I wish I could remember who it was who said, back in the day when I worked for what was at the time the biggest and most successful corporation in the world “Everyone works for the salesman.”
His point was that the salesman, or account manager, as they were actually known by the time I became one, was the person who had the working relationship with the customer, and therefore was the one who a) knew what the customer wanted and b) sold the products to the customer, thereby c) paying everybody’s salary.
The sales force could tell the R&D department what customers wanted, and how much they would pay. So manufacturing made products that would sell, and logistics ensured that the products could be delivered in the correct timescale, and engineers made sure that aftercare was delivered as promised by the salesman.
In a school, it is quite clear that the salesman’s function is equivalent to that of the teacher. The teachers deliver the product to the customers, whether you think our customers are the kids or their parents. (I think it’s the students, personally.) Our job is to deliver effective teaching and learning. We exercise our professional judgement and skills to consider which strategies we use to do so. We may need some nuanced behaviour management to assist students who find it hard to conform to our expectations and who may, without the teacher’s skill, inhibit not only their own, but others’ learning. It may be a question of skillful differentiation in order to ensure that all in the class are able to access the learning despite varied and complex learning difficulties. For some, it may be thinking of enrichment resources, so that the student who shows outstanding skill in our subject has challenging enough material to keep them interested. We mark carefully according to a considered policy and we have to keep up with research in our area. We also have to liaise with parents, administer rewards and sanctions and report. There is a lot to do.
The job of everybody else in a school is to ensure that the teacher is able to do all of that effectively and without undue interference.
Senior leaders needs to ensure that the teacher is equipped with whatever training they require to do a great job. They should consider the needs of teachers at all points in their careers. They should manage the talents of their teachers and ensure that they feel valued and supported, even when things are tough. High attrition is a bad sign. It shows that the team is not supporting the individual; it is not helpful to our young people’s education.
Leaders of teaching and learning should be asking what CPD the teacher wants and ensuring it is delivered, or suggesting other CPD which would help them, being explicit as to why. They should be making sure that no demands are made upon the teacher that rob them of time they need to prepare and deliver effective lessons and do effective assessment. They need to provide targeted research and targeted support which may be of use to individual teachers.
The Pastoral Leader should ensure that there are resilient strategies in place to help the teacher teach difficult students or students with difficulties. They should consider the impact on the teachers of taking students out of classes, and they should plan that students do not adversely affect a class’s progress when they return after an absence. They should make sure that teachers are kept fully informed about anything which might have an impact within a class. There must be a balance of confidentiality and the need to know of a teacher.
Caretakers and site managers should be making sure that teachers have what they need to do their job…
And so forth.
There’s a problem with hierarchy in schools. In many cases the adults have spent their whole lives in educational institutions, and therefore have an overly respectful idea of management strata. So students are more likely to obey the instructions of a head of department than a classroom teacher, more likely to listen to a senior leader than an LSA, and in the same way some teachers are in thrall to authority.
Teachers buy into this idea, and it can infect individuals who are promoted, who come to believe that their role is to speak and give directives, rather than to listen, and respond to need. We have all encountered managers who introduce seemingly pointless vanity initiatives which create a lot of work for teachers, work which draws them away from their core business of preparation, teaching and assessment. We have probably also met those managers who are sensitive to the needs of teachers, particularly those who are feeling vulnerable, who are experiencing difficulties, managers who will find sophisticated methods of assisting those teachers without making them feel threatened, but instead supported and encouraged to be the best teacher they can become.
Most teachers were probably the good kids in the classroom, the ones who would not question or challenge their teachers, and it is not in our DNA to challenge those who are issuing instructions from higher up in the hierarchy.
We need to get over that. The future of any educational establishment hangs on the work that we do. Part of being a positive teacher is to recognise how important you are. The management works for you, as much as the other way around. Good managers will welcome challenge to their initiatives. In the same way as we teachers should be looking for ways to do our job better, so should managers, and it’s not only those who are higher in the hierarchy who have all the valuable ideas or opinions.
If something is getting in the way of your successful teaching, call it out; make people understand why it is a problem. If you need something to be able to teach more successfully, then you should be able to ask for it without feeling that you are in some way failing, or even that your job is threatened. As long as you do it privately and with positive intentions, this should not be a problem. Positive leaders will respect the desire to do your job better. If you see something which you think could be done better, or you spot a need or a gap in your organisation’s offering, tell the senior leaders. They should be grateful that you have the benefit of the institution in mind.
As Tom Watson, CEO of IBM from 1914-1956, credited with taking IBM into the international era and at the time considered the greatest salesman in the world, said:
“A manager is an assistant to his men.”
He further said:
“Nothing is more vital to the continuous improvement of IBM than constructive suggestions and criticism given by all of us – fairly given and fairly received.”
(Yes, I worked for IBM. Incidentally Tom Watson’s first post was as a teacher. He lasted one day… not everyone can hack our job!)