Okay, so I worked the title of this entry around one of my favorite songs of all time. Maybe understanding school culture isn’t life or death, but it may be a sort of professional suicide if you don’t understand it. So, maybe the tune is relevant.
By far the hardest part of my job as Principal is managing human conflict and drama. Add a boarding school environment and it can be turbo-charged. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Peter Drucker who said “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” I could write ten blog entries on that alone. Rob Evans, author of The Human Side of School Change, told me at a meeting that one thing you need to understand about working at a school is that “everything is personal.”
But how much do we explore this fundamental phenomenon in schools? We talk and talk about the I.B., cultural diversity, innovation, global citizens, collaboration, technology. But all of this work is ham and eggs (see Drucker quote above) if we do not understand the culture first. One of my favorite ‘teacher’ books of all time is Talk it Out by Dr. Barbara Sanderson. One of the chapters I’ve read several times is called “Unproductive Triangles in the Workplace.” I really don’t like math, but I quickly calculated the sides of this geometric figure: the villain, the victim and the rescuer. Ever been in one of those? And you don’t need to be a mathemetician to understand that the victim and the rescuer are usually aligned against, you guessed it, the villain (insert Principal).
The point I am trying to make here is that we must add how we design the management of schools to this exciting dialogue around the future of schools. I was passionate about what I did as a teacher because I had so much autonomy and impact on kids. I feel much less so as a Principal. Why is that? One of the best things I have done as a Principal is to teach a class. Besides the obvious part about being connected to students, it has disarmed a lot of the unproductive triangles I have had with teachers who think I am out of touch and don’t know what I am talking about. (Actually, some still say that). But that is not the solution. That is just tinkering. Just as the industrial model of teacher in front of class is outdated, so is its model of management. In these environments where, as Evans says that things are so personal, there will always be the triangles, and that is not productive for anyone, especially students.
I really don’t have the answer. Maybe that is the beginning of solving the problem!
I guess at the end of the day, I realize that I will never be able to Fix You. But at least you could Talk to Me.