School communities are made up of many different groups of people – students, their parents, teachers, support staff, leaders at all levels, governors. These leaders will, themselves, also be teachers or members of the support staff, and their focus may be pastoral, academic, or perhaps administrative. Relationships can be complex and nuanced. Sometimes, considerable time and energy are expended when there is tension between groups, or between individuals within the groups, which needs to be resolved. We may be called upon to navigate conflict and find the way forward. And it’s important that we do so because we are, of course, ultimately on the same side, and we all want the same thing, which is the best possible education and care for the children and young people at the centre of all these complex relationships.
So how does the ‘us and them’ mentality arise?
A recent #SLTchat (Sunday 25 February 2018) focussed on the topic of effective senior leadership. Early in the discussion I posted this tweet:
and there followed some debate about the different perspectives of those within senior leadership teams and those outside them. I witness a fair amount of ‘SLT bashing’ on Twitter, which always saddens me. I fully understand that senior leadership is not about courting popularity, but it should involve the promotion of mutual respect and positive, constructive, working relationships. We need to ensure that there is empathy and understanding, as well as the right balance of support and challenge, between leaders at all levels and those they lead. If this is lacking, both ‘sides’ can start to think in terms of ‘us and them’, which seems to me to be divisive and unhelpful.
So how can we perhaps avoid it?
- By recognising that we all have a part to play in ensuring our pupils receive the best possible provision. Leaders have to work to get the best from those they lead. The led have to accept that leadership can be challenging, and resist the impulse to be overly judgemental and critical.
- By developing our capacity to step into others’ shoes – to try to see an issue from an alternative viewpoint and not to be blinkered and closed-minded in our responses.
- By supporting our colleagues, whatever their role within the school – and that support and positive reinforcement needs to come from all groups across the school community
- By seeing the bigger picture and acknowledging that we are all on the pupils’ side. Time and energy spent in prolonged conflict with each other is a waste of time and energy – both of which may be in short supply. We will disagree sometimes, and that can be healthy and constructive, but we need to be actively looking to solve problems and not to fuel discord and construct barriers
- By being prepared to compromise, find solutions (and not hug the grievances to ourselves because there may be an unhealthy appeal in considering ourselves badly done to or unfairly treated) and move forward. We need sometimes to ‘rise above’, to ‘let it go’ – it isn’t always about ‘being right’.
In my thirty years in schools, and eight further years working in the world of education, I have known far more good leaders than weak ones, and far more supportive staff than antagonistic hyper-critical staff. But sometimes we could all perhaps be more tolerant, and kinder – to ourselves and to one another.
I’m interested to know what others think.
Thanks for reading this.
Photo credit: John Berry