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See the person

I am a regular reader of the 'Secret Teacher' column in The Guardian newspaper. This is published every Saturday morning and is written by a different anonymous teacher each week. Like many, I have moaned and groaned about the tone and the content of many of these articles. Many are used by individuals to moan and groan about what goes on in their school, issues with the system or education in general. A lot of the articles say a lot more about the people who wrote them, rather than any of the the issues, some of which are quite serious. In Scotland we often characterise meetings where everyone just seems to see them as an opportunity to moan as 'meet and greets', 'greet' being a Scottish term for crying.

However, there does seem to be an underlying trend of issues that are grounds for concern for all of us in schools, and especially leadership teams. This week's 'Secret Teacher' writes of her experience of being away from her middle leadership role in school on maternity leave. She describes how, whilst still recovering from the birth and getting used to motherhood, she was contacted by her Headteacher, also female, by email to complete the paperwork for her annual appraisal and attend her interview. She writes of attending the appraisal interview with her new baby and being taken aback by the headteacher's attitude that seemed to view maternity leave as a nice little 'break'. She complains about lack of empathy and understanding of her position by her boss, but also by colleagues, many of whom seemed have similar views about her leave. Not to mention having to keep dealing with work issues when she was not at work.

I can't comment on the individual case put forward by this teacher, but it does seem to highlight an increasing issue for those of us in schools, and for school leadership. That is, the increasing inability of some school leaders to keep sight of the individuals they are working with. My daughter is an Occupational Therapist and she works with people with dementia. In her service, they have developed a slogan 'See the person' to help everyone to keep seeing and remembering the individual people they are working with, and to refrain from continually being focused on the symptoms and the actions they exhibit because of their dementia. I think a lot of school leaders would do well to reframe their own thinking around this themselves.

However, I don't just blame them because how many work and operate is a direct product of the type of system they work in. If you are in a high accountability system, focused on test results, systems and structures, is it any wonder that is where school leaders direct their focus? Of course, systems and structures are important, as they help us deal with the complexity of our role, as is assessment to support learning. We are all accountable, but the people we are most accountable to are our learners and their parents or guardians. If you have organisations like Ofsted, led by someone who thinks leaders should be feared, staff should be afraid, and everything should be high-stakes, who will make and break careers and schools, is it any wonder so many school leaders have those aspects as the main priorities? But, what this creates is leaders who stop seeing the individuals, the only ones who can deliver. When this happens, they become more and more demanding of staff, fail to appreciate their individuality and become more and more directive and dictatorial, leading into the descent into micro-management, and high anxiety levels.

I know this is not the case in many schools, and I work with and know many colleagues who are working hard to maintain the humanity in their leadership and their approach. But I have read enough of such columns, and elsewhere, and have seen and heard enough anecdotal evidence to lead me to believe that there are more scenarios out there like the one above than we would care to admit. The first step to solving any problem is to recognise there is a problem. I am sure Mr Wilshaw will see no problem in what I am detailing, safe and secure as he is in his 'rightness' and his systems and structures. But he doesn't see me as a person, and I suspect never will. 

Do you see your staff?


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