Have any of you ever seen that show Undercover Boss? I've seen a few episodes over the last few years, and it's quite an interesting show. I am always amused when they have the scene where the white collar boss (usually with a bad toupee on) attempts to work the register of the fast food restaurant or is a chambermaid at a fancy hotel for one shift. There is always that odd juxtaposition of the hotel owner being dressed down by hourly employee for not doing his or her job right in the first scene, and then the look of shock when they realize it was actually the owner they were scolding.
Well in some ways that’s the way I spent my last year. After 9 years away from running a school, I was thrust back into the world of therapeutic boarding schools. And like the folks on "Undercover Boss", I often found myself listening to parents, students and staff members speaking about their Independent Educational Consultants (IEC’s), most of whom had no idea I had spent 9 years being an IEC, and more than likely knew of whom they spoke. I’m not going to lie, during some of the stories I winced at mistakes made, but I have to say that most of the stories I heard made me realize how caring, intelligent and well-trained most IEC’s really are. During this time of listening I learned a lot about our profession, and have picked up a few lessons…
So what exactly are these lessons? Well first humility. Some of the most powerful and empowering moments I was involved with this last year, were when I saw IEC’s work inclusively as opposed to exclusively. I (re)learned very quickly that no one person knows everything, and if we are truly out for the best interest of the child we need to take advice and input for a wide range of sources; parents, therapists and most importantly, the kids themselves.
Second lesson? You can’t communicate enough. When one does this job for a while, I think one gets a little too comfortable with the process. On a few occasions this year I was able to see how effective communication from an IEC positively impacted a child’s stay at my school. When an IEC is pro-active as opposed to reactive, it is so much better for the child. We as IEC’s know what the process looks like, but this last year really let me see the families go through it all, and the thing I feel could have helped in almost every tense situation was more communication.
My third lesson is harder to define, but in essence it’s to have more fun. In watching the relationships between families and their IEC’s there was a discernible difference between the families who could sense the passion and enjoyment their IEC felt for their job, and those who were seemingly just cashing a check. Our passion for what we do definitely comes through, and our positive (or negative) energy most definitely impacts not only the parents, but also the kids we are working with.
So now that I've had my year as "Undercover Educational Consultant," I am so excited to take the lessons I learned, couple them with the new-found passion I have for working with the kids and apply them to all of my families.
Who knows, maybe this could be a new episode of the show; I wonder who’d they get to play me???