Turf Wars

A still common and age-old hurdle for those tasked with school safety responsibilities is the lack of cooperation and collaboration they encounter while trying to get the job done. Unfortunately, there is still no shortage of people and organizations practicing the destructive art of protecting their turf to the point of blatant inefficiency. It is even more unfortunate that children and educators often have to suffer when adults who are supposed to be professionals don’t“play well with others”.

Some People Never Grow Up

Sadly, there are people in key positions who are routinely uncooperative with others for a variety of reasons. Be they insecure, vindictive or simply immature, those who focus more on protecting their turf than in getting the job done cause immeasurable damage and can contribute to the injury and deaths of school children. When a police officer and a school administrator cannot overcome communications barriers, or school officials and emergency management professionals cannot work hand in hand on emergency preparedness, countless bad decisions can be made. When teachers fail to use the talents of school mental health professionals to aid at risk youth, a ticking time bomb can be left unattended. School safety matters are too important to allow those with inadequate social and professional communications skills to degrade them.

Coming Together For the Children

Working through these issues is one of the biggest challenges in the realm of school safety. Often a mediator can be beneficial when turf wars appear likely or are already occurring. The local emergency manager’s office may be a place to turn. Emergency managers by nature have very limited legal authority and must rely heavily on persuasion and careful interpersonal communication to aid a wide variety of individuals and organizations in coming together for the common good. Unfortunately, their lack of legal authority can also limit the clout the emergency management professional can bring to conflict resolution. In other cases, a skilled leader from local government may be able to help overcome turf issues.

A basic approach that seems to work well is to emphasize in a group setting the need for everyone to pull together for the good of the children. This should be followed up with more focused and private conversations with those who can most affect the level of collaboration. Most professionals will respond when approached properly, directly and tactfully from this viewpoint.

The Kids Are Worth Fighting For

Sometimes, the challenges of turf can seem insurmountable. Those who block the way may not respond to any normal form of communication geared to garner their willing cooperation. This situation requires an important judgment call — learn to live with the lack of cooperation, or try to find away to confront it directly. The decision to directly confront turf mongers should not be taken lightly. There is a time and a place where it is not only practical, but necessary to do so. Looking at the probable outcome of allowing the situation to continue can help determine which course is best. If the lack of cooperation is likely to result in a serious safety incident sooner or later, it is normally best to hash it out before an incident occurs. Fighting to resolve turf battles amid press criticism and litigation after an incident will almost always prove impossible.

Turf battles are one of the most unpleasant aspects of keeping schools safe. About the only thing that is more unpleasant is the suffering of students and school staff when unresolved turf issues allow bad things to happen to good people. When trying to decide whether it is worth it to resolve issues of cooperation, it pays to remember that when turf gets in the way, it is the children who pay.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.