Stomping down the corridor, you are seething at the new policy! Anticipation is building to get your thoughts out in the open; just a few more steps before you can vent this frustration. “Idiots!” you think to yourself... Not out loud... Not yet.
Finally - behind closed doors – your annoyance can be unleashed. With a close colleague, you spill discontentment in a critical outpouring of all that is wrong with your school, venting your anger at their stupidity.
We’ve all taken part in these conversations. The ones where, if the door was suddenly opened and there stood our boss, our tone would change, things would be quickly picked up and put down again in an effort to look like we were talking about anything but that.
This way of dealing with undesirable disruption to our working life is the norm. We keep our bitching within our own inner circle. It feels good to vent with those who know better, those who have the same role as we do and can see the wrongs that anybody outside of that group clearly cannot see. Our mutual dislikes bring us closer, making our insecurities disappear. It feels good, but what good does it do?
Take a look at the bird’s eye view of this school. Can you see how many inner circles are protesting in private? The leadership fretting over Ofsted’s new policy; the middle leaders lamenting SLT’s latest demand; the classroom teachers’ disgust at another new way of working and the assistants’ discontented fretting over nobody understanding what they are actually here to do. Each private protest fuels a concealed rage against each other. Each inner circle enveloped in a cloud of self-righteous ranting, feeling powerful in the moment. Feeling frustration at not being understood.
How can we understand that which we cannot see? We can all see that one colleague who we already know is going to complain out loud. They are probably close to retirement, been there, done that, and seen the pendulum swing so many times that they have been hypnotised into calling out the crap as and when they see it. Their complaints are anticipated; their complaints are part of the fabric of the school. Do they make a difference? No. The policy is ploughed through anyway so we keep our complaints private, as this colleague has proven that there is no point in having your voice heard.
Who is right? The colleague who shouts out their complaints? The moaners who talk in private, keeping the status quo? SLT who know that changes need to be made to fit with new government policy so they get the job done quickly but complain that staff don’t do it right? The people at the very top of the chain of demand, trying to sort out wider issues that our education system have and complaining that schools don’t adapt correctly to their really clear plans? They are all humans in the system, but is the system set up to solve, or is it set up to encourage the closed door complaints that feel so good but do not do any good?
Walking to the meeting, you are still musing the new policy. Anticipation is building to get your thoughts out into the open; just a few more steps and your voice will be heard. You were emailed the outline of the plan last week. You understand the reasoning behind the changes but, working on the ground where these changes will be felt most, you can see the pitfalls that those above could not see.
Finally – together as a community – you unleash your adaptation of their original plan. Your inner circle had a meeting to develop the outline into something that would meet the needs of changing circumstances and improve things for all on the ground.
The closed door conversations are no longer hot air venting and helpless. The door may suddenly open to have our boss peep in but no longer do we panic at having been caught in misdemeanour. We welcome their thoughts on our emerging ideas to make things work the best they possibly can. Communication channels are open. Questions are not disguised complaints. That’s not how we work anymore.
The backbiting is gone, replaced by a system of inclusion in every change, development or new way of working. Our inner circles are connected to one another. They are purposeful purposeful places, making sense of changes and offering solutions or ideas that make things better for us all. Mutual respect brings the whole community closer; our insecurities are no longer masked through the verbal bashing of our superiors. It feels good to be part of a community that understands and it does good too.
Take a bird’s eye view of this school. Can you see how every cohort of colleagues work harmoniously with each other through consultation and discussion for the best possible outcome? Time aids discussion and understanding aids proper implementation of ideas. Each circle in the greater chain have their place. None feel powerful because all are empowered. The argument is not a battle; the discussion is a community, rich in advancements because they have thrown away the thoughts of being misunderstood and replaced them with conversations to understand.
Who is right? The person at the top of the pyramid that saw a problem that needed to be solved and so consulted SLT to begin the chain of discussion? The SLT who received the initial idea and began the process of idea generation from those on the ground? The middle leader who chaired the discussion with their staff, asking questions and trouble shooting ideas? The staff on the ground that had their voice heard in time to avoid unnecessary problems? As each of those positions are held by humans, I would say none of the above will have it perfectly correct but at least they are in a process that will lead to success and will certainly avoid the closed door complaints.
Is open discussion enhancing your school’s progress? Could something that feels so far away be made the new norm?
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