Shut your eyes and trust in me
You can sleep safe and sound
Knowing I am around
Sailing on a silver mist
Slowly and surely your senses
Will cease to resist
Shut your eyes and trust in me”
There is one major barrier to any attempts to reduce workload in schools. It’s one tiny little word but without it we will ultimately get nowhere. That word is TRUST.
Trust is fundamental to life. If you cannot trust in anything, life becomes impossible—a constant battle against paranoia and looming disaster. Just watching half an hour of Jeremy Kyle to see the impact of a lack of trust can have. You can’t have relationships without trust, let alone good ones. Intimacy depends on it. I suspect more marriages are wrecked by lack of trust than by actual infidelity. The partner who can’t trust the other not to betray him or her will either drive them away or force them into some real or assumed act of faithlessness.
In the workplace too, trust is essential. A school without trust will be full of backstabbing, fear and paranoid suspicion. The lack of trust can be prevalent in many schools. Twitter is rife with stories of SLTs asking for this and that, micro-managing to the nth degree. I know a school where staff are not allowed to leave the building till all their books are marked, I know another where reams of planning has to be handed in every Friday. Schools where performance management is about checking whether staff are doing their job rather than looking to help them move become better at it.
How did we get to this point? Well let me a tell you a story
Once upon a time, a long time ago there were some people, some important people who decided that teachers were lazy and didn’t do a very good job, so they decided to check up on them all the time to make sure they weren’t shirking their responsibility and were working hard.
The important people sent people to check up on the teachers. They often came with the desire to find things schools were doing wrong rather than celebrate the things they were getting right.
This led to teachers being afraid of the people who came to check up on them. The teachers listened to what what was said about what other teachers did wrong and made sure they weren’t doing that, they listened to what was said that the other teachers were doing well and they copied that because they wanted to make the checkers happy so they wouldn’t come back as often. Sometimes the teachers were told to stop doing things they thought worked by the people in charge of their school and instead they were told to do other stuff because the checkers wanted to see that even if they didn’t.Sometimes the important people told teachers how to do the job and made them rub their tummy and pat their heads at the same time.
This went on for a long time, but the important people still weren’t happy, so they decided the teachers should only be rewarded if they made sure all their children learnt everything they had taught them, so the people in charge of the schools started to measure their teachers. This made the teachers more scared, this time they were scared of the people in charge of their schools. Lots of teachers were told they weren’t good and then they disappeared, lots more didn’t like being scared and doing things that they knew didn’t help the pupils so they left as well.
The important people threatened the people in charge of the schools and said that someone else would be put in charge if it didn’t get better. As a result this carried on for a long time. Until everybody realised that nobody wanted to be a teacher anymore.
When the important people and the checkers realised this they decided to blame the people in charge of the schools for making the teachers not want to work there anymore and for making them work too hard. They told the people in charge of schools that they had to stop all the silly things they had been doing and asked “Why on Earth have you been doing that?” … I wonder?
The real question is how do we change it. This is where that key word comes in…TRUST. To truly get it right headteachers and SLT’s are going to have to trust that Ofsted and the DfE are true to its word around workload and other issues. (High-stakes accountability is not disappearing anytime soon.) Heads are going to have to be brave and do what they know is right for their teachers, some already are doing so. The caveat to this is that it’s a lot easier to be brave when you are not sat in an Ofsted category. At all levels we are going to both have to trust each other more and equally we have to live up to that trust.
LAs and MATs are going to have TRUST their schools and listen and change their expectations and requirements. (Hands up if you’ve ever been told to produce more stuff by either of those.)
Headteachers are equally going to have to TRUST their teachers and stop running schools as a deficit model where we trust no-one because sometimes people let us down. We need to focus on developing our teachers not measuring them. If you do this you may be surprised at what you get.
Teachers are equally going to have to live up to that TRUST.
I’m constantly amazed when heads claim to be overworked and under constant pressure, yet fail to do the one thing most likely to ease their burdens: trust other people more. They don’t delegate, because they don’t trust people to do what they’ve been asked to do; so they have to take on every significant task themselves. It’s not the pressure of actual work that’s driving them towards some stress-related illness, it’s their lack of trust in anyone and anything. Is it any wonder they’re close to total burnout?
With the pressures and challenges we face I appreciate it’s not easy. As a new head stepping into my school two and a half years ago creating a climate of trust has been my biggest challenge.
A key part of any heads role is to build the capacity you have in school. Without letting go and trusting you won’t move those people forward. A wise old owl of a head I worked with used to talk about ‘passing the monkey back.’ She was so right. Trust will only happen if your culture is right, expectation is vital, but also the guiding hand when it all goes a ‘bit Pete Tong’, which inevitably at some point it will.
I get that it isn’t always easy. Trust takes time and is reciprocal in its nature. To make it happen we have to take a leap. If we want to reduce workloads, we have to look at trusting and believing our staff more. Someone has to begin the cycle of trust by an act of faith. It’s no use waiting for the other person to make the first move. They’re waiting for you. It takes a conscious act of unconditional belief in that other person’s good sense, ability, honesty or sense of commitment to set the ball rolling. Will your trust sometimes be misplaced? Of course. Life isn’t perfect and some people aren’t trustworthy. But will increasing your willingness to trust produce, on balance, a positive benefit? Will it make your life more pleasant and less stressful? I believe so. You have little to lose by trying.