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How to manage teacher colleagues

Career | Published 1 December, 2009 | By: Helen Beckett

Becoming a manager of colleagues is a far cry from managing a classroom and calls for a new set of skills. Politics at Work consultancy provides the tactics.

After the euphoria has faded and the celebrations are over a newly recruited head, whether of department or school, eventually has to step into role. This will also involve the major change of moving to a new school or else returning to the same school only in a more senior role. Either way, it entails developing a different relationship with colleagues.

Managing a team of colleagues, however, is rarely the challenge teachers aspired to when they entered the teaching profession. Teaching children and making a difference to their lives is far removed from the skulduggery of the staffroom and school politics can extend still further. Governors, management, parents, government and unions are among the stakeholders that teachers are exposed to more, the higher up the management tree they climb.

Handling these relationships is more straightforward for the teacher who is promoted into a management role in a new school. “You have the chance to reinvent yourself. You have a second chance to make a first impression.” says Mike Phipps, creative director of Politics at Work consultancy. But whichever route the teacher has travelled, he’s in no doubt as to how tricky handling a promotion can be. “The people who were your mates yesterday are your staff today”.

Six golden rules for the new manager

1: Give your team members the information they need to do their job. This sounds like commonsense but it is often forgotten in the excitement of debating and implementing new ideas. Information might simply consist of letting your team know you will not be shuffling class sizes.

2: Provide clear directions as to what you expect – but always remember to ask “what do you think?” Giving team members the ‘right to reply’ while remaining clear about your expectations will help diffuse dissent.

3: Give permission to your team to be angry or confused - psychologists refer to this slack as ‘allowable expression’.  Humans are naturally resistant to change and if powerful reactions are bottled up, they will go underground and spill out into political games. Just knowing this dynamic is at play will help you be calm when emotions flare up in meetings. Your job is to remain calm.

4: Ensure your teaching staff has the technical resources necessary to carry out the work. Often a newcomer will want to freeze or divert budget while they check how money is spent. While this strategy may have a very sound rationale, the underlying and unfortunate message is ‘I don’t trust you’.

5: As people start to move forward and work in different ways, remember that they will make mistakes. How you react to these mistakes is critical; impatience and a demand for instant perfection is counter productive. Remember how a toddler taking her first baby steps is liable to fall: provide the same encouragement to colleagues who are taking risks with new techniques.

6: Keep the conversation open with plenty of communication points; the best exchanges don’t necessarily happen in the regular team meeting but can take place after school or be a natter in the corridor. Some will take longer to come round while the odd teacher may decide they won’t buy it, whatever. Don’t worry, they usually leave.

Source: Politics at Work. Mike Phipps is a speaker at this year’s Teach First seminar.


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Comment (5)

  • thank you, sound advice.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    13 September, 2008


  • I needed that, the more responsibility you have the lonely you get !People always try to bring you down or try to make you look stupid.

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    1 February, 2009


  • great advice. how can we deal with challenging staff - the ones that never follow any policies, do planning etc even tho head has spoken to them?

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    5 April, 2009


  • darrone great comment I agree it's not an easy job!

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    12 October, 2009


  • Muninder, you should have a look at the 'Iceberg model' with regards to conflict resolution. It allows you to explore the reasons behind the conflict in order to establish how to deal with the problems. It has worked wonders for our school!

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    9 November, 2010


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