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How to Deal with Blame and Scapegoating at Your School

We’ve all been there . . .

Someone within your school or district makes a mistake and now that person needs to “pay for it” in the eyes of others. Sometimes, we want to know where blame should be placed because it is a natural human reaction to search for answers and arrive at a resolution or end result so that there is closure in our own minds about an issue, problem, or mistake that was made.

In Chapter 2 of Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, Rebecca and I contend that there are emotional driving forces that position us as adversaries especially when it comes to “blaming someone else for something that they did in error.” Blame breeds fear, jealousy, and so many other emotions that drive others to want to bring us down the moment we make a misstep.

Scapegoating is a tougher issue to work through, however. In Chapter 3 of Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, Rebecca and I contend that there is a myriad of adversarial tactics that others use against one another within an organization. Scapegoating becomes murky because we often just really just dismantle any “scapegoating initiative” by dismissing someone else as simply being “nasty or cold- hearted.”

Your Choices

What Rebecca and I have learned through our interactions with school leaders across the nation is that we really only have two major choices for dealing with blame, scapegoating, or other forms of adversity. We can either . . .

1. Ignore it.


2. Address it.

Both of these choices have pros and cons and depending on the exact temperature of the situation and context that you are in, (and if your adversaries could threaten your career and livelihood) you have to weigh the pros and cons of which path you decide to go down and if Choice #1 or #2 is the right decision for you.

What we can do, though, is decide to have explicit conversations about blame and scapegoating and invite others into our discussions for their support, protection, comfort, or just plain old problem-solving prowess. Mistakes can be big or small, but both are opportunities for learning and becoming better at something.

Mistakes are a skill-sharpening experiences.


Consider this simple process when making a mistake in your organization:

1. Own it.

2. Don’t dwell on it.

3. Focus on solutions.

4. State your devotion.

Example: “I made this mistake and I am learning a lot about how I can do better next time. Maybe we can focus on coming up with ideas for setting up processes, protocols, safeguards, or checks and balances to help strengthen us as a system instead of focusing on assigning blame. I already owned it, so what can we do to move forward? I have a few ideas about how to tackle this task next time and if anyone else makes a mistake, I promise I will help that person with coming up with solutions for the future, as well. You can count on me.”


Consider this non-threatening process when being “scapegoated” within your organization:

1. Call the elephant out.

2. Humanize it.

3. Stay professional and provide back-up evidence if needed.

4. State your devotion.

Example: “I need your help with how I am feeling about something that is going on in our school right now. I am being blamed for _________ and it is upsetting me. I’m trying to not let it bother me, but it does, because I’m human too. I want to continue working in a caring environment and scapegoating only undercuts our passion to come to work each day and feel good about ourselves so we can do the very best for our students. There is no need to falsely blame anyone else for a mistake because we all make them and we are in the business of finding solutions, not fault. You can count on me to never scapegoat anyone else here at our school. Promise.”

We know that anything can backfire at any moment, but what we also know is that if you try to bring harmony to your organization as much as you can (in every instance or opportunity that arises), you will find out, in due time, that you know you tried and have no regrets about addressing the elephant that walks in the room. Besides, what are your other choices? Being a quiet victim, sometimes, does nothing to help a situation. Plus, your problems may only compound, as a result of passivity. When you explicitly address blame and scapegoating, you are modeling healthy advocacy for your students.

While there is no perfect “script” when dealing with adversity through blame and scapegoating, your efforts to keep a positive bond with your organization will make you feel good about how you handle others even if they try to hurt you for whatever reason.

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