You’ve heard about an emotional bank account, a metaphor for the investments in personal relationships that keep them healthy and able to deal with the bumps and bruises that come along in any relationship. Build trust and deposit in the account in good times, make withdrawals in the lean times, and maintain a healthy balance. Organizations such as school districts have similar accounts, and 2020 is turning out to be the year some districts are finding out just how deep—or shallow—their reserves are.
Some districts are led by people who are appreciative and supportive, who look after their teachers and maintain conditions that help staff do their best work. These district leaders treat staff like valued, professional teammates. They build trust. They make regular deposits to the bank account.
Other districts are not so well led. Too may districts are bossed by people who consider the teaching staff adversaries, not to be trusted. For a while my own district was led by people who believed that if a teacher wasn’t in a classroom standing in front of students, she was wasting time (and the district’s money). The worst of these kinds of leaders manage with an inflexible fist, haunted by the fear that any concession or flexibility extended to staff somehow means that the administration is being taken advantage of. They treat staff like peons. They make no deposits into the bank account.
Making deposits in the account doesn’t require that administrators grovel before teachers and kiss their feet. Nor does it help to offer empty un-meant attaboys. Respect, trust and collaboration on a daily basis will do far more than hollow exercises that somebody learned at a management camp.
School systems are in many ways very different from businesses in the private sector, but in this managerial respect, they are much the same. When management fills the bank account, the organization runs more smoothly; when management drains the account, the problems may not be obvious because teachers, like other professionals, will put on their big girl pants and do the work. But when the account is empty, there’s nothing there to back calls to go an extra mile, let alone reserves for a rainy day. And now the Corvid-19 pandemic has provided the rainiest day schools have ever seen.
Going into the fall, money will be tight and needs will be great and teachers will be asked to make sacrifices of one sort of another. School districts must be clever and creative and flexible and adaptable. Districts that have cultivated an atmosphere of trust and teamwork with their staffs will be far more flexible and adaptable than those that have drained their accounts dry. As with any organization, years of quietly mediocre management become a big problem when they meet a large crisis. It’s difficult to get people to take one for the team today if you have spent years demonstrating to them that they are not actually members of the team. In a year that presents schools with unprecedented obstacles, it turns out that some schools are facing an obstacle that’s not new at all—the detritus of years of poor management. They’ve been taking this test of leadership for years; now they have to deal with the results.
Originally posted at Forbes.com