WAS COURAGEOUS. I WAS COERCED.  I WAS INTIMIDATED.  I WAS BULLIED...BY A VIOLENT MAN.  HIS WORDS, HIS DEMEANOR, HIS FEAR...How can the district allow such a DANGEROUS person to lead a school?!  (Principal's name) is so frightened he'll be "found out" that he piles lies upon lies....and has his sycophants do the same. (Names of three women)...poor abused women.  

Here it is:

(Counselor's name) falsified--BIG TIME--the document.  Her name is not on it.  Actually the charge is that (the principal) falsified the document even though (counselor's name) filled it out--so who will throw whom under the bus?  This time (other counselor and AP) get to watch!  Ha.  What will (counselor's name) do?  Will she--at risk of her job?--will she continue to protect (principal's name?)  How can she?  What would she say?  "I made a mistake?  I'm sorry?"

(Principal's name)--what will his defense--as principal--be?  "I gave it to her.  I didn't know what she submitted? Werner was "insubordinate?"

How can I be insubordinate to my principal's coercive demands to LIE?!
10:25 am edt          Comments

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Click here for my district's bullying and harassment policy. You will see I have made comments....