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I disagree with my supervisor's decision. I teach music at a public school in the US, and the principal has decided to ban all holiday-related music from our performances. He has claimed his decision is "from an equity standpoint," and was influenced by one family choosing not to attend the performance because their religious views bar them from singing holiday music. Note that the family did not make a complaint to the principal. He just didn't like that they opted out.

This will mean that several beloved traditions will cease to exist, and I expect it will anger quite a few families. I respectfully made my disagreement known, am on good terms with the family in question, and offered alternatives to cancelling holiday music.

I was overruled. I do not wish to become the public face of this decision. I think making it clear that I dissented would solve that. However, I recognize that telling the children or families "go talk to Mr. So-And-So, it was his idea." would be unprofessional.

What is the best way to make sure the families know that I didn't cancel the Christmas and Chanukah songs without obviously throwing my administrator under the bus?

Note: this is NOT about who is right, just about how to avoid needing to defend a decision with which I disagree.

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  • 39
    1. Why would you be defending the decision? 2. If you do have to defend it what's wrong with saying that it was "Mr. So and So's" decision or that it wasn't your decision? Stating the facts of the matter is hardly unprofessional.
    – joeqwerty
    Dec 29, 2021 at 0:12
  • 21
    Agree with @joeqwerty. Communicating the administrator's decision and reasoning doesn't require any defending and isn't throwing anyone under the bus. Dec 29, 2021 at 0:14
  • 12
    NB, if anyone else was confused by the term "equity" like me, see educational equity on Wikipedia (it's not the same as equality). Not directly important for the answer, but possibly relevant to understand the context.
    – gerrit
    Dec 29, 2021 at 10:43
  • 3
    How do you KNOW FOR A FACT that the principal came up with this new direction entirely on his own? A member of the school board or perhaps the superintendent may have influenced his decision.
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 29, 2021 at 15:44
  • 2
    All holiday music, or just religious music? For instance, White Christmas doesn't have any religious content other than referring to Christmas, Walking in a Winter Wonderland doesn't have any other than mentioning someone who's a pastor. That's very different from songs like Silent Night that have clear religious content. Jan 1 at 4:19

8 Answers 8

91

What is the best way to make sure the families know that I didn't cancel the Christmas and Chanukah songs without obviously throwing my administrator under the bus?

Indicating, verbally to students or via email to parents, that the decision was made by your administrator is NOT throwing your administrator under the bus. It is simply stating the facts.

...how to avoid needing to defend a decision with which I disagree.

You do not need to defend the decision at all. Simply state the facts and refrain from any discussion and/or expressing your opinion(s) about the matter.

Response to Comments

There seems to be a lot of discussion and disagreement on this answer, to clarify my answer a bit I've added a response.

First off I believe that there is a great deal of overthinking on this question and my answer. The answer is brief and to the point, exactly as I would envision the OP communications to students and parents. The communications don't need to be anything more than:

Due to direction from the administration, there will be no holiday music performed during the concert this season.

The OP shouldn't make any statement that implies disagreement or disapproval of the decision at all; the statement should be entirely neutral.

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    This. And no apologizing for the decision - it's not the OP's decision and not the OP's choice, so not their place to apologize. Let the board of management apologize if needed. Why so many answers act as if addressing people to the decision makers is wrong is beyond me. Let the person who made the decision take the responsibility - maybe more people will like it than dislike it and you can be sure they'd claim all the credit in that case. Dec 29, 2021 at 9:15
  • 12
    May not even need to call the administrator by name/title. The statement could say the decision was made by the school administration.
    – Mast
    Dec 29, 2021 at 12:08
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    +1 The administrator should send out a letter to the parents letting them know the decision. If he's making OP defend it he's the one throwing them under the bus.
    – Wolfgang
    Dec 29, 2021 at 15:02
  • 5
    I would not recommend proactively sending stuff to parents. Tell the students that there will be no religious music, and why, then wait for parents to contact you. When they do, simply state that it is not your decision and they need to contact <appropriate administrator> about it. If you go any more aggressively than that, you will become a focus point.
    – Dúthomhas
    Dec 30, 2021 at 0:33
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    People, who make decisions, need to face the consequences of having made such decisions. It is extremely poor leadership to make a decision, yet have someone else face the consequences for it.
    – MechMK1
    Dec 30, 2021 at 12:56
55

Your supervisor made that decision in effect, on behalf of the school as a whole. The school provides teaching, and the school has decided to change the content of some lessons.

That's your first thing. It's not "John decided it, not me!". It's "The school has decided that this year.....". Depersonalising it.

The second thing is a standard media/marketing thing. Focus on the positive, not the negative. What's good instead, not what's lost. What the aim is, from the school's perspective. Again, you can do that without personally endorsing the loss.

"I love those too. They're traditional, they add a lot. But the school wants to try something new this year, and has decided that instead of traditional holiday songs, which can exclude some people, to explore other approaches that kids elsewhere have enjoyed too, and see how those work. I'm sure they'd value any feedback you wanted to give."

That way, you aren't endorsing the decision, which goes against your beliefs. You're being honest about your beliefs. But you are explaining its a school decision, and what its aim is, from the schools position, which is fair and reasonable to convey as well, otherwise they only have part of the picture.

The last part is a bit of fun. If they don't like it.... they need to tell the school. Disguised as a perfectly valid suggestion to give feedback whatever they think. And, you know, if they do enjoy it, or others do, maybe the feedback will be good for you as well.

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    “The School” can’t make a decision. The headteacher can. The board of governors can. Some other group representing the school management and governance can. If I were told “the school” made a decision my initial though would be it was actually the person telling me about the decision who made it, but they’re too embarrassed or cowardly to admit to it. To avoid being perceived as the decision maker, it’s important to identify which person or group actually made the decision.
    – rhialto
    Dec 31, 2021 at 11:32
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    I don't agree. If you speak to Amazon, and they say "We will aim to get your package to you tomorrow", or to Vodafone and the customer service person says "I'm sorry we overcharged you", do you ask "which group or person" actually did the thing? No, you don't. Amazon did. Vodafone did. And in this case, the school did.
    – Stilez
    Dec 31, 2021 at 11:48
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    surprisingly, I can distinguish between small and large organisations, and I can distinguish between people trying to correct an error and people actively making a decision I disagree with. In this case, if OP wants to avoid blame from people s/he will have an ongoing relationship with s/he needs to make it clear who made the decision. That will also give people who don’t like the decision a route to complain.
    – rhialto
    Dec 31, 2021 at 12:02
  • Saying "you can give feedback" also provides a route for feedback; if they want to complain I'm sure they know how to speak to their child's teacher who will provide the feedback internally, or the school office if they need to, or OP can explain how to escalate it, if they ask. It may surprise you but as an employee the OP needs to provide the schools position, at this point. The OP question is "how do I make sure they don't blame me for it, and know it wasn't my choosing?". It's not "How do I make sure to add heat to the issue and get seen badly internally for doing so."
    – Stilez
    Dec 31, 2021 at 18:36
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Perhaps an apology and a deflection. When they ask why you aren't doing a specific song or type of song,

I am sorry that we aren't doing the song you want, but my bosses made the decision to skip those songs this year. I think they are good songs, and I know you enjoy them, but I was told to try something else this year. Just like I am in charge of the classroom, I have people in charge of me too, and I need to obey them. So, instead we're going to do some new and fun songs that I think you are going to like a lot too.

You are saying that it wasn't your decision, and at the same time pointing out that we all have people in authority over us, and that obeying is a good lesson to learn.

If they won't let it go, and it really isn't a decision that you want to defend, then letting them know they can tell the school principal that they want certain songs is not really throwing anyone under the bus - people are always free to complain to the head of the school.

Why don't you let Mr. Principal know that you also want to sing the Dreidel Song, but do that later. Right now we are going to practice this new song about dancing trees.

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    "try something else this year" If you say this, then they'll suggest another holiday-related song that hasn't been done yet. Dec 28, 2021 at 22:25
  • The family actually did not complain to the principal. He just didn't like that they opted out
    – nuggethead
    Dec 28, 2021 at 22:53
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    While I agree with this answer, I frowned reading "You are saying that it wasn't your decision, if they listen carefully". If they need to listen carefully, they will not get it unless you repeat and pinpoint your use of the wording "a decision was made", which may lead to more questions
    – Oddrigue
    Dec 29, 2021 at 8:42
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    He just didn't like that they opted out @nuggethead Please ensure that whatever language you end up using, the family gets left out of it. Even just mentioning that the principal did it because they opted out runs the risk of them getting blamed for this.
    – BSMP
    Dec 29, 2021 at 10:24
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    @DrMcCleod, why do you believe the principal is presumably proud of the decision? Sounds more to me like he got pressured by an vocal family? We don't know how he actually feels about the decision.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:29
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Memorialize the conversation you had with your administrator. Send your principal an email (and keep a copy at home for your own personal records).

In that email, ask the principal what you should tell the kids and the parents when they inevitably ask you who made this decision and why. Then follow the guidance of your principal (as long as he doesn't ask you take the blame for it).

If your school/school district has a general counsel/PR person, I would carbon copy those two offices as well.

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    Lawyers? Courts? What? Are there laws regulating what songs should and shouldn't be sung? Why get lawyers involved?
    – gerrit
    Dec 29, 2021 at 10:37
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    There is no legal recourse here. The principal has the right/responsibility to make these decisions. Individuals don't have the right to force certain songs to be sung.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:16
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    This is the answer. Get it in writing. If he's not willing to back up his decisions then you're not throwing him under the bus, he is throwing YOU under the bus for making you defend him.
    – Wolfgang
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:54
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    @Hilmar, I've edited that part out of my answer. Dec 30, 2021 at 2:53
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    Good suggestion. Prevent the OP being thrown under the bus if parents are upset by the decision. I have certainly run into managers who would try to blame the OP if a lynch mob turned up. Dec 30, 2021 at 5:07
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"go talk to Mr. So-And-So, it was his idea." would be unprofessional.

What is not professional here? The principal made a decision and therefore is the one to refer to when there are questions or concerns about the decision.

We are professionals and we are human beings with convictions. These two concepts are sometimes contradictory and you can support your employer only to some point.

There can be some positions that you do not adhere to, not enough contradictory for you to quit but then you professionally defer the requestor to the proper authority in the school.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 31, 2021 at 17:54
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Just tell the truth. The other answers seem to suggest that the Administrator has made an embarrassing error and that you should try and protect him from any publicity.

On the contrary! He has clearly made a decision that might have been difficult but accords strongly with his belief in the notion of 'equity'. No doubt he is expecting praise for his courageous moral stance. In this case, you should make it plain to anyone who asks that it was his decision alone and that any further discussions should be undertaken with him.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 29, 2021 at 19:53
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    Comments went off track so I have moved them to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 29, 2021 at 19:54
-2

You are the music teacher. Presumably you picked the songs to sing. I'm guessing you picked songs that have a connection to you and your culture, since you refer to them as part of a "beloved tradition."

One of the most beloved traditions in America is the separation of church and state. This kind of decision seems to be above the pay grade of a music teacher, unless this school is in a truly cosmopolitain and enlightened district, the likes of which I sadly have not heard of in recent memory.

I've linked some guidelines I found that apply to government schools selectively endorsing religious services.

Perhaps these might inform your decision to subvert the decision of your principal. I say "subvert" because you are free to openly protest, but apparently do not wish to face censure, unlike the family who did protest, who is facing censure from... well from you.

I would reconsider this stance, but if you were determined, a constitutional challenge is the correct remedy, instead of quietly expressing your potential acquiescence to some of the not so beloved traditions used to compel compliance to the desires of the mob. Having been subjected to these methods, I personally found them ethically dubious. Not the sort of thing I would want associated with me professionally. At all, in fact. When you express these opinions, and then the kids start showing up with black eyes and split lips, what then? Hmm?

So, in summary, to avoid defending this decision simply make yourself available outside of school hours, rent yourself the basement of a church or synagogue, I see you won't need to do the same for Ramadan, I guess that's not such a beloved tradition, and those who wish to congregate in this fashion can do so. I'm sure this won't be a problem for anybody. The traditions are "beloved," right?

Or, is it the imposition of such traditions that are beloved? Maybe that's why ... anyway that is your solution. Quote separation of church and state, to those who disagree, and sing religious songs at the tax-free locations provided. Everybody wins!

-7

Is there a School Board of Directors? If so, this decision should be made by them, not the principal. In that case, bring it to their attention, and let them run with the problem. If the decision is to ban holiday songs, then you can say that it was a decision from the Board of Directors; you're not dropping any one person into it.

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  • The elected board should not be deciding what happens at individual schools.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:25
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    @cdkMoose Individual schools often have their own board of directors - we're not talking about county or state level.
    – PeteCon
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:43
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    I'm not sure about "often" here. The ones I am aware of (albeit limited) have an elected board at some municipal level (town/city/county) that is responsible for public schools in that area. Full disclosure, I am an elected school board member in my town.
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 29, 2021 at 14:49
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    Sweeping statements about the division of responsibility between the Board of Directors and the Principal are likely to be wrong in many instances. The Principal is able to make executive decisions, if that is within the scope of their responsibility. Dec 30, 2021 at 15:03

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