May 31, 2010

Getting things to change

I'm a squeaky wheel, although my experience has been more that they keep letting the air out of me, than that I get greased.

I'm a big advocate of talking, asking, demanding, writing letters, and getting petitions going. I'm an inveterate writer-to-my-congresscritter. There is almost certainly an FBI file on me somewhere, not to mention a personnel file full of memos about what a troublemaker I am. It's important to let the powers-that-be know when you're dissatisfied. You have to do it gently, most of the time, and you have to be willing to bear the consequences of both the complaint and the change.

But you can complain, safely, and things can change. I hear about dissatisfaction from many parents, both at the rink and through this blog. I'm happy to be an outlet for the venting, but if you really want change, do it right.

Before you march into your skating director's office with guns blazing, here's some things to consider:

Is there really a problem? Think about the situation that you don't like. Try to step outside it and decide if it really requires systemic change. If you don't like the way practice ice is run, is it because it's run badly, or because you got annoyed one day and decided it was someone else's fault? (Harsh but true.)

Are you the problem? More home truths. You want the ice show changed, because your daughter is tired of being stuck at the same level. Is the problem that the ice show should be changed, or that your skater should work more effectively toward the goal of passing that level before the next ice show (i.e. more practice or additional lessons, which might mean giving up something else)?

How will the change that I am proposing affect the rest of the program?
Will my solution create new problems? The problem you are experiencing may have been recognized and considered by the powers that be already. That thing you're complaining about may actually have been the solution to an entirely different problem. If you want your skater to be able to jump on moves ice, the kids working on moves are going to start doing moves on freestyle ice. Trust me, you don't want the Senior sustained edge step charging through the spin circle.

If you're sure that none of these apply to you, I still want you to keep that pistol holstered. Try these steps:

Talk to the people directly involved: Do you have an issue with the way a coach is running practice or class? Talk to the coach, not the skating director. Is the monitor favoring one skater over another? Go to the monitor, or the volunteer coordinator, first. Is your child not doing well at auditions? This is not the skating director's problem, or fault, or purview for that matter. This is probably the kid. Talk to her.

Talk to the skating director in private first, and explain your concern. Ask her what you can do to help alleviate the problem, and if any solutions have ever been proposed. You might find out that the current situation was the solution and that it used to be worse. Send her a note or an email afterwards thanking her for her time. If you're not satisfied, warn her that you'll be sending a letter, because you're still not comfortable with the situation.

Write a letter that clearly states the problem, and frame it in terms that benefit the entire program and not just your child. Express your desire to be part of the team that works for a new solution, and that you will accept the solution that the team decides on.

Ask other families to sign the letter. If they won't, take a step back and think about it. Either there isn't a big enough problem, or they don't like your solution.

Don't threaten to leave the program if your demand is not met. The response to threats, 100% of the time (in private anyway), will be, ok buh-bye! This is blackmail, and will instantly put the person you're trying to influence on the defensive, and take them forever out of your camp.

Don't expect instant change. There are needs and systems of which you are completely unaware. Many park district programs have insanely long lead times for changes to the program schedule. The one I work at requires changes TWO sessions ahead. So any class or date changes set in motion now will not show up until the spring 2011 book.

Don't expect any change. First, your proposal may not be realistic. Second, your proposal may have been tried and discarded. Third, the skating director may not like your proposal, and she has the final word.

Don't expect to be kept in the loop. You don't work there.

Finally, unless the safety of a child is at stake, do NOT contact the press, the alderman, the mayor, your sister-in-law's cousin who used to work for a U.S. Senator, or anyone else not involved. If you're just pissed that your kid didn't get a good solo in the ice show, or failed the FS7 test, well, my goodness, get a life. It ain't world peace we're talking about here.


  1. re: ain't world peace. Will I be tarred & feathered if I refer to skating as exercise rather than raison d'etre?

  2. Well, it's not world peace, but it IS a reason for living. ;)