A huge amount of effort goes into improving schools yet we often can overlook how much work is needed to maintain a high performance culture.
As schools get better they often become more complex, as significant systems thinking goes into creating a high degree of synergy between the various components of a school that may give it the appearance of running smoothly and everyone moving in the same direction in support of the school’s mission, vision and values.
As more improvements and refinements are added, however, the work becomes more difficult in many ways. Improvement often means being more skilled at doing something, or in other ways ‘fitter’ at being able to perform at the higher level asked of us. Similar to a high performing football team, schools are vulnerable to injury and dips in form. The fact is that high performing schools, like football teams, are very fragile indeed.
School leaders may strive to create an enduring high performing school culture through the practice of sustainable leadership, so that when teachers or support staff leave they are able to be replaced without the school skipping a beat. It needs more than that, however. School leaders have to be mindful of the energy required to sustain what is already in place before new initiatives are introduced. Capacity for change is important but the capacity to maintain what is already in place is essential to guard against the school regressing.
Effectively maintaining a school means that the school leader has a responsibility to ensure that the teachers and support staff are ‘fit’ to perform well. To be ‘fit’ one has to be healthy. Schools, therefore, require mindful leaders focused on organisational health. Just like in a football team with a few players injured, or lacking energy, the team overall will suffer. The same rule applies for a school; neglect one area or department at your peril.
School leaders have to perform regular health checks with their team(s) to see where they are at. Decision-making then needs to be guided by that particular assessment, whether the school keeps pushing forward, or to maintain things for a little while until we catch breath to push forward once again.
The hardest part comes, when the workload is distributed unequally and some members of the team are being carried by others. The last thing that a school can have is its best performers becoming ‘unfit’, struggling to the point where they do not have the energy to achieve what they are capable of and want to achieve, a.k.a ‘burn out’.
So, if you have not given your school a health check lately, perhaps it is time to do so. It is not OK just to say “we all get tired towards the end of term.”
Richard is currently Secondary School Principal of Suzhou Singapore International School, one of China's leading international schools. He leads workshops across the Asia-Pacific region for the International Baccalaureate in the areas of pedagogical leadership and approaches to teaching and learning. Richard consults with schools on the topics of school improvement and effective implementation and use of technology.
With a background in public and independent school education in the UK and Australia, Richard is enjoying his international school adventure in China. He is passionate about developing and supporting educational leaders, as it is essential to improving all schools.
Richard is a proud family man and feels lucky to be married to Kim and father of their son Austin.
In his spare time Richard enjoys to swim, bike and run and is a now retired football player and coach (with occasional guest appearances)