Wherever we look in our schools, we can find complaining: in classrooms, hallways, offices, and teachers’ lounges. Participating in such talk is easy because there is a lot “wrong” in our schools, but this kind of dialogue is destructive and often spreads quickly.
Why do people complain so much in the first place? An honest answer is that it feels good to complain and blame someone or something else when things are not going our way. Complaining takes the responsibility off of us and, according to researchers, often engenders the comforting response we crave when we fail or are disappointed.
1. Create a no-complaint zone
To promote a positive culture among teachers, make the faculty lounge an area of “No Negativity.” If a teacher starts complaining or talking negatively about someone who isn’t in the room, gently remind him or her in a neutral tone, “It is not fair to speak about that person when they cannot defend themselves.”
This ground rule for the teachers’ lounge creates a safe and supportive environment. Teachers may comment that they feel they’ve become more aware of how much they were complaining about others and they may start to change their behavior. With this ground rule in place, gossiping, as well as complaining, can be greatly curtailed.
2. Break the habit with a “Complaint Bracelet”
Unfortunately, some days it is easy to slip back into old habits and complain. One helpful tool to try to get back on track is to wear a complaint bracelet on our right wrist. If we notice we are complaining, we have to take it off and put it on our left wrist for the rest of the day and restart the process the next day. If we go three weeks without complaining, we can be freer of this harmful habit just by bringing complaining into our conscious awareness.
3. Challenge students with “The Complaint Challenge”
Start by asking students: “Can you go all day without complaining?” Have them carry around a 3 x 5-inch card and write down any instance when they complain or even feel like complaining. Then, instruct them to write a gratitude statement or something positive on the other side of the index card. For many students, this action develops a new awareness they may utilize their entire lives as they cultivate the ability to choose a positive attitude in any situation.
For example, one student noted that he complained every night and never really thought about how often he said, “I hate doing my homework!”