We were talking about the ebb and flow of school development. Her school had moved from a need to improve to outstanding and her current situation was in a school which has moved from special measures to good. With each of us having enjoyed long careers in schools, we were reflecting on how schools change over time, as new teams form and move forward, then slowly disintegrate as promotion, or life takes over and changes the dynamics.
We both agreed however, that it can be as tough being in an outstanding school and seeking to maintain that position, as it is in a category school. There are no really easy rides, except perhaps in staff dynamics, especially appointments. It is probably a truism that well known, successful schools attract a significant field of applicants for each post, so the choice is greater and potentially of higher calibre.
In many ways, though, continuity is maintained by those who stay, the “tribal elders”, who are the holders of the tribal narratives, the history and the myths, which can be shared with newcomers. The myths and tales can become the source of problems, if poor approaches are retained, as well as being helpful, if progress can be articulated and built upon.
If the leader leaves, like any tribe, the successor has to be selected and they will take time, especially if from outside the tribe, to understand the working methods of the group and the individual make-up of the group. This can be a tough time for all concerned, as personal issues can be aired. The need to make change, although probably accepted by many, can be resisted by some, who see the articulation of the need for change as criticism of previous approaches.
Within any tribal structure, there can be factions, cliques and coteries, of supposedly like-minded colleagues. These can be friendship groups which are long established, across all staff categories and can be a source of strength or weakness. Some may see themselves as the real leaders in the group, especially at a time of change and may seek to strengthen their positions. These minor politics can become a significant distraction from progress, especially if needs develop to deal with side issues, rather than substantive changes.
Change can, in specific circumstances, be the catalyst for rapid improvements, if the leader’s vision is clear, clearly articulated and effectively communicated with the members, with clarity of rationale based upon real internal research, ie talking with the members of the tribe to create plans that are based on internal strengths and knowledge of individuals with the skills and knowledge to help to lead. Plans are put in place, known to everyone, with specific checkpoints to celebrate successes and review areas for further consideration. Moving together and sharing success provides the feeling of tribal goodwill and self-worth.
I suppose that the moral of this is that there should be a good story to be told and shared with incomers and new members of the tribe, so that they can quickly understand their place within the tribal workings, establishing themselves in the whole, ensuring the best available advice and support has impact, thereby enabling the smooth and effective running of the group.
We don’t want a rerun of “Lord of the Flies”…