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.
Frontline Management is a challenging role and to do it effectively, you have to be able to build professional relationships with your staff. If you have to resort to yelling at your staff as a direct supervisor, you really have lost the ability to provide any semblance of guidance.
I know how frustrating and even infuriating it can be dealing with staff at times, especially if they’re the wrong fit for the organisation. However, if you’ve been put in a managerial position, the reality is that you’re getting paid more than everyone else for a reason. It’s believed that managers have the qualities and capacity to guide others towards shared goals and objectives. (Yes, ‘believed!’)
Unfortunately, many managers are ill-prepared for the role and if they simply think that making demands of staff is the way in which they can lead them, they’re seriously mistaken and perhaps the would-be manager should find themselves another sort of role.
Leading staff is about inspiring. It’s about developing and working towards common goals. It’s often the case, however, that there’s a disconnect between the common goal and the values that the manager has versus what staff value or perceive their role to be. If this is the case, expect nothing but conflict and ineffective work practices.
I’ve worked in a number of organisations where there’s been a total disconnect between what management values and what staff members value. The reality is that the two can’t be disconnected. Everyone needs to be working towards the same goal, otherwise the workplace just ends up in a completely dysfunctional mess.
Now I also need to be clear in that even if you’re working towards a common goal, you may still experience internal conflict. After all, you’re dealing with groups of people, not machines and people love drama, especially workplace drama, as it can fill the emotional void between morning talkback radio and ‘Home & Away’ in the evening.
However, if you’re truly leading people, you need to have a common goal, a common vision of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t have this then it makes it extremely hard to inspire others to do anything at all.
I was working for an organisation where this problem came to the fore. The manager was seriously out of his depth. He didn’t understand what the organisation was trying to achieve. He didn’t have the experience within that organisation or within the industry to be able to provide any sort of management or any sort of guidance in this either.
This is often the case, especially in organisations and large organisations that keep adding more and more staff quite rapidly and yet they’re not really clear on what the staff need to be doing, yet at the same time, they need more staff to do something! It’s a classic public service experience but also it happens in a lot of other organisations. You end up with more layers of management than you can poke a stick at. However, none of them is really clear on what they’re actually supposed to be doing and none of them can make a decision to save their lives.
If this situation arises, then you get an even greater divide between management objectives and employee realities. Once you get this disconnect between management and employees with no clear goals, with no clear idea what the organisation is trying to achieve, you get increasing internal conflict. There’s lots of knee-jerk reactions by management due to the need for control over people in the absence of any clear vision.
When issues arise, there’s a natural fall-back for many poor managers to become defensive about any issue and instead of dealing with it head on in person, most of it now is being done via messages or email. With no direct personal contact with staff, this only exasperates the situation. This then leads to an increasing feeling of resentment and hostility within the organisation and ultimately conflict between managers and employees that goes round and round in circles and gets nowhere.
Conflict within an organisation due to bad management, then increases absenteeism and the cost of doing business. If nobody is really sure why they’re doing what they’re doing, it’s little wonder that small issues will get blown out of proportion by everyone.
The issue then becomes a growing mistrust felt between management and staff and this can go from an organisation not really working coherently, to a very toxic and detrimental workplace. You can be assured, any minor issue will suddenly blow up into a massive problem that seems to dwarf Mt. Everest in size and scope.
The sad reality is that it’s quite common in many organisations to promote people based upon years of service and not actual ability to manage. Just because someone has been there a long time doesn’t mean he or she will be any good at managing people. Managers must have other qualities and working towards clear goals is one very important one. If a potential manager can’t demonstrate why the organisation is doing what it’s doing in a genuine manner, you really don’t want that person trying to manager others.
To avoid this situation, you need front line managers that are able to understand staff, make decisions and have clear visions and goals for the organisation. If the organisation’s vision is aligned with the beliefs of the staff, then it means minor issues go away very quickly. They can be dealt with in a professional manner and don’t end up in yelling matches with people firing accusations back and forth and getting everyone nowhere but stressed.
At the end of the day, if you want your organisation to operate at around 25% of capacity just go for whatever person you like and throw him or her into a management position. It doesn’t matter. However, if you want to be operating in the 80-100% capacity range and really want to make a positive difference to what your organisation’s doing, you need to be far more careful and discerning of who you put in to your management positions.
Once you get the right mix, it’s not just about managing people. It’s about inspiring them. It’s about motivating them through common goals and a vision to be the best at whatever you’re doing. This sort of approach changes the whole dynamics of an organisation. All the daily drama and nonsense that holds people back and cripples workplaces, just disappears into the aether. Suddenly people are happier, more effective and ultimately, the organisation can grow and become far better at what it does.
Head over Here For My Outdoor Ed Blog - Challenge, Experience, Growth!