The important thing was to involve everyone, value their input and be prepared to compromise so that they had ownership while remaining true to the basic philosophy. The fact that it involved everyone in putting it together meant that they all had a vested interest in making it work. Many of the potential dissenters were brought into consensus. We had fun, respect and care agreed by all staff. We could build on it.
The way to disaster is to impose change or philosophy. That results in lip-service. If everyone is unhappy or pulling in different directions nothing will gel.
The staff of any institution are made up of a great number of personality types. In order to be effective these have all got to be harnessed and unified. I found this out early on when introducing school dances. School dances had been unruly, troublesome affairs that the staff hated and refused to give up their time for. I wanted to reintroduce them with live bands. I made my case that the students deserved them and they would energise the school. Some were swayed over by my enthusiasm and argument that the kids would love them and it would feed into better relationships. I discovered that if I brought in an intricate, well thought through system that demonstrated I had addressed all possible eventualities, provided adequate cover and a range of patrolling likely to prevent trouble, all done with charts, lists, teams and detailed organisation I won over a number of the more logically minded who were sceptical of enthusiasm. They pawed over my intricate diagrams, rotas and arrangements, offered improvements and we were away. It was a lesson to me.
It is all about detailed planning, open discussion, compromise and taking account of the range of different views and personalities. You can never win them all over though but gaining a majority gives you credibility.
From the moment the vision was passed by the school everything that took place in it emanated from those words no matter how difficult that became. If it wasn’t open, caring and friendly it wasn’t worth a fig. If it wasn’t fair it had no place. If lessons weren’t fun and challenging they were worthless.
For my part as a Head this meant doing lots of things that made my life a lot harder but demonstrated clearly that I believed those words were more than words – that I believed in every letter of them. They were probably things that most people never noticed, took for granted or thought were plain daft.
As a deputy and a Head I was Mr open, caring friendly.
The most important thing I did was to smile and greet each and every student as often as I could. I positioned myself at the beginning of the day in the corridor and said hello to everyone. Gradually the majority, who had sidled past in silent embarrassment, began to smile and say hello back. It was friendly and respectful. It was nice. No matter how stressed and unhappy I felt I tried to project a positive attitude and quiet assurance. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult this was at those times when your stress levels were through the roof, your morale and confidence was rock bottom, and you didn’t know if you were going to survive the week.
I toured the school saying hello to staff and students and asking how they were. I was not checking on how well they were teaching or what they were doing but in the process I picked up how they were feeling and the mood. I could tell by walking into a classroom and sensing the atmosphere if things were right or not. I got to know the potential of my staff and who was underperforming.
I treated non-teaching staff with the same respect as teaching staff. We were all one team working for the good of the kids. They were equally important in creating the atmosphere and learning environment of the school. They were human beings of equal value to everyone else. They were doing a range of sometimes unpleasant jobs, pressured jobs, and difficult jobs, often underappreciated and certainly incredibly poorly paid. They deserved equal respect.
I talked to all staff in a friendly informal manner.
I talked to students and staff who held diametrically opposed views to my own. I gave them a platform and listened. I argued forcefully but I did not impose my views. I did instruct them how I wanted students talked to and dealt with though. I wanted them treating with respect. Shouting at students was strongly denounced.
My door was always open so that staff and students could drop in without appointment. If they were upset it was important that I gave my time and listened. I could then address problems and comfort people. It meant that most things could be nipped in the bud before they started to fester.
I politely insisted on certain standards, shirts being tucked in, ties done up, students not pushing and shoving, an orderly passage in our crowded corridors. I wanted a degree of smartness with a modicum of individuality. The students still had their bracelets, weird hairstyles and accoutrements. We could have standards without it becoming claustrophobically draconian. I knew from my own school days that pushing too hard on this led to student anger and rebellion. They resented it. It did not promote the harmony of relationship I was seeking. Yet there was room for a compromise. We had to have certain standards and they had to be enforced. If I did that enforcing, in a polite reasoned manner, then the staff would as well. If we had a polite orderliness then there was a good environment for learning. Students might not like this but would accept it if it was done well. Most staff ducked confrontations with students but I felt that as long as there were collectively agreed rules we should abide by them. If I had my way I would have done away with uniform altogether. There are countries were the education is extremely effective without having to resort to the de-individualisation of uniforms. I hate uniforms. However, the minor confrontations established authority so that when bigger issues arose the authority was already firmly recognized and subsequent behaviour patterns fell into place more easily. I was careful not to allow this to become heavy handed or disrespectful. It was not a power tool. This was an area I had rebelled at whilst at school. I could understand the feelings of the students. But I also knew that it gave them something to rebel against.
I signed each and every one of hundreds of certificates by hand. It would have been easy to save myself hours of mindless signing but I was mindful of the DJ Alan Freed. He had always played his records in the studio while they went out on air. Other DJ’s would turn the sound off. He explained that, when questioned as to why he did this, ‘the listeners knew when you weren’t listening’. I think they did. They could tell if you cared and were enjoying it or not or merely going through the motions. For me, if a student was prepared to put in a term’s worth of sustained effort the least I could do was to recognise that with a simple signature.
I tried hard to not just focus on the staff and students I liked best but to give time to the ones I didn’t like quite as much – the miserable and dissenting. Only through open communication could you change people. If persuasion didn’t work imposition would merely inflame. The only way forward was through open dialogue. If dialogue was suppressed there would be a worthless dictatorship that would be destined to achieve mediocrity. No matter how frustrating or antagonistic someone was being they had to have the opportunity to speak their mind. I would listen and take on board what they were saying, weigh it up, and if I disagreed I’d explain my feelings.
I always apologised if I got things wrong. If you do stuff you get stuff wrong! I found I was often having to say sorry.
I fought for all those things that meant something to me, that emanated from that ethos of fairness, such as mixed ability teaching, effort assessment (and not achievement), PSHE, a pastoral care and support system based on remedial action, support and relationship rather than punishment. I was delighted when this started coming through as restorative practice and SEAL. These are two of the best initiatives there had ever been. They mirror my own beliefs. They are transformative. Forget your teaching and learning – education is about relationship! Often these things are not universally popular. Headship is not about always making popular decisions. It is about making decisions that are right for the students. The students must always come first. When there were issues that were unpopular then I tried to discuss and explain rather than impose.
Management is also about relationship.
In the UK:
In the USA: