You can hardly fail to avoid some of the vitriol that is flying around the internet as the NUT call members out on strike across England and Wales. Compare the delightully sane comment of Xavier Bosch on the Huffington Post with the stuff that follows the news story in the Guardian this morning. As a blogger, I sometimes stop and wonder – what do people think of these opinions that are so easy and cheap to pronounce? And then I delete stuff, usually. But not this crew – the comments posts on the article are just weird. As I write, the most recent comment is a “teacher” who is having a lovely lazy morning enjoying the strike, and then off this afternoon to do some private tutoring so that he/she is not out of pocket. A person of principle, clearly. The media is focusing (as it always does, in hock to the dominant line from the government) on the “impact on parents” and the “impact on the economy”. Nobody asks the children what they think. But then again, I think I know what mine would say….
We have, like last time, managed to keep school mostly open and have just three teachers taking action. So, as this is the fourth time we have had a closure or part closure since June 2011 – we have managed to stay open partly for the last two times, it is worth thinking about what it means, and how we manage it in peace.
For the record, I support the industrial action, feel strongly that the NASUWT should have stuck to the original agreement, and would come out myself on an issue that my union (NAHT) asked me to. The case that has been made by the NUT is sound and should be heeded by the Department for Education and its secretary of state. However, the manner of its making and the leadership of the union do not inspire confidence in the rest of us that the strike is done for altogether altruistic reasons.
So, what principles should guide us:
- Principle 1. School leaders should do everything they possibly can to cultivate open, warm, generous relationships with their teachers. This has several good knock-on effects – firstly, it means that school leadership and the majority of teachers and leaders will feel the same about the striking issue and understand each other, even if it leads to different decisions about industrial action. Secondly it can and should inspire teachers to believe that their school leaders support the idea of industrial action and will defend them from criticism. Thirdly, it can mean that governors have a good understanding of the issues and do not fear the disruption that comes. Fourthly, if handled well, and if the second effect has happened, it means that teachers are most likely to give an early indication of their intention which then helps with Principle 2.
- Principle 2. School leaders should do everything they possibly can to communicate well with parents. This is altogether dependent on having good teacher relationships, but is nonetheless vital. Communication should be like Democratic Party voting in a Boston precinct – early and often. Use everything you have, from text messaging to semaphore…
- Principle 3. School leaders should adhere completely to the code of ethics on covering classes. Do not endanger any staff relationships by asking (or even hinting!) staff to cover for each other or for PPA to be cancelled so that a striking teacher’s class can be taught. None of that must be countenanced. This is all about trust, and teachers need their leaders to be above all things trustworthy in the ethical codes that govern union action. Make it clear what your own relationship to your union is, and that you would be proud to take industrial action if you felt it was the correct thing to do.
- Principle 4. School leaders, let’s be humble and take the knocks coming our way. Industrial action is disruptive and is meant to be. Somebody is going to be narked by it. This morning we have had grizzles and celebrations from different parents. Some love the fact they have their Y7 child at home with them. Others have had to give up work for the day and take annual leave to look after a Y5 child. All this is expected and we need to be humble about it, holding the defence of our teachers in balance with an understanding of the impact on families. There is a lot of understanding from parents of teacher pressures. The better the relationships, the better the outcomes.
The secretary of state, love him, doesn’t really have the social skills to engage with this issue. Nor do the militants in the NUT. They all think it is a fight. It is not. It is an opportunity to think hard, to deepen understanding, to learn to live with disruption and a chance to learn not to take ourselves too seriously.