The good, bad and the saintly

A good manager is like a good teacher, approachable and encouraging. It is an invaluable lesson for Sean McPartlin

A few years ago the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University produced a list of statements from pupils about which skills and qualities, in their eyes, made a good teacher. The pupils' observations were largely predictable but nonetheless relevant.

A good teacher had a sense of humour, was fair, listened to what pupils said, was strict on those who were disruptive but liked a good laugh. Furthermore, he or she was enthusiastic about their subject and explained it well to the students. The ability to empathise, to value the students' opinions and to avoid having favourites also ranked highly.

The list became known in some circles as the "Mother Teresa Charter" because it seemed like a tall order for anyone to achieve such saintliness on a regular basis. However, it gained some currency in St Margaret's Academy, in Livingston, after an in-service training course and a number of teachers stuck the list on their classroom wall where it acts as something between an aide-memoire and a reproach as they go about their daily duties.

There is a copy of it on my office wall too, becoming a little tattered and frayed at the edges. Catching sight of it again recently, it suddenly made me wonder what characteristics would be listed if it were headed "A Good Manager". With trepidation I approached colleagues for their views.

Only one took the cop-out option: "A good manager manages to manage." The variety of responses from others sought to address the meaning of managing. I learned that a good manager is approachable, listens, is organised, oversees the implementation of national, local and school policies or development plans and represents the concerns of the school community to the local authority, working in consort with parent organisations, unions and the neighbourhood.

While I was still struggling to recognise myself in that lot, another batch of qualities was submitted. Good management also involves having the respect of staff and pupils, personal credibility as a classroom teacher and effective departmental team player, working harmoniously as part of a school management team and being matched in personal and professional abilities to the remit they are given.

Clearly colleagues at all levels want to be able to trust a manager as someone who is committed to the school staff, pupils and parents (preferably in that order). The good manager also knows, as an experienced chalkface practitioner, what he or she is talking about and is thus able to set challenging yet achievable goals. The same individual must also have the communication and personnel skills to carry the staff with him or her in a way that would enable them to be proud of the job they were doing.

The teachers accepted management's quality assurance role but believed it could be achieved supportively and in non-threatening mode by a good manager.

I must admit, I found the mixture of personal qualities and professional abilities listed in the statements more than a little daunting. Being a manager looked like an impossible composite to achieve adequately.

I was almost relieved to receive the predictable response "A good manager is there to take the blame." I felt more comfortable with that because I believe that management is about supporting and challenging, leading and listening, sharing visions and hearing advice.

Good teachers learn something every day and the same is true of managers. If we lead policy making and its development within the school, then we need to show the responsibility to admit mistakes or fine tune original ideas that are less than fully effective. Similarly, it is a foolish manager who refuses to benefit from the wealth of experience and differing perspectives that are present among the staff and wider school community.

In my view, good managers are honest. I would rate that quality most highly because there needs to be trust between a manager and his colleagues and that has to be based on an open approach.

In the end, the skills and qualities my colleagues identified as being necesary for good management were similar to those that pupils had identified as being prerequisite for good teaching. Essentially they are: communicating, listening and understanding, the enthusiasm to encourage and the humanity to empathise.

I'll keep trying. Meanwhile, I'll reflect on the message: good managers are good teachers and good teachers deserve good managers.

Sean McPartlin is assistant head at St Margaret's Academy, Livingston

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you