I would be grateful if you would post the attached letter on your website.
I am so happy that we now have a forum for exchanging ideas.
Thanks so much!!!
Dear ISM Community,
"ISM is a very good school and we are getting better all the time: but until we learn to manage our conflicts better we will lack the credibility to say that we are among the top few International Schools worldwide."
Last April is when I first became aware of the political divide in our school. My response to the problem was to offer four Conflict Resolution sessions for parents throughout May from 7:00-9:30pm. Sadly, only twelve parents attended the sessions so the overall impact on our community was negligible. Those in attendance felt that if enough parents came then we may have resolved ISM's political crisis in a constructive and respectful manner. In recent weeks I have been calling for non-confrontational approaches to resolve the conflict. One of my proposals was to use art. As bizarre as it may seem, art has been used in a variety of ways to de-escalate and even resolve conflicts. The reason that art is effective is because it appeals to our emotions; and all conflicts are about emotions.
In spite of all the peace-camps and conflict resolution workshops that I have organized over the years, I had a change of opinion once David Toze was fired. It became clear to me that soft-touch conflict resolution methods would no longer be viable because the dismissal of David Toze, and the manner in which it was carried out, sent shock-waves throughout our community. Enemy camps formed, hard-line positions were made, rumors spread, and mistrust led to fear. Our conflict had escalated to the point of no return. Whether or not the board was in the right or the wrong became moot. The reality was this; ISM needed a fresh new board, otherwise it would lose dozens of quality teachers and, I suspect, our entire leadership team. Moreover, how could a school in turmoil attract a new crop of quality educators? Certainly our school could bounce back with a new board but it could not recover from a mass exodus of teachers. And it would literally take years to rebuild the faculty to its present caliber, if in fact anyone attempted to do so. Therefore with the student's best interests in mind, the choice was clear; the board must either resign or be forced to do so by a 2/3 majority vote. What was also clear is that we simply could not achieve the number of votes necessary without a teacher walkout.
Now that all is said and done we can reflect on what has happened and decide where we go from here. As a first step we can take a hard look at our mission statement and decide if our core values are meant to be on paper only or if we really want to put them into practice; not only amongst students and school employees but throughout all the facets of our community including parents. If we do indeed wish to apply our ideals then we need to nurture them with proactive programs that build trust and harmony whilst building bridges to integrate all the smaller communities within the greater ISM community. Perhaps our greatest asset at ISM is our diversity; but it's also our greatest hazard. Diversity adds vibrancy and it can provide stability and complexity when the various components are well integrated; but without integration it can lead to chaos. We can become better integrated at various levels including socially, politically and ethically. That isn't to say that we must all hold the exact same values but we must know what one another's values are, without judgment, and emphasize that which we have in common. Ultimately we need to trust one another, except in the rare cases when individuals prove to be untrustworthy.
In spite of good intentions, the PTA has not been a successful entity for building a peaceful community. Looking elsewhere, however, we can find examples of schools which have thrived under a new paradigm. Armand Hammer School in New Mexico, for example, has a Conflict Resolution Institute where all school stakeholders are trained in "the constructive engagement of conflict". When conflict does arise, whether trivial or extreme, all players engage in the conflict constructively, according to an agreed upon approach called collaborative problem solving. If we were to implement something similar at ISM then our board, leadership team, teachers, parents, and students would all be on the same page; all trained to communicate with one another skillfully, openly and in good faith. By sharing a common approach to resolve conflicts, the adults in our community would reinforce student learnings through their positive actions. This contrasts starkly with what we have experienced at ISM in recent weeks; the actions of adults undermining all that we have been trying to teach our children.
In this context I appeal to our community to 'put our money where our mouth is' and create a conflict resolution center here at ISM. If we truly believe in our core values, as outlined in our mission statement, then we owe it to our children and ourselves to act proactively and progressively. Our school can be anything we want it to be: it can be an antiquated school if we believe the old-style approach will serve our students well in the future, or it can be a modern and progressive school that prepares our children for the realities of the 21st century. In other words, we can focus entirely on the traditional disciplines in the hope of churning out future lawyers, doctors and successful businesswomen, or we can enrich our educational program so that our students not only become successful professionals but also cooperative, collaborative and caring human beings. One thing is certain; it's the latter approach that will produce the kinds of students that the top universities are seeking.
We have already made great strides in expanding service learning and leadership training at ISM but we also need to find a way to add conflict resolution to our overall program. 'How can we pay for such a program?' you might ask. Personally I wonder how we can afford to continue without one. Conflicts have, and always will, arise at ISM as they do everywhere. Simply put, conflict is an inescapable aspect of being human. Although it can be unpleasant and lead to rather nasty outcomes, it can also be a tremendous opportunity for re-birth, growth and learning. If we don't begin to engage in our conflicts constructively then we will continually suffer immeasurable damage. When our conflicts aren't managed well, faculty and student morale suffers, productivity declines, teacher turn-over increases and I suspect that enrollment takes a hit too. Perhaps there are parents in our community who have the time and interest to search for a viable option for ISM; I would be happy to assist in this endeavor.
Tim Boulton (HS Teacher and Service Learning Coordinator)