In almost any relationship there is an element of pain. Great and small businesses, organisations and schools, are no different. Pain exists. It is the anticipation, analysis and open processing of pain (without backdoor emotional complaining), that can make a relationship stronger, weaker or bring it to a higher level of understanding and success.
Timeless tools that will help any school build and maintain a healthy working environment, begin with clarity and beginning with the end in mind.
The core success ingredients – the nuclei of each successful school’s vision are Value. Respect. PRO-ACTIVE Patience.
By going beyond lip service, healthy school environments value, respect and show patience toward teachers and students. Happy teachers usually equal victorious schools whose vision and reputation are transmitted globally.
If you enter a school where turnover is low, teachers leave only when they absolutely must or die, and where new teachers are knocking down doors to enter, you know you’ve got a school where integrity is its essence. They get it. This school does not waste money on expensive, exhausting and counter-productive repetitive recruiting. It does not need to because they drool honour and understand the difference between connections vs. relationships and proactively, positively, paying it forward.
Just as classroom educators must have a vision of what we want our students to achieve, administrators must also have protocols and parameters in place, with the understanding that our scholars and our teachers, may not immediately meet our goals within our timeline or reach our perihelion of perfection. And guess what? That’s okay, particularly if teachers are hired based upon character and are allowed “to do their excellence” without being micromanaged
As the above layout of the word SOLUTIONS suggests, there will be many ways health can be achieved. Often, the best routes will not be presented in the most traditional formats. In short, while there is no one size fits all model; authentic paths are never wrong, particularly when cues from conflict are taken, written down (for reflection) and a reward system established, where all can build mistake mountains. The GREAT make mistakes in policy, curriculum, teacher placement, etc. Learning from mistakes and honestly stress-testing ideas, are wonderful authentic growth opportunities.
There are schools the world over that could win Academy Awards and Global Awards for presenting an image of success. However, at its core, the imagery is a lie, reflecting smoke mirrors and unacknowledged errors or poor judgement. The kicker is that, lies never live, forever.
Let’s talk about authenticity in action and operations. Authenticity in academia entails good faith efforts, genuinely paying attention, putting the best people in the right positions based on their core beliefs, intrinsic talents and complimentary skill sets. Note, I said nothing about degrees, years of experience or just filling any slot with a degreed body.
Building a healthy working school environment has everything to do with VALUE validated in the hiring process and affirming the worth teachers bring to each student.
For some, a rebirth mindset is needed if a healthy working school environment is to be attained and maintained. This requires cognitive and behavioural flexibility – and also a willingness to have fun.
FUN. FLEXIBILITY. FORGIVENESS.
When broadcast philanthropist Oprah Winfrey attempted to build a South African school for girls after answering the directive received from the Honorable Rolihlahla Dalibunga Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, she admitted to building a school “without community buy-in,” and filled with the finest trappings – at first – yet devoid of the substance needed to sustain a top quality school. Forty (40) million dollars for 75 students. Lessons learned. The GREAT make mistakes.
The sustained health of any school begins with reevaluating intentions. Being clear and consistently vocal about goals is crucial. Understanding that in order to achieve goals, the end must be visualized and practical steps in place. There should be an anticipation of what could go wrong, when ideas on paper do not match reality, and flexible remedies in place to resolve them.
Noting that every educator, administrator, parent and child is born with their own talents, aspirations and abilities, if utilised effectively, these skills will help the most flexible schools thrive if they can collectively capitalise on these talents for the school’s short term, long term and global goals.
Capitalize on the challenges:
If you have a vision, state it clearly. Know it. Share it. Wear it.
If attrition, turnover and/or cultural challenges are daunting, write, sing, dance, paint or act them out in a theatrical and/or comedic format. (Remember what I said about solutions, they don’t always follow a rigid horizontal line.) There may or may not be immediate solutions, but open acknowledgement is key. Oprah Winfrey shares, “I once read that if more people admitted their mistakes, more people would learn from them.” And I hold this to be a present truth. We live in a society that prides itself in hiding blemishes and public relations cover-ups.
What our struggling youth are hungry to see is an authentic representation of life. They know no one is perfect. They know everyone has a story they’re not proud of. What’s amazing is no one is expecting perfection, just authenticity.”
Here are a few descriptive roles paramount to building a healthy working school environment:
Every school needs cheerleaders. Cheerleaders possess a “can do” hopeful spirit that is mandatory for healthy survival and success. Cheerleaders are educational energizers!
A Muhammad Ali Team.
Having a team of teachers who have a can “get knocked down and get back up again,” attitude, who can brush off minor disappointments and frustrations will create a “we can take a punch,” and thrive environment. These teachers usually have experienced some form of trauma or difficulty in their lives. Identify these scholars. They are the ones who remain positive and productive regardless of inadequate teaching space, tools, language barriers or not receiving preferred teaching assignments. These teachers could be given any assignment and they will find, or better yet create, treasures that shall benefit the school.
The Entrepreneurial Team:
Which educators in your school are independent thinkers? They need no textbooks, curriculum or guidance in order to teach. They are wired with a resilient, get it done and work until it is done attitude. Often, they loathe meetings more than anyone else. In his business book “Principles,” Ray Dalio, Co-Chief Investment Officer and Co-Chairman of Bridgewater Associates hedge fund management company, spells out his theory of radical truth and transparency as the foundation for his company’s billion-dollar assets under management success. What can healthy schools glean from Ray’s message? Pain + quality reflection = Progress.
Can educational communities have thoughtful (scheduled) disagreements? Can schools move from insular islands to form meaningful relationships with other – and competing – institutions for the benefit of their students? Can sister/brother schools build bridges to knowledge and understanding without ego distraction? Can healthy working academic environments establish a sacred space wherein truthfulness and transparency are anticipated and respected?
The Loner Team
Every single one of these teams can be created if the people within the school community (this includes parents and teachers) are identified contributors. Loners have the ability to get much work done alone. They are the researchers who thrive in silence. Often, they are instinctive and can read character well.
Should schools be rigid in their health approach? Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University instructs, “as we get older we become a lot more crystallized in our thinking. We think, ‘I shouldn’t be playing kickball because I’m 40.’ But who decided kickball is not a proper thing for a 40-year-old to play? We create these rigid rules and eliminate chances to change all the time.”
If you’ve ever seen an elderly couple lovingly taking care of one another and gushed “Aw. How beautiful,” you may have also wondered about their backstory. How have they managed to stay together for 40 or 50 years in a world of instability, divorce and dismay?
They may tell you that their longevity comes down to three important elements: Value. Respect. And Patience. “I bet you thought that it was love,” the elder woman might say. As the Jamaican motto says, “Out of many, one people.” The same can be said for creating a healthy working school environment. It is very possible.
By: Lisa Fatimah