Monday, October 10, 2005

Control your own destiny - do something!


Too many masters. Posted by Picasa

Control your own destiny or suffer the stress!

A recent New Zealand Principals’ Federation survey pointed out the growing effects of stress of being a principal. Evidently things are getting worse and many principals are taking the option of early retirement.

The main causes of stress were the relentless press of administrative and operational pressure combined with a lack of time; Principals are spending vast amounts of time complying to Ministry requirements. Competency of teachers was seen by many principals as a ‘major breaking point’ and, for high decile schools, parental pressure another. I would suggest that competency (or lack of courage) of principals is another issue - possibly ignored by the survey!

There are some obvious solutions to this situation but they require some courage on behalf of principals. A bit difficult, it would seem, because as the saying goes, ‘it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators!’ And, as well, the Ministry has created a ‘stand alone’ competitive environment between schools which restricts sharing.

Mary Chamberlain of the Ministry, when asked, says the Ministry has processes in place to help such principals! She needs, instead to look at the managerial environment that Ministry has established the past decades. Teachers, according to Andy Hargreaves, are suffering from an, ‘eroded autonomy, lost creativity, and a constrained capacity to exert professional judgment’; ‘they keep their heads down, struggle alone and withdraw from colleagues.’ Principals are too busy complying with, ‘time greedy tasks’ that exhaust and demoralize them leaving them no time for creativity and imagination.

No wonder there is stress. Stress is endemic in the environment they work in!

Principals need to snap out of the managerial role they have been forced into and show some collective leadership by working together to share ideas and expertise. The ‘low trust’ environment schools have had to work within is changing but not fast enough. The Ministry gives with one hand and takes away with the other – swinging from micro managing to encouraging school initiatives. This situation creates what has been called, ‘corrosion of character’ – freedom to do things without clear definition of expectation, OK as long as those in authority approve, but it results in trying to guess what those in authority want. A soul destroying stress inducing game at best; creativity and standardization make uncomfortable bedfellows. Some call this 'dis-ease' ‘anticipatory stress’ resulting in a flood of unnecessary paper work to prove whatever is being attempted!

The answer is for principals and schools to work to share their expertise and insights and to develop a group consciousness able to stand up to outside pressures. There will need to be courageous individual principals prepared to start the collaborative ball rolling. I can see problems with so called ‘successful schools’, or the competitive, ‘look at me' schools, wanting to share, and as well schools who are struggling ‘owning up’and agreeing to being helped. But, if someone starts the ball rolling then, as Dean Fink writes, schools can, ‘shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance and imagine and create.... do something.’

So the answer to stress is to work with others to ‘do something’ and to develop, what Fullan calls, ‘local creative adaptability.’

As Jack Welch (ex CEO of General Electric) said, ‘control your own destiny or someone else will.’ In the case of education it is about wrestling back what has been taken away by those so called ‘experts’ in high places who pretend to know best but who have created the mess we are in!

If school were to work collaboratively principals would be too excited to be stressed.

Stop the endless surveys – ‘do something’.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I wonder how many schools are working together as you suggest? Seems like a great idea.Better than whinging about stress!

Bruce said...

I know of an informal group based in Blenheim, and there was a group working together in Porirua, and I know of one on the way in Ashburton.To succeed each group needs an independent fascilitator to ensure everyone works together. It would be important that this not be a Ministry person - the Ministry however needs to give such groups all the support required and to recognise and value the diversity.

There is a current Ministry Contract available for 'lead' schools to work with other schools in 'need' but this is bureaucratic concept.

Anonymous said...

Are principals and schools brave enough to break out of their cages of imposed conformity? Too many of them seem to like it - 'have sold their lives to the company store!' as the song goes. Real leadership is in short supply.

Anonymous said...

Principals need to focus on what is actually happening wthin the classroms of their own school. There energies should be focused on supporting creative teaching programmes and teacher development-not some distant or imaginary audience or 'authority'! It is what happening, or not happening in classrooms that counts. If there is to be stress let it be based on achieving something important. As you say stress in the long term may be replaced with the excitment of what is achieved.

richnz said...

I'm really pleased to be part of the Central Taranaki Principals group. Principals here are communicating. I agree it is all about what is happening in the classroom but Principals need to be aware of more than just their own patch. It is important to have an insight into other schools initiatives, values and visions.... You find then the similarity of our challenges and enjoy the support of collaegues.

Des said...

As part of the informal Blenheim group I can say without doubt that working together in a “quality learning cluster” has lead to the most powerful professional development that I have been associated with. We are currently looking at ways to extend professional sharing and professional conversations into a new phase – across cluster action research and critical friend relationships. Thanks for your Blogs always worth the read.

Bruce said...

When schools start to tap into the expertise of the teachers in their own and other schools the real revolution will begin - there are no real experts in Wellington - just pretenders.

Thanks for your comments Rich and Des! And Anon.

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