There’s a phenomenon in Education that’s a strange thing to see and experience but when you look at it in more detail, it makes perfect sense. Often schools are quite dysfunctional places from a managerial point of view and you have people who are promoted into management positions who are often inexperienced and totally unsuited for the positions.
A good teacher doesn't necessarily make a good administrator. As a result, if the wrong people get promoted into positions of influence, you risk ending up with what can be a toxic culture. When this happens, you find incompetent managers surrounding themselves with more incompetent managers to try and hide the fact that they’re useless. This is common practice in any organisation, which results in higher staff turnover and lowers productivity.
If this is the case, why do schools keep functioning for longer when a comparable business or organisation would be falling apart at the seams? Why do schools keep rolling along and producing reasonable outcomes? Unfortunately, it comes down to the ability of a school to blackmail its teachers. This might seem to be an extreme statement. However, it's quite an apt analysis of a dysfunctional school.
Despite layers of incompetent managers in a toxic school, you still have genuinely hard-working teachers who want the best for their students. They want good educational outcomes and they want the students to be learning now, what the other workplace pressures could be.
Unfortunately, this results in a very strange situation. On the one hand managers are driving a completely different agenda to what the school needs from an educational point of view. On the other hand, you have teachers doing their best for the students, which could be quite out of touch with what the school management sees as valuable. This odd situation can be sustained for a long period of time because the teachers on the frontline do the best they can for their students.
If you have a reliable core group of teachers, despite the incompetent management, often schools just keep rolling along without much of a noticeable problem. As long as nobody in management molests any children or runs the school into bankruptcy, incompetent managers seem to stay for years and years, because their incompetence is often covered up by the hard work and desire of other teachers to provide the best opportunities for students.
However, any sort of hardworking individual no matter how motivated, will end up being worn down by this situation. Despite the desire to help students, the longer poor management remains, the greater the decline of the school. It might be a much slower burn than in private enterprise, but once you have disengaged teachers then the entire school becomes toxic, staff turnover increases and good educational outcomes for students becomes a distant memory.
How do you address this? Firstly, you need better managerial oversight. You need better schools’ boards that actually understand the business of education, not just business. They need to look carefully at the connectivity between what teaching staff are doing and what senior management is doing.
Forget the grand strategic building plans. What are the actual educational outcomes for the students? How are they being achieved? Why not get feedback from the students on the entire organization, not just the classroom teacher? This could provide a fascinating insight into how a school is going.
Performance review should be an ongoing process initiated by senior management to ensure continuous improvement for the school. Teachers and students should be able to provide feedback for senior management on a regular basis.
This can provide a much better overview of how well the organisation is going. Is the direction being set by management translating into proactive, positive and effective educational outcomes for students? Or is there a toxic disconnect that’s eating away at the school from within? Unfortunately, due to the slow burning nature of decline within a school, it might take many years to notice the dysfunction. By then, it's too late and all your good staff will have given up and left.
However, by carefully selecting those to manage versus those who should remain in the classroom, this can help to alleviate this concern. Seeking feedback from staff and students and approaching the organisation with a view of continuous improvement, is vital in developing a positive and transparent culture.
You want to avoid the slow burn into decline and instead set a clear vision of what the school stands for and everything the school does should be focused on achieving this ultimate educational goal. As a result, you will increase staff retention and provide the best educational experience possible for your students.
A question I’d like to pose, is what is happening with the Australian economy? Every time you look around more retail shops are closing on our main streets, especially in small towns. The cost to rent anywhere is ridiculously expensive, so why bother with a shopfront? Commercial real estate owners are yet to realise supply is now outstripping demand and many shopfronts now stand ghostly empty in our streets. With the latest economic figures being a reminder that economies go forwards, sideways and backwards, what does the future hold for Australian business?
We're at a tipping point where manufacturing is dead, mining is stumbling along, agriculture is almost subsistence living for many farmers, retail is still coming to terms with the reality of eCommerce and cafés seem to be popping up everywhere! Are we becoming a nation of public servants and café owners? Hopefully not, as diversity is key to a sustainable economy!
What then is the way forward? With our cities bursting at the seams and a two hour daily commute wasting 20 whole days of your life a year, what's the answer?
Well that's simple, decentralisation. Move more services away from the main cities into regional areas. So long as regional centres have fast internet and an airport, and a couple of good cafés, this opens a world of opportunity for government, professionals and businesses at a fraction of the cost of our major cities.
Regional centres have cheaper housing, virtually no traffic, open spaces and a pace of life and lifestyle which lends itself to far better family time and opportunities to connect with others. Most employees only get twenty days of annual leave each year, yet living in the city, they’re spending the equivalent of their entire holiday break sitting in traffic.
The reality is that as communications improve, there’s no reason why you can’t run big businesses from regional centres. There’s no reason why every single government department needs to be in a city. It’s cheaper to fly senior managers in and out of Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra for meetings, than the massive cost of renting entire office blocks in the CBD. After all, how many clients who are being served actually walk into the office?
If people have access to core services in regional areas, fast internet access and fast transport options, then the opportunities for a better life style is beckoning. Whilst many a study, by those living in the city, will tell you how it makes no difference, why not give it go. Spend a few weekends in a regional town or city and get a feel for what life would be like without the horrendous congestion.
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