Schools are perhaps the most scrutinised of all institutions. Teachers and staff are always under a magnifying glass held by parents, members of the community, employers, social welfare groups and government departments. Examination of schools and teachers by registration boards and performance management units is constant. Processes by which schools and staff administer education are being constantly updated and applied. Curriculum priorities are forever being altered. ‘Compliance’ and ‘accountability’ seem to be the most important key words within school action and teacher performance plans.
Government demands are poured upon educators. Expectations, many of them constantly changing, cascade upon schools like torrential rain. These pressures can become quite destabilising.
This is especially the case in situations where principals and leadership teams feel that everything demanded of schools by the system (and of the system in turn by Government), has to be instantly grasped and wedged into practice. Knee jerk reactions cause inner disquiet for staff who are often reluctant to change practices without justification, but are pressured to make and justify those changes anyway.
Before change is put into place, school staff, council and community members should have the chance to fully understand new policy and direction. ‘Making haste slowly’ is wise but difficult when government gives little time for response.
Constant change in educational direction does little to positively enhance the way those working within schools feel about what they are doing. Staff become ‘focussed by worry’. Is what they are doing, good enough? Teachers may maintain brave faces but beneath the surface suffer from self doubt. This in turn leads to discontent and unhappiness.
Positive Atmosphere A Must
It is essential that school principals and leadership teams offer reassurance and build confidence within their teaching and support staff groups. This does not mean lowering standards, but acknowledging and appreciating staff effort. Making that appreciation public can help through sharing the efforts of teachers with the wider community.
Well-being cannot be bought as a material resource. Neither can it be lassoed, harnessed or tied down. The ‘feel’ of a school is an intangible quality that generates from within. It is a product of the professional relationships developed by those within the organisation. School atmosphere, which grows from the tone and harmony within is precious. That feeling can also be lost if positive recognition and appreciation of staff is discounted or not considered important.
It is up to Principals and leadership teams to ensure that positive atmosphere, precious yet fragile, is built and maintained. It is easy to lose the feeling of positivism, so necessary if an organisation is to grow and thrive on the basis of its human spirit.
I recommend the wisdom of building spirit within our schools. It will add to feelings of staff satisfaction and well-being. Stability and happiness within school workplaces, embracing staff, students and community, will be the end result.