Today, I watched a regrettable scene unfold amongst colleagues. A student in our district, with particularly special needs, was being discussed with regards to the ways that he could best be helped in his education. The individual closest to the student was clearly upset, feeling as though enough was not being done. The higher-up, but not as closely connected, individual was confused by this response. When the room had cleared, her own emotions came to the surface as she wondered why everything she had done to help this student was going unnoticed and unappreciated.

I suspect that, as educators and particularly special educators and support staff, this is a scenario occurring all too regularly. We all love our students dearly and want the absolute best for them. We see all the effort put it on our end, but aren’t always capable of rectifying all the needs we see. Sending those needs on to the appropriate individuals, we then become frustrated when they aren’t met, at all or to our satisfaction. The natural inclination tends to be one of judgment. “What are they doing? Why aren’t they helping? I’ve done everything I can. They’re just slacking. They obviously don’t care as much.”

In these, and many other, situations, it’s vital for us to remember both our goals as educators and our specific roles within the situations. But even more so, it’s important that we recognize two truths. First, that we live in a fallen world. It’s its fallenness that typically leads to many of the difficulties we see with our students, whether it’s disability, family trauma, emotional struggles, or something else altogether. It’s also its fallenness that leads to much of the red tape that binds our hands. Whenever a new piece of paper is put in my hands, mandated for an IEP meeting or a process, I joke that it was someone not doing their job that led to this. This is usually true. We live in a broken world full of people choosing not to demonstrate a good work ethic. However, we also live in a broken world full of people fighting a multitude of other demons beyond those in just their work life. This leads to the second truth: we owe our colleagues mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

You may work with someone who truly is not doing their best job. Extend mercy. You may work with someone who is really trying, but their hands are tied even if it frustrates you. Extend grace. You may work with someone who just dropped the ball due to life circumstances. Extend forgiveness.

Rather than assuming the worst – that they aren’t doing their job and don’t care – give them the benefit of the doubt. Sit down for a chat that is free of judgement to discuss what has happened. Be understanding, be supportive, and be empathetic.

Do your part to ensure that processes are being followed and the student is being helped to the very best of your ability. In kindness and in love for your student not a vindictive spirit, check to see that processes and steps are being followed by other involved. If something is amiss, by all means, work with them to rectify it or seek counsel from someone in authority. But always, always bring mercy, grace, and forgiveness with you.

Here are a few simple tips for being gracious with your colleagues:

1 | Acknowledge their efforts, even if there’s more to be done.

We often call this the “sandwich method” in IEP meetings. Find something good to say, even if you have questions, concerns, or complains. Acknowledge what you know they have been working on before moving on to what else is needed. Everyone likes to feel affirmed and noticed in their work.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

2 | Ask genuine questions about the work, but also their personal being.

Depending on the level of closeness between you and your colleague, this could be a little more difficult. But one of the keys to fostering good relationships between any two people is to know them more intimately. And one of the best ways to do that is ask questions. Now, I’m not saying you should approach a colleague with “Is there anything personal going on keeping you from doing this?” or anything similar. That would be the opposite of gracious! But make an effort, while you are working on the actual work, to ask questions that help you get to know them a little better. It may just lead you to better understanding of who they are and what they’re doing (or not doing).

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

3 | Refrain from gossiping or “venting” (especially with other colleagues).

Now, believe me, I know this is an easy trap to fall into. When things aren’t happening the way we want them to, we need to talk it out or complain – it seems to be human nature. But I find that, outside of venting to my husband, most other complaints of this nature are closer to gossip than anything. It is most definitely not gracious or forgiving to slander the name of your colleague in any situation – and that’s just what gossip it is! We often view it as harmless chatter, but we need to name it what it is: sin. If you have a genuine complaint to be made, it needs to go to your superior. Period.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29

4 | Pray: for yourself and them.

Yes, yes. The prayer suggestion. But friends – you do know that prayer works, right? Praying can often seem like an inactive thing – we’ve even been trained to find it useless in recent months with “thoughts and prayers” being refuted as empty and petty by many a warrior. And while, yes, I absolutely agree that actions are needed in so many, many instances – including, more than likely, your own! – I also know that most issues in the world can only be truly rectified by real, inner change (remember that brokenness?). And the only ways that I know to effectively bring about that change are through the help of the Holy Spirit. So pray – pray for yourself to be humbled, convicted, built up. Pray for your colleagues to be strengthened, convicted, encouraged. Pray that the Spirit would move over each situation specifically and each person personally. Go for the change that truly matters.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

1 Timothy 2:1