The saying goes that the fish rots from the head. Now, even though I’ve been a fishing girl all my life I cannot attest to the veracity of this statement but I like it and it has a certain ring of truth. It makes sense that the rot would set in from the head, given the brain and eyes and liquidy, mushy things reside there. I’m sure we rot from the head too, given the right circumstances.
But if we take the saying metaphorically, which is how it is meant most of the time, we can see the truth of the matter. Most organizations don’t fall apart from the bottom. No, businesses, companies and countries founder on the decisions and errors of those at the top, those with the big salaries, the big responsibilities, who are supposedly paid these astronomical figures to not fall apart.
When the banks went bust a few years ago, it wasn’t because of the tellers, or even your personal manager at the Commonwealth or Barclays. It was the traders, the CEO’s, the guys who deal in numbers not people, who earn ridiculous salaries for playing all day with other people’s money. Yes, a few got sacked, but we all know their bonuses are as robust as ever, while we, the innocent pay for their excesses with this endless English Narnia winter of austerity. When Greece and Ireland went bust a few years ago it wasn’t because of the normal taxpaying worker. No it was greedy governments, corrupt businessmen, grasping corporations. And now people can’t pay their bills or feed their families.
This unpleasant truth can also be applied to families. We learn everything first from the home. We learn how to behave, how to treat others, how to learn, how to take responsibility for ourselves. You name it, it all starts at home. And if the head of the family – the parents – are useless, absent, negligent, abusive, casual, unloving, uncaring (you get the picture), you can hardly blame the poor children for not knowing what’s what. A family is a little business, a little company all of its own making and parents shouldn’t even begin to start their own ‘company’ if they’re not going to ensure they do the job properly, with some integrity and consistency.
My good friend, Sir Michael Wilshaw has also noted that schools rot from the head. He’s on the record about the importance of good leadership, of good governance, of accountability and holding head-teachers to account more rigorously.
But what is good, effective leadership? There are tomes out there about it, the qualities you need: there are endless training courses to become an effective leader. Education has its own special training for aspiring leaders – Future Leaders. But I will not dwell there, not even for a nano-second.
Based on a meager 30 years in Education at a mere 11 schools across the planet, this is what I think good educational leadership looks like.
1.Vision – personal, true and realizable, that people understand and go with
2.Energy – drive and passion about education and children – that inspires others
3.Intellect – a clear understanding about what education is, how it works and what is needed to make it work
4.Integrity – personal integrity, and for the organization – follow the maxim that if you can’t tell your partner about what you did today then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it
5.People skills – a clear ability to understand your staff, what they need, how to support them and take them with you – not in a matey over-familiar way but in a ‘we’re in this together, making it better together’ authentic way. Key to this is the ability to listen to your staff and students – to accept their views, giving them serious consideration, after all the school does not belong to the head-teacher alone
6.Courage – to do what is right, to stand up to external forces of darkness and do the right thing by the students, the staff and the parents of the school
Whereas this is crap leadership
1.Bullying and intimidation – despite schools supposedly being ‘bully free zones’
2.Telling people what to do – are we all in the army now?
3.Changing procedures and requirements all the time – never giving anything time to bed in, be reviewed or improved or allowing the TIME for things
4.Not listening to anyone, because as you’re HT, you know it all – especially not allowing staff meetings where matters are discussed
5.Not understanding that education is a human endeavour – it’s about people not numbers and data, and teachers aren’t machines, nor are students
6.Constantly monitoring everything teachers do – because clearly having a university education means we are incapable of thinking for ourselves or doing our job if someone isn’t there to make sure we are!
This is the cascading shit model of leadership, shit decisions made at the top, cascaded down to the minions at the bottom who simply have to do, not question, no matter how non-sensical or counter-productive, who end up in shit up to their knees, because they can’t shovel it away quickly enough before the next wave comes down. This is the epitome of crap leadership, and a lot of it’s to do with fear, fear of the masses, who might actually know something, so at all costs they cannot be allowed to speak or question. Just do.
The sad fact, as observed by Douglas Adams amongst others, is that all too often the exact people who shouldn’t be in leadership positions are often the ones who are! Think about your average psychotic leader – Hitler, Idi Amin, Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Abbot, etc and I think you get my drift.
Perhaps we need more dolphins in charge – thoughtful, intelligent, sociable creatures? But didn’t they leave the planet just before the Vogons struck… (Images courtesy Private Collection)