Who objects to Change?
It seems that when starting in a new place, it is understandable that nerves can increase tensions and may have an impact on how one interacts with people in ways one may not realise. They can inadvertently lead to someone appearing cold, aloof and distant, officious and possibly unsympathetic. Decisions can a be made which, in the heel of the hunt, may not have been as judicious as one thought, such as managing interactions with parents and the choice of tone, language and symbols in communications.
Though many Irish schools share a Catholic ethos, the characteristic spirit of all of these schools varies from place to place, depending on their histories, the involvement of religious orders, the influence of various diocese and clerics, families and communities. Staff – from management, teachers, support and ancillary staff and the pupils themselves – play the most important role of all in bringing life to the school and its identity.
Some schools take a very bureaucratic approach to parents with very clear lines drawn, keeping parental involvement to an absolute minimum. Others take a different approach, being more willing to allow for parental involvement and using a more collegial style of communication, which may reflect best practice guidelines as laid out in the CPSMA handbook. Both approaches have their merits, as well as faults.
Sometimes, parents can become too involved in the life of the school, ignore roles and boundaries and may not always take seriously rules and regulations put in place to support both the safety, well-being and learning of children as well as the professional life of teachers. On the other hand, the more closed and bureaucratic a school, the harder it is to avoid alienation, build trust, promote successful collaboration with parents and, crucially, enable all children to thrive socially, emotionally, spiritually and reach their potential.
Management styles and approaches to communication are unique to each principal, with their own personality, strengths and attitudes informing their decisions, actions and approaches to policy and, ultimately, the life, hidden curriculum and characteristic spirit of the school. When moving from one school to another, where approaches to policy, partnership and collaboration with parents and communication styles may differ widely, one may find it difficult to consolidate new ways of dealing with people with the familiar. This is especially true if a less formal style may seem, on the surface, less authoritative and therefore more open to abuse. leading one to rely on the systems one trusts.
This familiarity with certain approaches can lead one to simply transplant styles and forms of communication from one place to another, particularly if it is written in a tone one may feel encourages either strict formality or parental cooperation.
In an established school, a principal is the custodian of an inheritance as well as a leader, someone who builds on the solid foundations laid down by others while carrying forward the history and traditions of a school, bringing change through adding to its story with new traditions, attitudes and approaches while honouring its past. Given this stewardship role, is it not best practice for a principal to adapt and add to familiar forms and language to reflect a new identity rather than simply imposing one upon the other?