Of Bullies and Accomplices:
Over the years it has become clear to me that the word bully is a very powerful one. It’s origins from the 1500’s come from the word “sweetheart” (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=bully).
What a journey! In the 1600’s it developed a darker meaning from ‘blusterer ‘ to ‘harasser of the weak’ where it has grown in status amongst our spoken word. Recently the word bully has taken on a new meaning. Looking at the Google mentions chart it rose dramatically in the 1980’s. Who would have thought that this legacy of the words rise in prominence originated from Thatcher? The word has not gone away in fact I would say it has developed a life of its own in schools; in 2015 bullying is rife. It is a word used to great effect. More and more it is a word used to mean Senior Leadership.
SLT: A person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
In 2006 I was sat on a train going to a governors meeting in my new school when I read this article about bullying and a farting chair in the papers. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/apr/10/schools.education
The school in question was hosting my governors meeting. I just wanted a go on the chair! But in all seriousness I think the headteacher comments are really important.
The school’s headteacher, Marius Frank, rejected the idea that she had been treated differently. “I would have expected any member of the leadership team and a deputy headteacher, who has the authority on my absence to run a school, to have the wit and initiative to sort it out,”
I remember talking to him many months later and he talked about the impact this had on him and the surreal way the story (which must have been horrible) was on Have I Got News for You, in the nationals and Breakfast TV. He was one of the nicest people you could come across but, it seems, even nice can be called a bully.
Many of the people’s stories on Twitter are about teachers being bullied by Senior Leaders. It seems that the only real bullies in schools are senior members of staff with power and the head is the Master Bully. I found this written on The Lambeth Teachers NUT page.
Some heads are simply misogynists. Many are homophobes.
I found this on another website:
Now, they remain cosseted in their expensive offices doing, basically, the job of an accountant.
I know loads of heads. Hundreds in fact. Some I would not want to work for, many I would. I feel that heads are doing the job in the most difficult of circumstances. The pressures on heads is almost out of their control. I wish it was different but it is not. Why?
A lot of today’s blogs I think point us in the right direction:
Politics. That is why. Schools have been used and abused for too long. We jump, duck, move, sidestep, crawl, beg, promise and fear on the whims of people who have no idea what it is to work with children and families. We feel, as leaders, that under the guise of freedom that deep down we are pushed into corners from which we have to fight our ways out. Worse still, I believe, that a Tory run country is even worse for education for some of the reasons in the two blogs above but mainly because Tories do not trust us. They still believe that the majority of teachers are left wing nut jobs who will drag our country down to the gutter if we were given the space to do it. I see this mistrust in pretty much every corner of policy, sound bite and decree. I think many teachers are fed up with it (And leaving teaching) and I believe that Senior Leaders in schools have had many years of trying to run a school and meet these demands and too many have ended up part of the Tory Whip and are hated for it. So when we have a budget problem, a discipline issue, a poor teaching issue etc in our schools… BANG, the fine line between school improvement and being a bully is easily crossed. Even when SLT’s believe they are doing the right thing there becomes a blurring between an amazing school and a culture of ‘fear, intimidation and bullying’. On top of this, some heads are so ill equipped to do this job – they believe the political language of TOUGH on (Put your own buzz word here: Poor teaching, Poor Standards, Underachievement etc) that is rammed down their throats, They believe that you can judge a lesson accurately, they believe that their data is accurate and they do this because they are scared. Every one knows that bullies are just scared people trying to find their power. Not all heads. Some heads, the braver (or lucky ones) do things right and we look to them and think… I wish I could do that. But I bet even @johntomsett has staff he has worked with who would tell you in a pub what a complete “$%& he is. I do not think it is possible to be a NICE head anymore. Even if you are a nice person.
Interestingly it seems no different in America:
I once worked for a head who I saw dragging a teacher down the corridor. I just stood there dumbfounded as they went past and she pretty much kicked him out the door. Later, I became her deputy and soon realised that this behavior, even if seemingly justified, is the worse way to behave. No matter what the person had done. I realised this because it was about my dignity and not theirs. I am so conscious of my behaviour. I try to predict the outcomes of every decree, strategy and word. I analyse every decision. I can lie awake thinking through the ‘what ifs?’ Sometimes, I realise that ‘being’ a head is a terrifying ‘being’ to be in. I am surrounded by the possibility of getting it very wrong. Worse still I am surrounded by opinions about whether I am getting it wrong.
This is not to say that some head teachers and senior leaders are not nut-cases, loons, maniacs, crazy, deluded, psychopathic, psychotic, fruitcakes,nutters, cuckoo, screwballs – I once knew a head who was all 11!
So, to all those SLTs who see their staff are hanging, leaving, talking about you behind your backs, and no end of other things I feel you need to take a good long hard look at what you believe you are trying to do. Don’t use the “Oh, it’s for the children” line…” That is rather cliched. Think about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Forget being a head or a senior leader for a moment and look at things from a different point of view. The teachers view is a good starting point. Then look at yourself and what you do. I try to take a Rage Against the Machine approach to what I am told to be:
‘And now you do what they told ya, now your under control…’
And chorus everyone!
April 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.
February 13, 2016 at 5:33 am
Thank you. I think this is a very apt point. Just like men need to mentor men in appropriate behaviour in society – to overcome violence and sick mindsets with regard to the treatment of women – so do school leaders need to come together and confront the failures to reach best practice when it comes to the treatment of staff; and I say this as someone who worked a contract with an adminstrative team who were male-dominant, male-oriented, and abusive…acting like the former rugby players they were…rough. They were bullies. I have been examining and researching bullying in the school system for awhile now, academically, and there are issues with heads and the ‘henchmen and henchwomen’ they hire. Thank you for this important article…again. We all need to examine our choices, and that includes the victims of this: to stay or go.