The education crisis, and the need for effective leadership

I recently read an article on a teacher’s resignation from the education industry after disagreeing with the way she was being ‘forced’ to teach.

“Never have I experienced a time in my profession where teachers are this stressed and in real fear for the mental health of not only themselves, but the children that they teach.” – Kathy Margolis.

Some of the sentiments she demonstrated through her post on Facebook outlined grace concerns with the way her leadership team had treated her as an autonomous employee. Instead of effective leadership, we see an increase in the level of bureaucracy used to operate the educational machine across the country.

In short, she found that the bureaucracy and administration limited her ability to teach the way her life experience and knowledge taught her was best.

“Never have I experienced a time in my profession where teachers are this stressed and in real fear for the mental health of not only themselves, but the children that they teach. The pressures are enormous.” – Kathy Margolis.

Why this is a leadership problem? 

In business, we know that employees who leave usually cost the organisation more money to replace due to human resource and training costs: along with the increased cost of a less efficient worker as they are yet to understand the system. The organisation also loses out on the experience and knowledge of the worker, which is often the most valuable loss. When a teacher leaves the system, there are often a number ready to replace them straight out of universities: however, the problem is the lack of experience in how the students learn, along with the trust and relationships which the departing teacher has developed with his/her many students.

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” – Henry Ford

The reason I consider this a grave leadership problem is that those in charge should have developed systems which enable teachers the ability to perform their duties without unnecessary stress or pain. An effective leader in this situation would aim to address problems regularly occurring in an organisation. Instead of solving these sorts of organisational issues, the leaders have developed policies and procedures which pile on top of each other to guide employees to tasks.

Whilst guidance and regulation can often be a driver for success, overburdening those who already have strenuous tasks provides little reassurance to those followers to maintain their role. Instead of over-regulation, leaders of organisations must develop methods to guide teachers to be the best they can be: and autonomy is an important part in that.

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  – Larry King

We must never forget which members of the organisation are best at. Front-line operatives, such as teachers, are often going to see the issues with service delivery first. This experience and knowledge should not be sidelined, and instead be facilitated into discussion. So, instead, we need to listen to those people who understand firsthand some of these issues. Whilst they may not have the solutions, or perhaps they do, knowing the problems will hopefully enable us to eventually solve them.

What can a leader when followers leave? 

When followers leave, leaders lose their ability to lead. Without followers, there are no one to lead. We make mistakes, its inevitable, but we have to develop strategies for how to come back from those mistakes.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” – James Humes

The first thing to do is acknowledge there is a problem, so we can similarly begin to solve it. If the problem is too much bureaucracy, then how do we solve it? Perhaps looking at the education system in the eyes of a business person will offer different perspectives. Large organisations want to ensure their followers/employees are not overly stressed as it eats profits when they have to pay for compensation or replacement. So, perhaps we need to look at the education system using a similar framework. Whereby we want the best service delivery for our customers (students), and to retain talented employees (teachers) without it placing an unfair burden on the taxpayer or parent.

We now know there is a problem, and it will be up to the leadership of the education system to begin to address these issues.

*Image by Linda Hartley