Monday, May 16, 2011

So this is the aftermath...

You might, from previous blogs, think that my mind has been completely immersed in work. And to be honest, work has been the number one priority for me in a way that it has never been before. It is an absolute necessity now, for a period, to think through every facet, get everything as right as I can and try to manage the things that don't go as right as they could.
My boss has been neutralised by the company, but not fired. He can't tell us exactly what he was given to keep his voluble mouth quiet, but he had at one point been asked by the company what it would take to persuade him to "resign". He made a list. He was probably given most of that list. He wouldn't have expected that. The company hasn't had a good record on dealing with staff on their way out. He said it was a complicated negotiation and it took place at a cafe. The result is that he is leaving in just over two weeks. We have to wring all the distilled management wisdom out of him till then.
One other factor is that my senior teacher buddy is leaving for several weeks to finish the practical side of her advanced teaching certification on the coming Friday. I might not have explained it before but that being the biggest branch in our city (and with a new centre opening soon) we were entitled to have two senior teachers instead of the regulation one. It meant that we have had an academic management team of three, my boss and the two of us. We could put our heads together to produce plans and nut out strategies. Each of us covering key responsibilities. Come June, I'll be the only one at the bridge for several weeks, with no support but the team in my hands. The boss has even told me that his last week he's going to step back even further to put me in the deep end but with him as a lifeguard at the fringes if things get life-threatening. Either way, with the imminence of the change I'm focussing like never before.
The last few weeks have been a process of gradually switching to the leadership figure. If I had to write what I had learnt, it is a little bit difficult. Many of them are knacks. Others are concepts.
  • you are not the company: this is an interesting one because it went against the sense I understood. With customers you are the company and must reflect that. As a leader, though, you must have a set of priorities of who you really have to consider: The team, the branch, and then the company. They are all high priorities, but the team ranking at number one means that it'll be a functional, strong, motivated group of individuals. When the team is strong even when they are dealt a load of crap by the company, they will take it and get through adversity together. If a manager takes a "I'm the company" approach with staff, quickly the see there is no recourse to them in adversity; there won't be trust. As a company where teachers become managers more often than not, we are forever troubled by managers who will just be messengers of the company, and they'll be one-way valves for information. Staff need to know that their voices and ideas are heard, even if they do in the end amount to nothing. And as my boss often says, his team are his eyes and ears - if they trust, they do say everything.
  • leave the details to one on one discussions: this is the most common mistake by the other senior teacher. Meetings are ruined when you have to tell individuals details information verbally. a) the people affected won't necessarily "get" it, b) and the rest of the staff are left wondering how useless meetings are.
  • visual, kinaesthetic and auditory learners are in the office too: teaching is a funny field because we're taught about the different learning styles (and you can even put Gardner's intelligences on that too) and have to make our lessons as accessible to different learners as possible. But anyone who's been through teacher training knows that there is no practice what you preach - it is delivered in the same traditional style. The quality of training and meetings are affected by these different styles so a manager must use a variety of styles.
  • for trouble staff, make behavior as felt and answerable to the team, not management; and if it continues give them a rope to hang themselves: the area of discipline is one that regrettably has to be handled delicately. My boss has taught us how to make sure that documentation is just a statement of something happening. They can word it how they want as long as it is documented and signed. Don't intervene before the mistake, and where possible emphasise that wilfull bad behavior impacts the team, to the team - in fact make sure that the whole effects of the team are borne by all. Letting something happen was one of the hardest lessons; but only when it happens is it real and something to discuss with the person.
  • praise, check on people and encourage and follow documentation: praise and documentation is a part of recognition and in difficult situations people do need to be checked on. Three teachers got slammed yesterday by their own workloads when we had to cover a sick person's classes on a tight day. One teacher did six contact hours, one of which was observed by me, in an eight hour period. He thanked me at the end even though in the past teachers have been upset when they have sick cover, not to mention on a day they're being observed. Many of the appraisal descriptors relate to willingness/enthusiasm to help out and these can all be noted.
  • everything is important: It is easy to downplay concerns, but to an individual what may appear minor is actually a major. You need big ears and a good memory...
  • get your hands dirty and make sure your seen to be doing so: senior teachers are in a horrid position because with negligible teaching hours at times, and many of the outcomes of our work not easy to see, it can cause some resentment if one is not seen to be doing something.  
 And even when that is all done, things can still go wrong. Well, I've still got a lot to learn...