What does it take to create a collective staff?
This is an age-old concern of all management. How to create a collective and channelled purpose whilst not enforcing a stifling artificial culture. We have seen various incarnations over the years, organised team building, “you will have fun” nights out, instructions how to do it at Inset all which have not really transferred well from corporate culture to education.
The last ten years have seen this apparent “fault” within teachers attempted to be eradicated by vigorous dress codes, more “professional” codes of conduct and the adoration of corporate culture. For me this aping of what is done in the “real” world and the belief that this will make teachers somehow “better” is at best farcical and at worse pernicious. For a start the classroom and schools in general are no place for an expensive power suit. Paint, body effluences of all kinds and marker pen mishaps are occupational hazards. I remember with some glee a particularly smug management consultant coming to my school and after spouting what seemed like Martian for 30 minutes leaning against a whiteboard and getting a lot of gunk on his electric blue suit. Secondly, the general state of most schools, despite the excellent work of the cleaners and maintenance teams mean they are a death trap for your best clobber. When you combine this with the depressing trend for so called managers to talk in some sort of bureaubabble and write to colleagues as if they are compiling data reports for KPMG you have the antithesis of the creation of a team spirit. Now if that is what you want as an SMT you can follow this road and achieve 100% success but be warned when you are in your lovely office in front of your oversized Mac putting together the agenda for the next meeting top of the pile will be recruitment, retention, supply budgets and how to put enough bodies in front of classes come September. No matter how much your website blares out mission statements, your uplifting ethos and success more amazing than Stalin’s tractor factory production figures the fact will remain no-one will believe outside your meeting. Teachers will not be replaced like for like, on the job training is not sufficient if there is no-one training the on the jobbers and the replacement of “expensive” staff by” new blood” is short sighted at best.
Therefore, if the above scenario Is to be avoided how do we build up a team spirit which will be embedded and work within a school?
- Teachers are a collective breed as a staff but are also individuals and need to be seen as such. The culture of a school needs “buy in” and this cannot be created by a new marketing slogan, so we become little Descartes” We think therefore we are.” A good and cohesive school staff is a complex and multi-layered beast that does need guidance and direction but not a heavy hand. Teachers do not respond to or like this and it will sow resentment and division.
- Teachers are intelligent individuals often with talents that could have been exploited in many other fields. Therefore, they need to be respected and listened to. Engagement with staff and a good communications process will reap huge dividends. The senior team make the decisions but listen to the collective, there are some excellent ideas and voices out there.
- Teachers are reasonably conservative about change. They adapt and conform and are excellent at meeting deadlines and making “it” happen. They need to be explained to why change is being made and what is the purpose of it and how it will improve things. High-handed directives and treating staff like drones is not the way forward.
- Teachers do not need micro-managing. If there is a group that likes to be social, allow that to happen and even, try to tap into the creative energy that comes from these informal groups. They are not the enemy- often staff gatherings are surprisingly refreshing about how they incessantly talk about work!
- Do not invent “unnecessary” work or Inset just for the sake of it. It is the most sure-fire way to alienate and demotivate your staff.
- If there is an opportunity for an end of term non-compulsory event take it! Teachers are fun and social people in the main with huge creative energy used to working in tight compact work cycles. A chance to let off steam in a non-judgemental environment can create a great work environment.
- The most obvious one is that the staff feel supported and part of a collective. This does not mean an us and them environment against the students or parents but a well-motivated, driven and committed work force and one which is happy in their work.
Teachers come into the profession because they want to teach, make a difference, help shape lives and all of those amazing things. Exit interviews show that these motivators don’t change but the pressures of the job and sometimes the mishandling of talented individuals drives them out. Harnessing and nurturing the individual whilst driving forward the school is a difficult balancing act but one worth pursuing if the doomsday figure of 47,000 teachers short by 2025 is to be avoided.