‘Us and Them’
‘Us and Them’
The ways in which school leaders interact with their staff is crucial to successful teaching and therefore effective learning. Two recent blogs focused on the tensions that can arise between groups within a school.
How do we avoid the ‘Us and them’ culture?
Jill Berry has written on this topic.
School communities are made up of many different groups of people – students, their parents, teachers, support staff, leaders at all levels, governors. These leaders will, themselves, also be teachers or members of the support staff, and their focus may be pastoral, academic, or perhaps administrative. Relationships can be complex and nuanced. Sometimes, considerable time and energy are expended when there is tension between groups, or between individuals within the groups, which needs to be resolved. We may be called upon to navigate conflict and find the way forward. And it’s important that we do so because we are, of course, ultimately on the same side, and we all want the same thing, which is the best possible education and care for the children and young people at the centre of all these complex relationships.
So how does the ‘us and them’ mentality arise?
I witness a fair amount of ‘SLT bashing’ on Twitter, which always saddens me. I fully understand that senior leadership is not about courting popularity, but it should involve the promotion of mutual respect and positive, constructive, working relationships. We need to ensure that there is empathy and understanding, as well as the right balance of support and challenge, between leaders at all levels and those they lead. If this is lacking, both ‘sides’ can start to think in terms of ‘us and them’, which seems to me to be divisive and unhelpful.
So how can we perhaps avoid it?
- By recognising that we all have a part to play in ensuring our pupils receive the best possible provi Leaders have to work to get the best from those they lead. The led have to accept that leadership can be challenging, and resist the impulse to be overly judgmental and critical.
- By developing our capacity to step into others’ shoes – to try to see an issue from an alternative viewpoint and not to be blinkered and closed-minded in our responses.
- By supporting our colleagues, whatever their role within the school – and that support and positive reinforcement needs to come from all groups across the school community
- By seeing the bigger picture and acknowledging that we are all on the pupils’ side. Time and energy spent in prolonged conflict with each other is a waste of time and energy – both of which may be in short supply. We will disagree sometimes, and that can be healthy and constructive, but we need to be actively looking to solve problems and not to fuel discord and construct barriers
- By being prepared to compromise, find solutions (and not hug the grievances to ourselves because there may be an unhealthy appeal in considering ourselves badly done to or unfairly treated) and move forward. We need sometimes to ‘rise above’, to ‘let it go’ – it isn’t always about ‘being right’.
OliKnight, principal at Phoenix Academy, West London, recently wrote this as part of a reflective and provoking piece on school leadership.
As time has gone on I have come to understand some of the reasons I believe this disconnect can exist between ‘SLT’ and the staff body as a whole. This is not to say that this is the case in all schools and nor that it is not the case in the schools where I have led; I just don’t think that this should be the case and so I want to reflect on this below and set out a tentative proposition. I should caveat this post by saying that I am not the leader I want to be that I reflect on below and that most of this thinking has arisen out of mistakes that I have made and problems I have created.
So 2 headships later on and I feel I am in a position to look back and reflect on some of the errors I have made. The problem for schools comes, I would argue, when leaders are more interested in notions of leadership over and above what they are leading on. An obsession with the roles and mannerisms of an ‘effective leader’ is a distraction from the core purpose of school leadership – enabling all teachers to be highly effective.
Too many leadership programmes focus on ‘leadership’ over domain knowledge.
Your working environment is up to you and the others working in your immediate vicinity. So get started changing that. As the leader, the work climate of your team is directly a reflection of your leadership.
Turn “us vs. them” into “we.”