Circumvention without a conversation – what it means for school leaders

Going around someone in order to ensure that something gets done is not uncommon in most workplaces, including schools. Yet it can create significant issues for school culture and challenges for school leaders wherever they may be in the hierarchy of operations.

People circumvent when they feel the person in front of them is blocking their way forward, or stopping them from getting what they want. For example, the department head / chair is not going in the direction a particular teacher wishes to go, or they are requiring them to do something that they dislike or are unwilling to carry out. To avoid the situation, the teacher by-passes their line manager and goes straight to the next person up the chain, for example the assistant principal to discuss the problem.

The assistant principal now is placed in a difficult situation. If they side with the teacher, they will undermine the department head. Side with the department head, they may discourage the teacher and they may feel unsupported. Obviously, any action taken by the assistant principal will depend on why the teacher is circumventing in the first place.

Before taking any action to any request from the teacher, it is vital the assistant principal investigate and clarify the situation impartially. If the teacher feels that the assistant principal is siding with them, this may lead to further unwanted issues.

Too often when circumvention occurs, no conversation has occurred between teacher and department head (line manager). Such conversations are difficult. Conversations where we have our differences and disagreements are not easy, they are tense, sometimes confronting and most of all emotionally draining. Yet these conversations need to happen in our schools.

School leaders are responsible for cultivating an environment where we can engage in passionate but civil discourse without running to the next person if we do not get our own way.

In the case above, it could be after all, the teacher’s line manager that is the cause of the issue. The assistant principal may need to bring the two together to resolve their differences and invest in further coaching of the department head. School leaders need to be as supportive as possible to resolve such problems.

Allow for circumvention in our schools, then we begin to head down a slippery slope of a school culture that lacks basic trust. If we get to a point where trusting is lacking between colleagues and between teachers and leaders, we are in a very difficult situation indeed.

 

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