Toxic school cultures thrive on the rumour mill. Often we can find groups of teachers being negative about aspects of our respective schools that are not just untrue but plain and simply not right both literally and figuratively. Of course, it is important for all school leaders to listen carefully to feedback from staff and act upon it where necessary to ensure that a healthy school culture prevails and morale remains high in the interests of best serving the students and each other as education professionals.
There are a four things that I really dislike about rumours that have an adverse impact on school culture:
- The behaviour is often child-like. There are times when education professionals behave worse than their students. We need to stop this by first looking in the mirror at our own actions before criticizing others and we must remind each other of this.
- Rumours are frequently unsubstantiated. When the person(s) spreading rumour is confronted, on many occasion there is not the evidence to back up their claim. It is, therefore, vital that leaders in schools do not allow subversive, toxic conversations to occur. Appropriate forums or mechanisms need to be provided for teachers to bring their issues to the table and discuss matters in a mature and respectful manner.
- In many instances, people claim to be representing others with their viewpoint without their consent to do so. This leads to misrepresentation and further angst. Subsequently, when complaints are raised a process must be in place that the staff member speaks only for themselves or has those being represented present. This can at times be unwieldy and a better solution would be to have a staff association that have regular meetings with administrators to raise and address concerns.
- Problems are commonly raised without discussion of solutions, as this is someone else’s problem. We all must take a shared responsibility of making schools better. Putting all the blame at the Head or one or two senior administrators is not helpful nor is it professional. In fact, discussions about problems that do not include talk about solutions become ever-decreasing circles of self-affirming depression, which erode the elements of positivity in a school’s culture.
So, what can educational leaders do to fix these problems when you encounter them?
A few strategies are suggested above but the most important thing we can do is to debunk the myths; be a Mythbuster. Provide transparency as much as possible and call our colleagues on matters where they are wrong. This does not mean humiliating them in front of others, nor addressing the problem in an aggressive manner, but having the difficult conversation and getting facts straight in a respectful manner with the evidence on the table.
Doing this can be uncomfortable and, at times, a tiring process but a necessary one for all concerned. Above all, in the best interests of our students, there is never any harm in reminding someone of the importance of professional conduct.