Media attention in Australia recently focused on the actions of the school leadership in an exclusive private boys’ school in Melbourne. Reading the reports with some interest, there is a key takeaway from this event and that is, a school’s leadership team need to be in touch with the community when decisions are made.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the actions of the deputy head towards the student in the article and how the problem could have been avoided in the first place, or the rules that some private schools maintain to this day, the school’s leadership failed to see how their decision would be received, bringing unnecessary attention on the school.

The reaction that came with the decision, probably, was down to two factors:

  • The affection the community has for the Deputy Head
  • The motive for the removal of the Deputy Head

The latter reason is particularly important, as leaders need to be transparent with their decision-making to forge trust with the community. In essence, the school community felt that the dismissal of the Deputy Head was an opportunity for the Board and Head of School to change direction and in doing so, used this incident as leverage.

When decisions are made this way, leaders cannot expect there to be no reaction. The school leadership were unable to find a way to change direction with the current Deputy Head in place and showed no compassionate interaction in the way they dealt with the situation and his dismissal.

Our role as leaders, if we need to change direction, with the current personnel, is to work with them through conversation over a lengthy period of time and gather the support of others’ to this change in an open and honest way. We need to provide opportunity for a change in ways and not necessarily expect it instantly; cultures take time to shift.

Schools often promote their values to their community and significant deviation from these values will be met with massive resistance and cynicism in that the school is not true to its word.

Obviously, we cannot dig beneath the surface to really know what happened but one thing is for sure: The Board and the Headmaster had not tested the temperature of the water before they put their foot in it.

Such situations can easily be avoided.