The ‘too many cooks’ and ‘many hands’ dilemma for our schools

Schools will change their structures from time to time. Reporting lines may change, or a new position can be added, which is intended to support the school’s overall improvement.

When thinking about creating a new position in our schools, we often think that the new position may solve a particular problem. For example, if we introduce a new technology coach we can have the intention that this will better support teacher integration of information technology in the classroom and we may assume that teachers would be gladly happy to have this support.

Similarly, if a new administrative position is added in order to support the implementation of projects that are identified in the school’s improvement plan, we may reason that, in this instance, ‘many hands will make light work.’ So, essentially, we will be better off by having this new position because it spreads the workload for the leadership team in getting things done.

Unfortunately, adding new positions may support the school in achieving its goals and improving towards fulfilling its vision, however there can be a big cost. If we think of a three steps of a traditional leadership hierarchy in our schools, relationships may exist like those in the diagram below:


Now, let’s take the idea that the Head of School decides to add a new senior administrative position, with specific responsibility for taking some of the work away from the 2 administrators in the structure above, plus giving the new administrator license to work on other projects that support improvement that dynamic can change as the diagram below illustrates:


What needs to be understood is that administrators, individually, even though they may think that they are working as part of a cohesive team, make specific requests of the same people. Additional lines of communication and command is added, often with good intention but, if we are not careful, the department chairs may end up being overloaded with work, unless the leadership team have a real sense of how much work is being passed down the line. Additionally, each administrator may prioritise their work, so the department chairs receive high priority requests from each of them at the same time, creating a situation where they are trying to meet the demands but begin to feel overwhelmed and they stuggle to prioritise. If everything becomes a priority, then nothing is.

Essentially, adding a new position to your school’s team may not be as straightforward as it may seem. Even the notion of adding a new technology coach may have its drawbacks, especially is they are not given clear direction for their work. Coaching may be intended to be supportive but, depending on how it is implemented, it can create more work for all concerned.

The last thing that school’s need is to put their teaching teams and teacher-leaders in a position where they genuinely feel overworked despite all good intentions from the school’s leadership team to improve the school. Constant discussion of the big picture is needed when it comes to introducing new positions and also in having oversight of the demands placed on the teaching staff.

It is apt, therefore, that in considering the idea that ‘many hands make light work’ we must be acutely aware that, at the same time, ‘too many cooks may spoil the broth’.


2 thoughts on “The ‘too many cooks’ and ‘many hands’ dilemma for our schools

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  1. Hi Richard, I think creating this extra position potentially makes more work for the Principal if we accept the structure as seen above. One more person to lead and manage and who is accountable to the Principal.

    Or, perhaps, one more person to delegate to…..

    I think the new position model can create a strong support structure for the Asst. Principal level of leadership and, as you point out, it is essential that the leadership team balances their demands of others and is also clear about who people need to report to and seek guidance from.

    1. Good to hear from you Dom and apologies for the late reply. Yes, in the diagram that I put forward, the Principal would also have more work. I think that we have to be mindful of the extra work that a new position can create at any level in the organisation – not just the problems that a new position can solve. When we add more positions we can sometimes mistake relieving some of the stress points, or getting work done that we could not do previously with actually creating more work.

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