Should staff be listened to?

When I started teaching I assumed that SLT would want to know my opinion, would want to be informed if policies were flawed or were not working. I assumed that when SLT presented a new policy to the staff they would definitely want to hear about any flaws or problems with the policy. With that particular leadership team I could not have been more wrong.

It was made very clear in many different ways that the only contributions that were welcome were enthusiastic positive ones. People discovered very quickly that being enthusiastic about new policies was how to get ahead so ambitious teachers would compete to be the most enthusiastic about a new policy.

I was appalled by this state of affairs until I did some union work in the school. Some new policies were going to be brought in without consultations that were going to massively impact on workload. As a union group we decided to ignore the new policies completely until there had been a consultation process The Headteacher agreed to a consultation process provided the union reps did the bulk of the work on the consultation. We summarised the views and brought them to a meeting to discuss them with a clear view of the outcomes the members of the union wanted.

That consultation process really gave me insight into some of the reasons why that SLT hated consulting.

The small number of people that were positive about the changes had no real reason for being positive about them. When asked what was good about the changes the answers were along the lines of “We should give things ago before criticising them.”

Among the people who were against the changes the reasons given for being against the changes were often  contradictory (sometimes to the point of being incoherent), generally motivated by self interest, nothing to do with the pupils and disappointingly the obvious stupidity and self-defeating nature of the changes were rarely mentioned.

The suggested alternatives were (besides the idea of changing nothing) in my opinion, a mixture of ideas that were stupid, illegal, impractical, insane, unworkable, fundamentally flawed or some combination of those things. Sticking with the status quo in what was at the time a horrible place to work was possibly the worst idea of the lot and by far the most popular.

The meeting were I had to discuss the views of the staff with SLT was depressing on several levels.

When I was a governor I saw the results of every consultation and on occasion help with process of getting the views of staff on issues or summarising and collating the results and I found the outcomes to be similar to what I described above.

Worst of all was my doomed attempt at being a manager (never again). I genuinely tried to listen to the views of my colleagues but the views were almost invariably the same:

  1. This is a change and therefore extra work. This was argued even when the change was a significant reduction in work. There is something to the argument that learning to do something new requires work but not much if workload is being reduced.
  2. I have been teaching for (insert number) years and I know what works for me. I’ve been teaching for too long to learn this new stuff.
  3. You won’t be allowed to do this for long because OFSTED won’t like it.
  4. There are changes all the time. It won’t be long before everything you’re doing gets changed so why bother?
  5. You get paid more than me so you should do all of this.
  6. In my old school teachers didn’t have to do this.
  7. A variety of complaints about the school that were nothing to do with me or the changes I was implementing.
  8. Several attempts to gang up on or bully me into behaving in ways that suited them rather than ways that benefited pupils or the school. These became very personal and unprofessional over time.

It was at this point that I decided that for the sake of preserving my deteriorating mental health I was no longer going to consult my colleagues. I was just going to make changes, monitor whether people were doing what they were asked and report anyone who wasn’t to the powers that be.

Instantly I became happier, my health and mental health got better and my job became SO much easier (although I still hated it, just for different reasons)

I now have no management or leadership responsibilities beyond those of an experienced teacher who likes helping colleagues. I’m loving it.

It seems to me that the best leaders I have worked with make their staff FEEL listened to without ACTUALLY changing their decisions much on the basis of that consultation process. Trying to listen to the staff as a whole would be paralysing. No change will please everyone and most changes (evenly fairly sensible ones) seem to displease most staff in my experience.

If a school leader knows that they probably won’t change their mind on the basis of a consultation then I can fully understand why they wouldn’t want to listen to teachers. When we have consultations I often don’t want to and I am one.


4 thoughts on “Should staff be listened to?

  1. bottomsbray

    Firstly, I agree with your responses to @tombennet71 on behaviour etc. Secondly, like you I have been a manager and am enjoying not being one but seeing management from inside and out the best did their ‘consultation’ before policy formulation informally. The formal consultation was a presentation of policy covering all the (previously researched) arguments with open discussion and dissent encouraged. The point? Consultation was essential to gain acceptance and support for the policy which would be implemented by the staff. People felt involved, listened to and understood why the initiative was needed. I currently work in an environment where initiatives appear from apparent thin air with a fanfare and a ‘consultation’ that is simply an announcement. These initiatives fail whilst we wonder what will be next out of the ‘Top Hat’ of SLT.

    1. bigkid4 Post author

      You’re right about consultation during policy formulation being important. Quite a lot of bad ideas get killed by middle leadership if they are any good. However I rarely find that consultation leads to acceptance or support for ideas from most staff unless there is an obvious problem. Sometimes solutions to obvious problems aren’t accepted or supported due too inertia.

      It’s frustrating when initiatives appear from nowhere (particularly if there are a lot of them) but I find it’s only really annoying if they are stupid or obviously flawed. I can live without consultation if the initiatives are good ~(or at least ok) ones.


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