To run effectively, schools require policies, guidelines and procedures. They are important to give schools points of reference from which to operate and ensure that everyone in the organisation is on the same page.
Every school that I know has some form of staff handbook; a manual for staff that usually provides details of the school’s key policies and procedures. Depending on where you have worked, these manuals vary considerably in terms of their content, both in length and quality. You can gain an idea about the school culture when you ask teachers whether they know about what is in the staff handbook and the policies that they are aware of and are familiar with. Administrators are often frustrated when staff are not aware of the policies that have been put in place; many of them to support teachers in realising important aspects of a school’s vision and mission and safeguarding of students’ well being.
Sp why the disconnect? Why are teachers not so familiar with the school handbooks, policies and procedures?
Could it be that teachers cannot be bothered? Perhaps they do not see the relevance until it the manual needs to be consulted, after all we are professionals, right? Perhaps there is a high degree of cynicism in that the policies are only there for show, they do not get followed anyway, so what is the point?
There’s an element of truth in all these plausible responses. Fact: Policies are not an enjoyable part of teaching, so making them attractive and interesting to read is not easy. Fact: Policies are an important part of being professional and ensuring important levels of consistency in how people work together in a school.
So, how do school’s overcome the problem in having clear and effective policies that are viewed as important and are adhered to by the staff? Here are a few ways this can be achieved:
Cut down the number of policies
Too many policies and procedures make it difficult to enforce all of them, so cut down the number of policies in order to reduce any cynicism that may be aimed at their ineffectiveness. We do not need a policy for everything. Too many policies leads to information overload for both staff and students. Adherence to all the policies is less likely and frustration creeps in leading to tension between teachers, and between teachers and administrators.
Get ‘buy in’ to policies
Where possible, create collaborative teams to establish new policy or review existing ones. Make sure policies have a review cycle and allow for input into what is working and what is not. Consensus in policy-making is difficult to achieve and everyone must understand this when final decisions need to be made.
Regularly refer to policies in faculty discussion
Keep important policies front and center to the work that is being done. It is important, therefore, to spend time looking at them in meetings and discussing their application. For example, if your school has an academic honesty policy or behaviour management policy, give it life in meetings rather than let it sit and gather dust on the shelf. A really good way to do this is to have a meeting where teachers sit in teams and are given scenarios to discuss. They can then refer to the school policy documents in how they can deal with the scenario. This is a great way to mix-up the staff and get cross-department collaboration while addressing key aspects of school culture and professional practice.