I once worked for a school principal who, when about to give me a telling off for my latest perceived crimes, would start the conversation with “I’ve heard through the grapevine that you…”
Which basically means… “I listen to gossip, I’ve heard some about you and I am allowing it to shape my behaviour towards you.”
Gossip is rife in schools as, I suppose, it is in many workplaces. But does that mean we have to accept it? Schools are the places in which the future is shaped. The people who work in schools should – technically – be modelling the type of behaviours that will guide young people to a better future.
A better future is not created in a culture of gossip. Cliques of people who spend their time annihilating, judging and stabbing people in the back are not really going to pave the way for humankind, are they? The funny thing is… it’s really hard to talk about those gossipy people – and we all know who they are – without becoming a gossip yourself!
Furthermore, by refusing to take part in gossip, you can end up isolating yourself from your colleagues. In the same school as the one I mentioned before, my wife refused to enter into a conversation in which one particularly gossipy person was verbally assassinating a mutual acquaintance. Within weeks, she was a social pariah… the forked tongues wagging away until their work was done. Meanwhile, the gossipy person came out smelling of roses – much like the little prisoner in the comic strip above who becomes Caesar’s secret gossipy weapon and whose effect can be seen as people’s words become more and more green!
A school without gossip would be a school with a better chance of avoiding misunderstandings, petty conflicts, resentments, misconceptions, jealousy, loneliness, paranoia, judgment, assumptions, depression, toxicity, cliques, divisiveness and so on… all of which are extremely destructive human behaviours.
Its not like we’d be trying to pretend gossip didn’t exist in the real world, but instead acknowledging that it does exist, that it is poisonous and that we won’t stand for it.
So, teachers, some advice for you:
- don’t allow yourself to get sucked into talking badly about other people
- make it clear to gossipy people that you have no interest in it
- discuss gossipy habits with students and work with them to grow above it
And, people in leadership positions, some advice for you:
- make it clear you have a zero-tolerance policy on gossip
- don’t allow the evolution of a culture of people coming to see you to complain about other people
- make it very clear that you shape your own perspectives about people
- when you become aware that you have some toxic gossip happening, knock it on the head straight away
- when you have observed patterns of toxic gossip amongst certain people, deal with them directly