SMT in schools are masters of manipulation, more so than any chief executive or managing director in any cut throat business you can think of. In order to succeed as a senior manager in schools, you have to be able to make yourself look like a reasonable, competent person satisfying their duty of care responsibilities in full when in fact you are a zero tolerance, teacher bashing bully who would sooner ruin someone’s career and life than admit they’d made a mistake.
Here’s how SMT justify their positions whilst simultaneously keeping the workload down and the pressure on staff up.
The first point of call for every struggling teacher is just what you always wanted – increased observations. It’s time and effort on the part of SMT, or the minion they’ve appointed to the task, and so it makes them look like they’ve been addressing the issue. But repeatedly measuring performance does not increase that performance automatically. Nor does using the extra observations to develop extra and increased criticisms. If anything, the extra observations are used as extra evidence in the case against you.
Setting specific targets to help you as a poor misguided incapable teacher improve makes managers look like they are helping you. They are specifically telling you what needs to be done, which gets rid of any claims from you that they are being too vague and moving the goalposts all the time. Be aware that even if you achieve these targets, unless you can prove it beyond all reasonable argument, you’re still toast. “Yes, but I haven’t seen you doing this.” SMT are also within their right to either invent new problems after you’ve solved the old ones as requested, or to say, “You have achieved everything we set out, but you’re still not good enough.”
Sometimes, although less likely these days, managers will buy in a consultant who will work with a teacher one on one to improve their standards. It makes SMT look good because they have invested in you and thrown some money at the problem. It doesn’t work because, well, have you ever met a consultant?
Allowing Union Rep In
Telling you to bring a union rep to a meeting makes managers look super confident that they’re not doing anything wrong and have got nothing to hide. In fact, union reps do little but ensure that all laws have been followed (despite their lack of any legal training) and that all internal procedures have been followed (despite them having been set by the manipulative manager to begin with). They are not going to say anything about bullying, manipulation or scapegoating, and so the SMT is 100% safe.
Employee Support Line
Some larger schools and colleges have employee support lines in place. It makes the manager look like they care about their teacher’s mental health, and probably ticks a box somewhere as well. I don’t know about you, but I would not phone a part of my own workplace to have a cry about said workplace in a million years. I’ve never heard of any struggling teacher ever using these. I’d be hyper wary that they were not confidential. If you need a helpline or someone to talk to, go third party.
You might think you’re getting a good deal when you get offered an agreed reference. It’s better than the bad reference SMT would give after all, but only marginally. SMT are making it look like they are binding their own tongues by not allowing them to say what they’d like about you, but in reality an agreed reference screams to a new employer that something went wrong. So they will phone your old manager. Who isn’t bound to not say anything verbally, only to not put it in writing.
Actually I’d say that this wasn’t a common one, or a very obvious one, but I have heard of it happening every so often. SMT will mess about with reasonable adjustments, either as part of you becoming disabled with a mental illness, or as part of just helping you get your performance sorted. Firstly, they might invent their own reasonable adjustments rather than wait for a health professional to advise them, and of course, these might not be very reasonable at all. Also, I’ve heard of retrospective reasonable adjustments being put in place, so that they might suddenly remove something you’ve been working hard on all this time, which doesn’t actually reduce your workload as you’ve already done all the work for it and already suffered the stress caused by that workload.
Are there any other methods you’ve noticed your SMT using to make themselves look good whilst bringing you down behind the scenes? I’d love to hear about them, please email me.