Modelling the behaviour we expect from students (and colleagues) can be a challenge. If you kick up a stink about students putting away their phones, then slap yours on the desk, they have every right to carp, in my book. If you’ve had stern words about appropriate language, then let out a surprised “fuck” when a blind falls off the window, you might undermine your swearing stance.
My all-time favourite example of do-what-I-say-not-what-I-doism did not slip out between the cracks of a student-teacher relationship but during an omni-bollocking from a senior manager.
This particular boss was big on behaviour: it was his trademark. He did an impressive job of building a behaviour policy that was both fair to students and empowering to staff. He knew that, once behaviour was sorted, we could all get on with what we were there to do: help people learn.
However, on our year-end training day, he wasn’t himself. Who knows why? I assume even senior managers have a real life away from college.
He’d been milling around the canteen before the session, with a “how are you doing?” here, and a “plans for the holiday?” there. It was early, we were all knackered and ready to break up, plus there was an everybody-bring-a-board-game atmosphere to proceedings. To be honest, I’d planned to coast it until hometime.
A couple of hundred of us were seated in the big hall. His sessions were usually fun and I always learned something new. He strode out in front and stood with arms folded while a few stragglers got to their seats. He glared at them with a face like a pile of folded ham. “Your lateness is not acceptable. It’s unprofessional and it’s rude.” A breeze swept across the room as everyone simultaneously swung their heads round in the latecomers’ direction. Then he turned to the rest of us. “I’ve done a little experiment,” he said. “Earlier, I asked 10 people how they were. Eight of them moaned.” He put on a whingeing voice, “I’m tired. I’m ready for a holiday. I can’t wait to finish.”
“Now I’m interested,” I thought.
He continued: “Where’s the positivity? Where’s the behaviour that you’re supposed to be modelling to students and colleagues?”
“Where’s yours?” I thought.
He’d fallen into a self-referential vortex of failing to model the positive behaviour he expected from us and was having a right old meltdown because we weren’t modelling the positive behaviour he expected of us. I was thrilled with the spectacle and had to keep an eye on my own face, which was creeping towards delight.
As the morning progressed and the tone didn’t shift, our boss became increasingly irritated that he was getting little participation from the group. With controlled rage dancing behind his eyes, he calmly asked us, “Why aren’t you getting involved?”
I had to clamp my gob shut. It would have been bad form to spell it out. Plus I could slip into the vortex, too.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons