Just recently I’ve found my thoughts turning to those challenging conversations I sometimes need to have in my role as Senior Leader. For your information I’m not happy with this part of my role and it’s definitely an area for development. I was previously a Teaching Assistant and now I find myself line managing people who once managed me. I think this contributes to my angst about the situation. Also, as in most small schools I have many roles to fulfill. I am Assessment Leader and CPD leader to name two. This increases my chances of encountering difficult conversations.
Challenging conversations can take many forms. They may be used as part of performance management possibly to tackle under performance. They may be used to remind a teacher of their professional role in the wider school community. Whatever their purpose I find them difficult.
Most recently I’ve had to speak to teachers who choose to turn a blind eye to their TAs flouting the school rules. In my school the teacher is the manager in their classroom. That entails organising the staff, deploying them where needed, keeping a friendly eye on their health and well-being and ensuring they observe school rules. So what about the teacher who prefers to be seen as friend to the TAs. The one who doesn’t enforce the rules on behalf of management. This makes my role twice as difficult as I have to deal with the TA first and then the teacher who is not fulfilling their professional duty.
I have taken advice from my wonderfully supportive Deputy Head who is my guiding light in all things professional. The strategy I have adopted is to have the conversation away from other people in a quiet room. Be sure I have all the facts at my disposal and if necessary a copy of the Teacher Standards. This was recently a topic for discussion on #SLTchat and I watched the advice given by others in similar roles. I found this advice to be invaluable and am using it where possible.
I have noticed that I’m not the only senior leader who faces this problem. On a recent visit to a large senior school nearby I was touring round with the Deputy and we noticed students eating food in the library. The Deputy was unimpressed by this and immediately reminded the students of the rules. Close by were several teachers who had chosen not to tackle the situation. Why? This was the question on both our lips. Why should senior leaders be seen as the bad guys when it was clearly the role of the teachers present to address the situation.
We ask the students to adhere to the rules of the school. Most will comply willingly. Should teachers not be a role model for TAs and students and enforce those rules themselves? This would make my life easier in some respects. I know I have to perfect the art of conducting challenging conversations but I do believe that teachers have a role to play in this.