Charlie’s Experience with Squeaky Wheels

My friend and colleague, Charlie Irish, responded recently to my blog, “Most Not Too Busy to Help Make a Difference.”  Here is what Charlie, who served as superintendent of the Medina City Schools for 13 years and currently works on educational research initiatives with the Kettering Foundation, had to say:

“Your blog today caught my attention.  It got me thinking about my experience with the squeaky wheels.  I certainly had my share.  Some were people with just plain lousy interpersonal skills, but a lot had legitimate gripes.  At least they were about matters that deserved attention even if they couldn’t be accommodated.  As I look back at those experiences, I didn’t always handle them well.  I think that’s because the culture of the superintendency teaches that your job is to silence the squeaky wheel.  The irony is that very belief encourages either more unpleasant noise, if we’re lucky, or apathy if we’re not.  People become squeaky wheels when they believe that no one is listening and they have no recourse other than to make noise.  To be honest, if I were in some of their shoes, I may very well do the same thing.  It may not be neat and tidy as we superintendent-clean-control freaks like to have things, but it is democracy at work.  I wish that during my time as a superintendent I had spent more time trying to figure out why people were trying to be a pain in my backside than trying to silence them.  Maybe if I had done that a little more, I might have tripped over an idea or two that would have changed the nature of our relationship.  Who knows, maybe that in turn would have encouraged more people to become involved with the schools.  Maybe.”


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