A very experienced principal, newly appointed to a troubled city school, opened his door about an hour into his first day at work to find a row of faces looking back. About ten children were lined up waiting for discipline.
‘What are you here for? And you, and you…?’ – down the line he went. As each student replied he just said, ‘Go back to your classroom and get on with your work.’
Nothing was said to the teachers; no punishment was meted out by the principal. As the days went by the potential chain gang outside his door grew smaller and smaller until, a week later, he opened his door to find no children.
Under the previous principal the school had struggled with a major discipline problem; the boss had been the external provider of discipline instead of empowering his teachers to take responsibility, to manage their own environment.
Once a strong foundation was laid in the classroom, withdrawal of a child and despatch to a senior teacher only happened infrequently. By definition it became a serious event.
The new man wasn’t prepared to buy in to the poor disciplinary habits his staff had developed under the old regime. Once the teachers had the message that he didn’t intend to interfere in their day-to-day discipline, that they owned the problem and were empowered by him to solve it, he then raised the issue of behaviour management at the next staff meeting. Professional learning followed. Over time the school reputation dramatically lifted and it became a school both children and parents were proud to be involved with.
How to build this sense of ownership
Ask yourself, ‘How do I enlist and involve my colleagues? How do I help them feel a sense of ownership with their work and with the organisation?
Mutual ownership is a climate where every person counts, regardless of position; where everyone feels they have a stake in the success and growth of the organisation. Mutual ownership happens when all staff are involved in decisions, feel free to contribute, and have their ideas listened to and accepted where appropriate. (One trap to watch for – never ask for employees’ opinions when the decision has already been made. It’s a very fast path to loss of trust and credibility with your staff.)
Get them involved in thinking and solutions
Some examples of practical collaborative questions you can use with your team, as you enlist their input:
- How can we save time? Time is today’s currency. If each staff member saves ten minutes a day, in a year’s time they’ll have saved a week.
- What can we do to speed up?
- What can we do to be more efficient?
- What should we stop doing?
- What will make our service more valuable to our customers, the parents?
- How can we over-deliver?
- What will the students and the community need five years from now?
- How can we monitor changes inside and outside our industry?
- What publications and newsletters do we currently subscribe to?
- Who is watching the trends?
- What can we learn or adopt from other schools, so we’re not re-inventing the wheel?
How do you build the team spirit and a powerful work climate?
One of the most fundamental challenges for a leader is to develop a work climate in which staff can consistently achieve their best.
One major goal for Alison, a new principal of a five-teacher school, was to create a strong working relationship with her new team. She decided to copy something she’d experienced in a previous corporate life and try a team-building weekend.
‘With access to a family holiday home, I popped the question, ‘How about we all go away for a weekend?’ To my absolute delight the offer was quickly snapped up. After all, who could resist a free weekend away? It was a huge success. We tramped, fished, got stuck out on the lake in a boat, and talked the night away.
‘Back at school the atmosphere became more relaxed, more open. We all had a healthy respect for each other, both personally and professionally.
‘Then the ‘beam me up Scottie’ moment – confirmation of an ERO visit early the next year. We knew we were a successful school, but what about all that preparation and fine tuning that needed to be done. One staff member had the answer. ‘Let’s go away again and all work together.’
‘This time we went back to the same place for three days. I had never before experienced such a focused team. We collectively planned our programmes, introduced innovative curriculum activities, wrote our Education Plan for the year and decided on our responsibilities. Needless to say, we had built a solid foundation for a successful review.’
Everyone felt ownership; everyone was included; everyone shared in the great results.