May-June 2014 | On My Mind

Words from the publisher

Most of you know the routine: three days in an auditorium at a dance competition. That’s what Jocelyn, a school owner, is doing on this particular weekend, along with her students and their parents. By the second day, she knows her dancers aren’t scoring as well as she had predicted they would. Her confidence is shot, and her first thought is to strategize a defense plan to explain to everyone why the dancers are not up to par. In politics, it’s called spin mode.

In the back of the auditorium, Jocelyn runs into a couple of moms from her school and blurts out, “It seems that the judges don’t like our stuff!” adding a big sigh and a sad face. The moms aren’t sure how to react; they smile and keep walking. Back in their seats, they talk about Jocelyn’s comment with other parents from the school. Soon all the parents are flipping out because they believe the judges don’t like their kids.

Meanwhile, backstage, Jocelyn and her teachers are in a huddle; she is ranting about how she thinks the dance competition is fixed. When she leaves the group, she says—loudly, and within earshot of the competition’s director—“It seems to me that the people who spend the most money on entry fees are the winners here.”

Jocelyn has one more stop before she goes back to her seat in the auditorium: the dressing room, where 30 excited dancers who can’t wait to perform their big production number greet her. She tries to force a smile and fails. “I’m sorry the judges don’t like you,” she says. “This whole competition is a sham!” The dancers fall silent, their excitement gone.

Back in the auditorium, Jocelyn finds herself sitting alone. Everyone—her students and their parents, her faculty, and even the competition director—knows she is not happy. Everyone wants to stay clear of her.

By Sunday morning, Jocelyn’s team is deflated, the excitement and energy the dancers brought with them completely gone. Instead, an aura of anger hangs over everyone from the school, and it’s apparent to every participant, parent, teacher, and staffer at the event. That morning at breakfast the competition director told the judges and staff that Jocelyn was furious. By this point, the spin she created has spread a black cloud over the entire event.

Driving home that night, Jocelyn plans a “nuclear” email that she will fire off to the director of the most horrible competition in the world. That will make her feel better. Or so she thinks.

I can only wonder what might have happened if, at the moment Jocelyn realized her dancers were not scoring as well as everyone had hoped, she decided to spend the rest of the weekend figuring out how to be a better teacher. What if she had said, “Boy, the students here are excellent—but I’m so proud of our kids, no matter what they score!” to anyone who would listen?

What if?