Strategies for Avoiding the Cobra Kai School Community

“Haters never win. Because negative energy always costs in the end.”

Tom Hiddleston

If you are confused about what “Cobra Kai” means or you don’t instantly say, “No mercy, mercy is for the weak” or “Sweep the leg,” Stop Reading and go watch the original Karate Kid. Seriously, that is  an awesome movie. Then come back!

A collaborative community is the presence of opportunities for shared leadership, educator ownership, and sharing of instructional and pedagogical ideas. The goal of this book is to provide strategies to support educators and leaders with individual and group ideas and skills to create schools that will work to create a community of Us inside them.   However, you must also learn about false collaborative communities.

The Cobra Kai is a fictional karate dojo in the movie Karate Kid, run by badass John Kreese. You hear and see Kreese teach his students to be merciless and in turn his students become unethical and very intimidated. Johnny Lawrence is his star student. I would describe him as self-centered and a master manipulator. He is uncaring and unapologetic to needs outside of his own and of the needs of the dojo. He was typically at the center of any plot or scheme to maintain control of the popularity or dominance in the group.

You may be thinking, “Where is he going with this?” and enough with “Danielson” (that is what the Karate Kid is called by his teacher).  But let’s look at the characteristics of that Dojo.

  • It was a community with many followers.
  • It had a strong leader.
  • The followers were loyal and others wanted to join.
  • All members were convinced they were doing what is right.

This blog post could also have been called Avoiding the Imperial Force Community because Darth Vader was the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Force and they were also community. Just think of the Darth Vader song when he entered a scene. If you don’t hear that bone-chilling tune in your head, check it out: . Just because a group of people are in a location, with a perceived goal, and moving in the same direction does not make it a collaborative community or even a positive one.

The Cobra Kai dojo had a very selfish purpose and the norms did not change and no one questioned them. When a student lost a match, the others blamed the student for lack of progress and discouraged collaboration by not supporting him. The Cobra Kai dojo may be a fictional place, but if you reread the individual and dojo characteristics you may see some similarities to a toxic school community. In these negative communities, the staff may be afraid to offer suggestions or ideas. They fear of being criticized and retreat to their silos. This negativity continues in an environment like this because new staff who bring hope, energy, and ideas are quickly squelched by the school’s Johnny Lawrence (the most powerful, or veteran, or just the squeakiest wheel). Sadly, that new teacher will resocialize into negative ways of thinking, retreat to their silo, and the cycle of negativity will continue.

No educator or staff member wants to work in the school described above. It takes leadership (teacher or administrator, or both), time, and direction to rebuild or change these kinds of communities (unless Luke Skywalker or Mr. Miyagi work in your district). I believe that most schools are not this negative, but it is hard to let go of negativity, especially if it has festered over time. We must start with ourselves and make the courageous choice every day to not add more negativity. I know sometimes it seems we have to make the choice to be positive again and again throughout the day, but this is where vision and the skills to stay on course comes into play.

As you build your tool box of positivity working toward a community of Us, try a few of these recommendations. Be a part of the solution.

  1. Make sure you are not the one being negative. Have you seen the movie Rounders? It is a movie based on the card game Poker. Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott says, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the poker table, then you are the sucker.” If you are hearing your principal or other teachers saying, “It is really negative around here” and you don’t spot it…… well maybe reflect on that for a day or two
  2. Be the reason someone smiles. Highlight the positives you see in the school. I always say enthusiasm is contagious; so is negativity. You may be the only one spotting great things and giving a compliment, but someone has to start and then it will be contagious. Maybe leave a note on a teacher’s desk or in the staff room that highlights a great thing or act or kindness or teaching strategy. Speak up.
  3. Have the courage to step up. Sometimes it takes a teacher to start the process by confronting negativity with a conversation. If there is one person who is usually negative or a roadblock when trying to collaborate, ask them why. Yes, this may be awkward and/or difficult, but a simple conversation can go a long way. Often in schools or teachers’ rooms you hear a lot of unhealthy talking (or complaining). Someone calling it out, even gently, can be the step needed for others to see the bad habit or cycle.
  4. Collaboration can start with just one person. Be that one. Teachers often stick to the same people in their teaching circle or content area just because they are next door. Make it a goal to broaden your circle. Take a walk down the hall. Principals, swing into a classroom and ask the teacher a question or just say “hi.” Or go beyond just saying “hi” and ask them about their likes, dislikes, or challenges outside of school. This information will assist you in remembering and acknowledging small, seemingly trivial, things to engage in conversation (like kids’ names, birthdays, etc.) the next time you see this teacher. Knowing information about others goes a long way in relationship reciprocity and building a community of Us. Also, try to seek out someone new to sit with or volunteer for a committee at your next staff meeting. Staff meetings can sometimes feel like when we were in high school and the same people sat with the same group at the same table every day.
  5. Visit someone else’s space or building. This is my favorite and I am going to build a blog post around this topic soon. Most teachers and many principals are not aware of what goes on in a colleague’s classroom because they never see it. Think about how informative it is for elementary principals and teachers view the environment of the school students matriculate to. I know it is hard to feel like you are not being judged or evaluated but let’s also assume positive intent. This is just a suggestion in this section but we will go into more depth and a structure to start this process later in our journey.

Tomorrow – try one of the five suggestions above.

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