This question was answered by Andy Buck, a former geography teacher turned headteacher turned leadership expert who has written multiple leadership books and now works with senior headteachers across the UK to improve schools and the school system.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: Teachers seem to need to earn respect more than in the past, when it came with authority. Is this a good thing?
Andy Buck, former headteacher and leadership trainer: I think it’s helpful. It forces the type of leadership that creates a culture and climate that’s respectful and positive.
In the past you could get away with a form of leadership that was lazy and didn’t require one to focus on children in that way, which meant children didn’t grow in the way they could because they were almost living in a climate of fear.
What we’ve got now is different but what I’m not saying is there should be a reduction in expectations and standards. In fact the opposite is true I think – what we are asking for now is self-management, really clear and high expectations about what you expect.
Some people will always want to push boundaries, but the trick is to put the bar really high – we were really strict about people dropping litter in school. If they did it, we isolated them internally, for a day, in a really unpleasant room, and that wasn’t draconian, it was just how it was.
We were doing it so they could be in a really lovely school, and I thought it would be hard to enforce, but actually it got easier, because people who came in year 7 saw a school with no litter, and thought it was just how things were done.
It was about creating climate and culture, but the children knew why it was being done. And coming back to what I said before, children need to understand you are there for them.
And if they genuinely believe that and if they genuinely believe you are there to take decisions on their behalf, then sometimes they may not want to do something but will do it anyway because they know you have a good reason for it.
And so for me that’s what’s so exciting about the situation we’re in now. Behaviour in schools – we still have a way to go – but it’s a lot better than it was 15 years ago, from my experience walking round schools, and I walked round a lot.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: So why is behaviour so much better than 15 years ago in schools?
Andy Buck, former headteacher and leadership trainer: I think it’s better teaching and higher expectations from schools and school leaders.
There’s always an element of fear and consequences do matter – of course they do. But there’s a huge difference between being fearful of uncertainty and fearful of a certain consequence.
And I think schools in the old days were run on the fear of uncertainty – “he may lose it or just not be bothered at all” – and that lack of consistency and varied expectations was common, depending on the teacher or even just the mood of the teacher on the day.
I think we’ve moved a long way from all of that – now it’s about clarity, good communication, showing some tough love sometimes of course, but ultimately showing children you care. It must be the moral purpose that drives your behaviour and if children sniff out moral purpose, if they really think you’re there for them, they will respect you.
Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Do children have a keen sense for smelling moral purpose out?
Andy Buck, former headteacher and leadership trainer: Oh, I think so. They sniff out fear in a teacher, don’t they? They also sniff out a confident headteacher. Kids very quickly trusted me because they could very quickly see I loved them – I loved working with children and they knew I loved my job.
A headteacher up in Stoke I work with is a brilliant guy and he has a hashtag on Twitter that’s #lovemyjob and I saw some pupils using that hashtag about their prom and their final day and I thought, you’re just the head that I wanted to be. It’s the little things that make such a difference.