Stand Up

This morning I woke up with a song stuck in my head. You might know this classic from Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler: “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away, and know when to run…” The song is one I’ve thought about at times in my career when I’ve felt that the only smart play was to leave.

I think part of my planned exit strategy has to do with my life-long career in our international schools as a student and as an educator. Always living somewhere for a time and never forever meant leaving was part of the deal. Add to that the fact that most of the time I’ve leapt out and moved to a new place sight unseen, the luxury of leaving is something that allowed me to mentally go in the first place. While I wouldn’t walk at the first sign of trouble, what I am saying is that leaving a school, a country, a situation is often the only option available to those of us in schools overseas.

With that admitted mindset, you can imagine my shock when I learned last week, that my dear friend, who is a top-notch administrator at an international school in Asia, was fired for standing up rather than walking away.

While I’m proud of my friend and know her actions will make an impact on the school and situation, I am left wondering how we can make standing up, doing the right thing, and holding people accountable less traumatic. How do our schools protect, encourage and support those who speak out when in most cases we don’t have legal rights on our side? What happens when you are faced with professional malpractice, but you can’t talk about it, stand up to it, or fix it, without being fired?

To be honest, I have no experience with unions, lawyers or the like. Based on what I’ve heard from my colleagues in the United States, who are bogged down in different ways, these systems aren’t our answer either. However, when we are working in independent international schools and there are ethical issues at stake, where can a professional go for real help? How can our schools ensure that the people doing the work are able to do what is right, while protecting them when they come forward?

I consider our work with children to be one of the most important jobs out there. I think we all do. We know that the learning, socialization, and development which happens on our watch directly leads to “the future” for each student. We build people in our schools through our relationships and how we care for them and through our curriculum and what we teach them. How we behave as professionals and as communities is a model for what we believe and what we want our children to emulate.

When students come to me to talk about something happening on the playground, which isn’t “right” I’m proud of them for getting support rather than taking it into their own hands. I’ve spent time building a culture where students know they are supported and can come into the office for my assistance. I am the necessary oversight. I am tasked with ensuring students are safe to speak up and safe to learn.

Doing what is right is to me the basic tenant of being an administrator. To know that my dear friend probably knew that standing up would result in her firing is difficult to digest. What will happen in a month if the school she tried to be a model for is still in disarray? I’m left wondering, who will stand up then? In fact, who is standing up for my friend now?

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m a lifer. I’ve grown up in our schools and I hope to end my career here. What allows me to remain is my connectedness to this community. I believe we are serving students and families in ways that ultimately lead to global connections and a better world as so many of our children return to home countries and bring all that we’ve taught them. I’m proud to be an international educator.

That said I’m also ready for our institutions to improve. From better and more connected systems for vetting our professionals (remember this post?) to structures that protect or even encourage whistle-blowers in our schools, we have some work to do.

It’s time to get started.

It’s time we all stand-up.

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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