Before I start, I must point out that this is not a dig at all the members of the Senior Leadership Team at my current school. Not at all. Rather, it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the practices that traps people in management positions – at all levels – sometimes fall into. They’re therefore traps I’m going to do my best to avoid when I become part of the Senior Leadership Team at my next school!
I’ve seen two awful presentations in the past couple of weeks. One was just monumentally bad – the presenter couldn’t find files, sat us through ages of short video clips and sprang questions at us to fill in time – and the other was just rambling and poorly thought-out. What was common to both approaches, however, was the assumption “I’m using technology therefore this must be a good presentation.” Gah.
I take the above Dilbert cartoon in the way that I think it’s meant to be read – i.e. as an extremely sarcastic and ironic look at how easily people are impressed by things that look good. That, to some extent is true. But it’s only true when accompanied by at least some level of competence in presenting information in an interesting and engaging way. Technology does not do the presentation for you!
On a slightly tangential note, I’m also concerned about the uncritical and all-too-credulous nature of otherwise intelligent people when presented with graphics that represent statistics. It’s critical literacy and a basic understanding of statistics. A grasp of these should be a pre-requisite for a career in any professional occupation…
Surfing the status quo
Hiding behind desks is something that people in management in the world over are particularly good at. In schools its especially straightforward to seem good at your job if you get the data right. Schools only have to be seen to be doing things correctly – they aren’t inspected very often, parents are often (sometimes voluntarily) left out of the everyday loop concerning their child’s interactions at school, and the status quo suits most people very well.
So if you can engineer a situation where you or your institution seem to be doing everything right, the weight of conservative opinion and social inertia are on your side. As a manager you just need to jump through the oft-renamed hoops.
What am I planning to do? Aim to be an expert. Of course, I’ll never actually achieve my goal for, in a Socratic manner, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know. Still, it’s the process that’s important – as Kathy Sierra pointed out back in the day on her much-missed blog:
Most managers are ‘amateurs’ on this graph. They find a way that works for them and then keep on doing it. Over time, this means inconveniencing others and distorting things to make things fit into their system.
Those who choose the ‘expert’ path and challenge themselves to keep learning become – perhaps inadvertently – leaders, as the enthusiasm for continuous learning and their own professional development attracts others like a magnet!
One of the results of being an ‘average’ manager (see above) is that, by not challenging yourself to learn new things, you will have spare time. Feeling guilty about this, managers then want to make sure they look like they’re doing their job and have authority. They therefore make things up for people to do, are awkward just for the sake of it, or ‘drop-in’ on people and point out irrelevancies.
I’m going to take as a fundamental maxim that people should be trusted to be professionals and get on with their job. Yes, there should be as much appropriate communication as possible, but attempts to micro-manage and meddle usually backfire. I suppose you could say that’s a fairly laid-back approach. Fair enough, but I’ll be demanding results! I think people will respect that. 🙂
What do YOU find wrong with management in education? Share your opinions in the comments section below!
For those not within the education system in the UK, allow me to explain. There’s been an emphasis over the last year or so to give the opinions of students in schools more status. In some cases this has worked very well and added to the life of the school. In others, it’s been just another box to tick. I imagine that in the latter type of school, the Dilbert cartoon below would resonate with teachers:
What are your thoughts on ‘learner/students/pupil voice’?
My friend Paul Lewis, he of the infrequent blogging, very kindly let me have his Dilbert omnibus last year. I’ve been reading it again recently and it’s got me thinking about conformity and creativity. The omnibus brings together 3 Dilbert books into one volume. Joy! 😀
In The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams outlines the ‘Out At Five’ business model. Enshrined within it are not only some comic gems, but some great pieces of advice. If we stuck to some of these in education, we’d go a long way to reforming the whole system.
He divides his principles into two subcategories:
Staying out of the way
Scott Adams advocates letting the ’employees dress any way they want, decorate their work spaces any way they want, format memos any way they want’. This is because that there is no proof that any of these impact productivity. Instead, they create a message that conformity is valued above efficiency or creativity. Whilst I would still advocate some form of school uniform to prevent undue focus on students’ clothes, I do think schools in general could be a bit more laid-back about the ways both students and staff express themselves. I’m certainly not saying profanity, drugs and alcohol should be imported to create some type of dystopian educational system. Instead, I’m saying that we should value difference and (that abused word) diversity over conformity and standardization.
Eliminate artificial processes. In businesses these are obvious, but in education they can still be seen. For example ‘Every Child Matters‘ and ‘Personalising Learning’ agendas. They’ve got titles no-one can disagree with, but lead to bureaucracy and a loss of focus on the actual students themselves. It’s my belief that every educator has, at their core, the well-being and interests of students in their charge. As Scott Adams puts it:
If you have a good e-mail system, a stable organization chart, and an unstressed workplace the good ideas will get to the right person without any help The main thing is to let people know that creativity is okay and get out of the way.
What does an OA5 manager do?
Eliminate the assholes. Quite blunt, but you know exactly what he means. There’s people who put a downer on the whole enterprise of education. They’re quick to blame students rather than themselves, they’re more interested in internal politics than student wellbeing and achievement, they like being controversial for the sake of it. Let’s get rid of them. In fact, I’m all for moves to make it easier to remove teachers from their posts. Why should we get, in effect, ‘immediate tenure’?
The second is my favourite: make sure employees (i.e. teachers) learn something new every day. As Scott Adams remarks:
The more you know, the more connections form in your brain, and the easier every task becomes. Learning creates job satisfaction and suports and person’s ego and energy level.
But more than that, as teachers, we should be good role-models as everday and curious learners! 🙂
Cultivate all the little things that support curiosity and learning. Questions such as ‘What did you learn?’ when you make mistakes are more powerful than, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’
Teach employees how to be efficient. Lead by example – keep meetings short, refuse to take part or go along with low-priority activities because it’s ‘polite’, and (my favourite) respectfully interrupt people who talk too long without getting to the point. I’d force everyone to read blogs such as Lifehacker, Zen Habits and Unclutterer every day. But that’s just me… 😉
What do YOU think? Besides the name (Out At 5) is there anything with which you’d disagree?