Reading Time: 4 minutes

By: Lori Brown

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “School Management”? Might it be schedules? Teacher recruitment? Parent meetings? Transportation? Funding challenges or Safe School Policies?

School management encompasses all these areas and more, and is consequently exhausting to the body and soul. Exhaustion, unfortunately, can lead to an inability to concentrate and anticipate challenges or risks, which further complicates our ability to manage people, processes, and protocols well. In short, we get so busy with managerial tasks that it’s often hard to find the time to process, reflect, and analyse our options.

Suppose you read last quarter’s issue of Teach Middle East Magazine. You may remember our “Manage to Your Advantage” featured article, about approaching school management through the lens of threat and risk assessment. In the same way, threat assessors pursue data-driven, highly logical, comprehensive processes to determine the potential for violence or harm, so too must we approach our schools with comprehensive heads and hearts that are always thinking ahead. The fact is that our schools need us to think clearly and comprehensively, anticipating the “what ifs” and the risks and challenges associated with decisions we make or enforce. Clear, data-driven decisions based on strong, known facts is key to school success. We already know that, right?

But have you ever thought that effective school management also requires an ounce of scepticism? A little doubt? A bit of caution?  Ironically, leading and managing with scepticism may sound like the exact opposite approach to the previously highlighted data-driven, facts-fuelled, an anticipatory managerial style that stops internal and external threats to academic, instructional success and physical safety before they can even begin to emerge? So why are we shifting gears now and advising we slowly back off of the data a bit? Allow me to break this down so I can explain.

Scepticism is doubt about the truth or authenticity of things. Scepticism forces us to take a step back and potentially question whether what we think we know to be true and right, is, in fact, true and right. When I served as a high school assistant principal, I consistently exercised scepticism every time my sophomores and juniors attempted to spin a good story about why their teachers were in the wrong, and they were in the right.  Let’s just say that many untruths emerged every time they landed in my office and tried to justify breaking school rules, skipping class, initiating a fight, or disrupting the entire class by blurting out highly inappropriate and profane words.

Scepticism, in the case of managing school discipline for 700 students, made me better. It forced me to keep digging until I got to the truth. Exercising doubt empowered me to hit pause, reflecting on the words or images that were flying through my head, demanding I take a side or identify a solution faster than I could spell “solution.” So often, my scepticism forced me to take the time I didn’t feel I had to approach my managerial tasks with stronger insight, clarity, and facts, and that wasn’t a bad thing. 

Let’s be clear about this, shall we? Good school or classroom “managers” (aka…teachers, administrators, directors, and specialists, among others) exercise caution, question the truth, reflect on current realities, and dig deeper to gather all the facts, figures, and familiar structures that empower them to reach solid conclusions and identify diverse solutions.

While the threat assessment concepts previously introduced serve to remind us to lead and manage with facts and figures, an once of scepticism thrown into the mix demands we toss out potential untruths (aka…lies) for the truth of what is known. This ultimately helps us avoid falsely identified risks or threats and properly identify real dangers. In other words, an ounce of scepticism forces the right questions to the surface.

Let’s apply this balanced approach to common school management tasks:

  • You must address the concerns of parents/guardians of a student; parents who believe the classroom teacher is purposefully harassing their child. 
  • A student who is found sick in the bathroom claims he/she has a strange virus, but there’s a smell of alcohol in the air
  • One of your bus drivers is involved in a wreck with students on board. The driver explains a car pulled in front of him suddenly, but you’ve been noticing the driver looking rather tired and sleepy of late.

In each of these circumstances, you are tasked with getting to the truth – getting to the core of each concern, and that takes both a facts-fuelled, data-driven approach in which you look at all inputs related to a situation, as well as an ounce of scepticism that says, “Something about this story or complaint isn’t adding up.” You balance the practical with the implausible (could that really have happened?!?) to reach an informed decision that lets you begin to manage the “mess” around the urgent need that has landed at your feet.

Another way of framing this balanced managerial approach; an approach that once again appears to pull from opposite ends of the spectrum, is to think in terms of balancing questions with quality research; balancing doubt with data, and balancing criticism with competence to gather the facts and figures you need from all sides. When you take this balanced approach, you may spend a significant amount of time – more time than you’d like to spend – and exert more energy than you feel, but in the end, you’ll arrive at a solid, grounded decision that solidifies your staff’s or team’s ability to trust that you are managing to everyone’s advantage!

So, don’t forget, …doubt and data can go hand in hand to improve daily managerial practices! We just have to be open to allowing our structured, logical approaches to be tempered by caution and the passion of our purpose to identify truth and building trusting relationships with all stakeholders.  

Dr Lori Brown is the Director of Learning Solutions for Strivven Media’s and President of Dawn Star Consulting LLC. She is a former teacher, administrator, and grant writer who continues to support global professional development. She lives in her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.