Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Culture of Different Professions

I spent the last 48 hours on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Seattle, courtesy of my 11 year-old daughter, the travel agent.  It was spectacular and I highly recommend it, particularly if you have an 11 year old who loves scenery and a 4 year old who loves vehicles of all kinds.  This trip should explain my failure to post for a few days.

I spent much of the trip editing Powerpoint slides for the Group Crisis Intervention class I'm teaching for the Ann Arbor Public Schools in August.  The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) provides a standard set of over 200 slides, and the approved instructor has the opportunity to edit and rearrange them as long as the content of the class remains the same.  In this instance, I was tailoring the presentation for an audience comprised of school personnel.

I came upon the standard slide about the use of peers in CISM, and found myself very disquieted.  The slide explains, quite rightly, that using peers -- people in the same profession or of the same background as those receiving the intervention -- is essential when therecipient group is specially trained or educated, the group possesses a unique culture, group members perceive themselves as unique, little understood or misunderstood, or the group extends minimal trust to those outside the group.  Then, in the notes accompanying the slide, it says that businesses and schools may not need peers.

Now, I can't speak to businesses because I don't work in a business.  I work in a school, and I have my entire adult life.  I have never encountered a school or school district that did not fit the above criteria.  We may not look like cops.  We may not act like firefighters.  But we educators have our own culture, are constantly feeling dumped on and distrustful of "top down" initiatives and the community.

I have had the privilege of doing CISM response in many schools as a peer.  The need for a peer becomes evident in the first 5 minutes, as the school team starts talking about the pressures of AYP, NCLB and Ed Yes* that form the backdrop for whatever has happened.  The CISM mental health professional's eyes glaze over while we talk, and I know that I've formed an instant bond with those with whom we are intervening.  I also know that when I sit down with the Principal, who sometimes doesn't feel comfortable receiving support in a group with his or her staff, they almost always say, "I'm fine, I'm just worried about my teachers."  And 90% of the time, when I respond, "I know you are, but I also know how hard it is to be in charge of everyone else's needs but your own," they start to talk, and they are not fine.  They just think they have to be, and only another Principal has the credibility to understand how hard it is to admit that they're not.

So, at the risk of annoying others who teach this class, I decline to tell those I train that they may not need a peer.  In my humble opinion, a peer is something you always want.  You may be able to function without one, but you won't be as effective.  That's my 2 cents.

*In case you're wondering, those stand for Adequate Yearly Progress, which is a measure mandated by the No Child Left Behind act, and Education Yes is the Michigan State reporting system for this.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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