TEAM FALLING APART! HELP!

Our head coach from previous years was unable to commit his entire time this year. He agreed to mentor on a limited basis. Sense then he has redefined his role many times from not wanting to be involved at all to requiring every detail be done his way. He is the tech Ed teacher so the rooms that we use are his; the equipment is in his area. He has held the room and machines and even our robot hostage, that we cannot touch the robot until all of his demands are met. We have attempted to talk to him on numerous occasions. He can never seem to hear us. Logic appears to have gone out the window and been replaced by power and control issues. In theory some of his ideas would work, if we had a larger team, with more students and mentors. It seems that he has forgotten that the mentors we have are volunteering their time and that it is supposed to be fun learning experience for the students.
He wants every part designed in CAD, but we only have a few students that know how to use CAD. We have never used CAD in the past, (when he was the head coach) but we’ve always built it just fine. We don’t even have anything ready to build because we have spent all our time on CAD.
He is also demanding that the room be spotless every night. we understand that it is important to keep a clean and organized work area, but we have kept the room clean.The only things out on the tables is something that is currently being worked on. Before the room had to be spotless we had gotten complements on how clean the room was from a teacher that shares part of the room for a class (we were not very clean or organized when he was the head coach).

It is now week 3 and we have very basic cad drawings done and have just started cutting the frame. But because things have not gone his way, he has locked up the frame and we cannot make progress on that. The students come in with their heads hung low. It has become more of a job than a fun experience. Some mentors have left because of the situation.
He has indicated many times that we will do things his way or we will go to competition with a box full of parts. For the first time, our team is in a better position financially and we have more parents ready to help. But we are farther behind than ever before.
We understand that if word gets out we risk losing potential sponsors and future mentors.
We have started talking to district administration and the school principal, but if things do not happen we will be forced to move away from the school and try to build the robot in a mentors garage.

The route you have taken of contacting the principal of the school is a good one, but if that doesn’t work, you may need to strike against him. Don’t show up to build sessions, don’t go to the competition. You also need to make it clear that you don’t need him to be a successful team. Tell him that he is not the nucleus of the team (even if that may not be the case.) You have someone who is “drunk with power” because your team gave him the impression that he is absolutely necessary to the building process.

It seems to me that this teacher has more serious issues than just your team. If anyone can ignore the social ques that the students and mentors of the team are sending him, they need serious help.

Our team is in a similar situation when it comes to facilities: We take up a full four tech rooms at our school, all of which are used in regular classes. They must all be spotless at the end of the night, and this is not too hard of a task to perform. We have a closet that we stuff everything into at the end, so if you budget 15 minutes every night for cleanup, you should be fine.

We also do design every part in CAD before making it. However, our CAD team is 10+ strong, and all are competent. It works for us, but CAD is not for all teams. If your coach/mentor/adviser doesn’t understand this, like I said before, he has some serious issues.

Finally, what student positions do you have on the team? Is there a student president/captain? Is there a lead mentor? If so, either or both of these people need to talk to your coach and immediately have, for lack of better wording, an intervention. Talk to him, and figure out why he wants all of this this way. Try to logic him out of his crazy ways.

If he can not see the logic in doing the right thing, or he can not convince you to his side, it is time for more drastic action. You need to be talking with district admin and your principal all this time about this situation, but be prepared to finish the robot in your mentors garage. Good luck.

EDIT: By striking against him, you prove he has the most power. Prove to him that you [the students and mentors] run the team, and not him. Don’t strike, he will assume you are being lazy. Show your passion, and maybe he will bend.

EDIT2X: Where are you located? If you need any help with anything, I’m sure a local team could take you in, if not provide you with any sort of other support you may need.

Hmm. I was about to recommend that you talk to your school administration then I read that you have started doing that. I would try and make the most of that.

It does seem that your teacher has serious power issues, and your school administration needs to have a serious talk with this teacher. Likely, you will need to find a new teacher to supervise your club, and move your parts from this teachers room. I would actually do that ASAP. I’m hoping that the school administration has keys to all the locks in the school, so even if your teacher disagrees, you can get in there and move your parts somewhere else, or to a mentor’s garage.

I REALLY hope you guys get through this!

I can’t think of much more that hasn’t been said, but I think that if you can’t work it out at your current site, you might see if any other teams in your area can accommodate your team for the time being.

Striking is often the way that a majority can overcome a minority that either has power or delusions of it. By striking, the team says that they aren’t going to take any more of it. If a full-out strike isn’t really what you want to do, you can do a sit in strike, where you come in, but do nothing; or you could do a slow down strike where you work at a much slower pace than usual. These are only suggestions. Naturally you want to compete, so moving to a mentor’s garage may be your ultimate best bet, at least until the school administration takes action.

I feel like a strike only works on a commercial or industrial setting, where the management has opposing interests to the workers. In this case, you have the same goals, so working slowly compromises your goals as well as angers him.

This is true. In this case, we lack a conflict of interests, but we do have dissent among the workers. Like I said, the ultimate solution will be when the school administration takes action, but if all of their equipment is in this teacher’s room, it will be awful hard to pack up and leave to go to a mentor’s garage.

Couple of things:

First, I’d like to point you over towards FAHA, where all questions are anonymous by default. It’s slower than the general forum, however, so I understand some urgency.

Second, the first thing I would have suggested is going to the administration. You’ve done that, so the only thing I can suggest is that the entire team (not just one segment), including the teacher if possible, take a couple days off. No work on the robot, no work on anything robotics related, aside from what I’m about to suggest. The team (including the teacher) should take the time to think about why they’re doing FIRST Robotics Competition. What are the team’s goals? What is the team’s mentor agreement? (And is this teacher bound by that mentor agreement?)

Other than that time off and thinking, let the administration work. If need be, make sure they understand the need for an expedient solution to this problem–if they don’t have a resolution in a matter of days, there’s a distinct chance that the entire team disappears before competition, which does not reflect well upon the school.

You should get your PTSA and the school board involved in this problem. Remember that you, the student, are not the customer; your parents are. Your Principal is not senior management; the school board is. Those stakeholders, along with a local mentor representing the community, need to become engaged in addressing the issue. Get a meeting scheduled and go in prepared and with an open mind. Think of positive things to say, and have constructive ideas on how to resolve issues.

If you have other teams in your school district, ask their coach to also attend to provide information about their program.

Also make sure you address the issues as they relate to academics and your college prospects. If you walk in talking about your “club”, you will be at a big disadvantage. That’s not the school’s mission. You should mention any financial support you get from non-school sources. Your activities are not a drain on the school system, but rather a positive extension.

In the off season you can prepare alternative plans to form a community team. You can even offer that to the school and see if they actually prefer it. I can predict that they will not. Don’t present it as an ultimatum, just as a possible solution. But don’t kid yourself, converting to a community team is hard and not without a fresh set of problems. Even the worst school environment has certain advantages.

And know that you are not alone with this problem.

PS If you are in the DC Capital Region, I’m happy to help face-to-face.

PPS Also check to see if you have a school or school district ombudsman, someone with the actual role of bringing two parties to the table to resolve conflict.

Striking will not help in this situation. Your teacher has become frustrated that things are not being done his way- regardless of whether this is the right or wrong way. At this point it is clear that he blames the students for the problems you are experiencing and as such would LOVE to see you guys walk out to validate what he percieves to be the problem.

First of all, the shop is not HIS. He is merely an employee of the board- he does not own the equipment and resources in your school. Contacting your administration is the right way to go. What would I do next?

Work with your mentors and sponsors. Explain the situation if they are not already aware of it, then move everything - and I mean everything robotics related off-site to your mentor’s garage. Have another teacher or the administration let you into the room and collect all your equipment. There is a magical key known as a cordless drill which can defeat nearly any lock! If it can’t then it’s friend- the bolt cutter, will. Your teacher will quickly get the message and he will then have to make the judgment call as to whether he’s with you or against you. In any case, it doesn’t matter- you will be free to work off-site as you please.

Keep in mind that (I am making an assumption here) he’s not the one who paid the entry fee. You have sponsors who expect to see something for the money they have contributed. Explain to him that you have a duty to deliver a product and his actions have prevented you from doing so. Appologize for removing the equipment but explain that you felt it was necessary in order to continue with the project.

So your first step, contacing the admin is complete. Work with your mentors to see if you can find another place to work on it. Working off-site can be the best thing for a team- you can often work 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. One of my teams works exclusively out of a sponsor’s shop which allows us to run work sessions any time of day, any day of the week. Last weekend we worked until 4am Sunday morning- try doing that at a school!

I think some of the ideas here are good… though I would highly advise against any kind of striking tactic… it hurts both you and him and may put even more distance between the team. Talking to the administration can be good, but depending on the situation, sometimes they can move slow, and even if they attempt to resolve it in a week’s time, even more time is lost for you.

What I would recommend is find one of your committed mentors and one or two of your lead students and go see the teacher. Depending on what you think might be best, you may want to pick one person to approach him one on one, or you can go as a group if you think he won’t feel threatened.

Now by what you said, I am assuming the team has probably already gotten into arguments with him, they have probably told him how unreasonable he is being and pushed back… and I’m guessing this hasn’t worked.

What I would suggest is approach it from a different angle. Have this person or people LISTEN to him. Ask him (only if you can do it non-confrontationally) why he has come up with the changes/suggestions he has. There may be all sorts of things at play that you do not know about. Maybe the administration is pushing him to have more success with the team. Maybe the sponsors have told him there isnt enough “engineering” going on. Maybe he is trying to prove to other tech teachers that he can do something. Maybe he got cited for having a dangerous shop. Maybe he really wants the team to win the Inventor award…

Do whatever you can to look at it from his perspective. Admittedly his tactics aren’t working to help you all create the environment you want. Very few of us are calm and cool and perfect in stressful situations. It may be even harder for him if he has been forced to step back either for family, health, or whatever reasons. He is obviously taking things very seriously and is having issue with the team not doing things the way he is trying to get them to do it, and his actions seem to indicate that he feels like no one is Listening to him. He probably also feels that he has quite a lot of experience, and that the team should respect that and know that he has knowledge that is causing him to make these decisions. Again, admittedly, he could probably be better at communicating that, but not many of us are master communicators.

So figure out what his motives are. Figure out why he wants things the way he does. But try to do it by asking (non-threatening) questions and really really listening to his answers. Maybe some of his ideas could benefit the team, maybe there is some room for compromise. Maybe once you have really heard him, and he knows you have listened (try the technique of echoing back to him what you think you heard him say), maybe then he will let down his guard a bit and you can begin to understand and come to a plan that will work for everyone.

Small sidebar… the major points you mention… 1511 went through all of them. Our first year we had nothing in CAD really (except one gear box a sponsor designed for us). By the fourth year, while we did not have a ton of students who knew CAD, our entire robot was designed in CAD and was possibly one of the most attractive robots we made (not to mention it all was exactly the weight we predicted!!), and because we did it in CAD, everything went together in a single night right around the end of the 4th week. So just because you are working in CAD and do not have parts yet, doesn’t necessarily mean you are behind. There is a lot to be said for not having to assemble and disassemble, redo, assemble again… etc. And on the clean shop thing, same again… 1511 was kind of a disaster our first year. We were given a woodshop that no one really used at that time of year, so everything was out all over the tables as everyone used the logic “well Im still working on that”. That was the same year my own personal $500 makita drill was stolen from the shop. Now 1511 puts absolutely everything away into cabinets or closets, tools get put back in the tool chest, and rooms are exactly as they were found. Its painful at first go to through these transitions, but trust me, 1511 is a much better team for it, and on those two points, you will be too.

Back to the point… try really listening (not just asking & hearing) and see if it helps. Good luck!

I’ve been a team member, a technical mentor, and now a teacher. I’ve been a student, a college kid, and now a husband. I’ve been everything scout to Lead Mentor. With the exception of the position of principle/administration/school board, I’ve seen every side of this coin before. With all of that experience under my belt, Kim’s advice is the best on this thread. It’s the most likely to quickly and successfully resolve the situation. Trying to turn this into some sort of ‘you vs. him’ conflict will only further slow any progress, and end up with someone walking away from the team insulted and uninspired.

Now that I’m a teacher, I realize how much work it is to make sure a team can exist. It takes a huge amount of time, effort, and personal money to keep it going. Very rarely will students (or even other mentors) see this. After the lights go out, I’m still here calling vendors, processing invoices, filling out POs, badgering FIRST HQ, firing emails to potential and current sponsors, filling out school board paperwork, defending the teams existence to the administration, and cleaning up the bits of flotsam that the team missed (not included: all the regular teaching duties). On the one day (or two, occasionally) a week I have off, I spend most of the afternoon picking up supplies and running errands.

My team this year has been great; they’ve been safe, clean, respectful, dedicated, thorough, and gracious. My family has been supportive, forgiving, and helpful. With the support of both team and family, I’ve been able to push a lot harder than in years past, however, it’s still unbelievably stressful. Based on the original post, I doubt the teacher has either of these, and that makes robotics season for him overwhelming and frustrating.

If you want to get him back on the same page, try and find out what he needs help with, and help him. Even if you don’t agree with his methods, he wants you and the rest of the team to succeed. Talk to him, listen to him (as Kim said), and work with him. You’re all on the same team, unless you make it otherwise.

DON’T DO THIS!

The morning after you do this, your team would cease to exist, and in all likelihood, you might be facing criminal charges. And while he might not “own” the tools, materials, or workspace (though he probably does own or has paid for some of it), it is his responsibility. Theft and destruction of property do not bode well for a team’s future.

TL,DR: You’re all on the same team. Don’t fight with him, listen to him, and then try to figure out where your differences lie. And don’t break into the school and steal stuff.

RodgerR and Kim hit it right on the head. Please try to find out what changed for this mentor.

Depending on what state you are in the educational system is going through some major upheavals right now. I am a tech-ed teacher and in my state our jobs are under fire every day. We are having to justify our existence and what we teach. It may be that behind the scenes your coach/mentor is facing the same issues. Pile on top of that any family issues you may not be aware of and things just continue to stack on top of each other until your mentor is overwhelmed and feels the need to have absolute control over just one area of his life.

I am the only coach for a 25 person team that has limited funding and only one mentor. Last spring (right at the beginning of build season) my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and I can tell you that there was a definate difference in how I felt and as much as I tried not to let everything bleed together I know that it did. The kids knew and were extremely supportive (as best as teenagers who are in the midst of robot season can be).

Definately reach out to other teams in your area for help. Especially if there are established teams with long-time coaches/mentors. Maybe they can help give guidance or talk to your coach.

Good luck and keep your heads held high. Even if things don’t go well at competition you are learning extremely valuable lessons about interpersonal communication and how to solve on-the-job problems.

FOLLOW KIM’S ADVICE!!!

Follow Rodger’s advice to FOLLOW KIM’S ADVICE!!!

If you can find out what is motivating your coach, you will almost certainly be able to improve the situation.

-Mr. Van
Coach, Robodox

Kim and Roger have this pretty locked down.

One thing I would also advise is not to approach the administration until you’ve reached a stalemate with all other solutions. Going above someones head often leads to a very abrupt change which could create even more tension.

Good luck.

-Brando

A little late for that advice, Brandon. The administration is already involved. Hopefully they can simply act as a mediator/moderator (which can help facilitate talking).

I indeed did see that. What I was referring to was to take the approach Kim proposed involving a direct discussion between the two parties before having to interact through a mediator/moderator (administration).

Like everyone, I’ve seen what one person can do to lead to the downfall of a team. I think you guys are in a position that if you act properly and most importantly, fast, you can still pull the situation out of the fire. Everyone’s advice thus far is mostly spot on. General strike won’t work given the time you got left and the situation. Kims and Roger are pretty much on the mark. Here is how I’d handle it.

Go up to the highest school level supporter you have. Principal up to the School Board.
Take as many people as you can but insure that they are level headed. Those that are not, get their feelings and grievances in writing. (Bad timing in an outburst of emotion is a nail in the coffin.)
Bring the mentors, those still with you and those that have walked, into it similarly. (adults listen to adults)
Another avenue would be to bring the state/district level FIRST group in. Example would be if you were in Virginia to get in touch with someone in VirginiaFIRST. (Help from people in FIRST isn’t a bad thing.)
Another local, parent or child team’s support too would be great. (teamwork.)

I hope that you can get this issue resolved soon. I’ve seen to many good teams fall victim to politics, be it from one individual or a group. Good Luck and stay strong.

I saw this post this morning and now that I have a chance to respond I can only wish that my response would have been as good as Kim and Rogers advice. In my experience in schools you will not get ahead by stirring the pot with administration. If you become a problem, what don’t they solve by making you go away? Understand that everyone wants the same thing, you just need to figure out how to get there together. It isn’t easy to be the bigger person sometimes, that’s why it’s called being the bigger person.