Sunday, 22 April 2018

Trust in Schools

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Twitter and who is interested in education will know that the notion of 'trust' in schools - or lack of it - is constantly being commented upon  Governments should trust schools more to get on with the job of educating pupils. CEOS of multi-academy should trust their senior leaders of schools more to come up with local solutions for school problems .  Senior leaders should trust teachers  more to know what is best for their pupils and let them get on with the job of teaching in the classroom.  Teachers should trust senior leaders to know what is right for the school.  Parents should trust teachers to do their best for children.  Teachers should trust pupils to take responsibility for their own learning.  In other words,  trust is a good thing and there should be more of it.  However, high levels trust are not easy to create, develop and maintain, and can be very easily lost.  So in this post, I will use the work of Romero and Mitchell (2018) to explore:

  • The importance of trust in schools.
  • The nature of trust.
  • Implications for the leadership and management of schools in creating, maintaining and developing trust.

The importance of trust in schools

Romero and Mitchell provide a range of supporting evidence to support the folllowing claims

  • Trust is important in high functioning modern institutions
  • Trust is a defining characterstic of professional work
  • Trust between teachers and lead leader plays an importants role in attempts to collaborate, openness to new ideas, mentoring and professionalism
  • Student trust of teachers is associated, for example, with academic achievement and good behaviour
  • Trust is essential for effective partnerships between schools and parents.
  • Trust is important between the different levels of an educational organisation, system or institution 

However, whether these claims are fully warranted would depend upon a careful analysis of the supporting evidence for each claim: Wallace and Wray (2016).  Nevertheless,  for the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that each claim stands up to critical scrutiny.

The nature of trust

The components of trust is subject to some debate,  Adams and Miskell (2016) hypothesising that trust constists of five components - benevolence, competences, honesty, openness, and reliablity.  Bryk and Schneider (2002) argues that relational trusts consists of of four components - respect, personal regard, personal integrity and competence in core responsibiltiies.  However, Romero and Mitchell state that trusts has three key facets:

  • Benevolence - is the sense that the trusted party has the trustee's best interests at heart.
  • Competence - reflects the belief that the trustee has the needed skills and abilities
  • Integrity - reflects the belief that the trustee will behave fairly and ethically.

As such, Romero and Mitchell argue that trust is effectively a second-order factor, and is a function of the levels of all three facets, with each being present to varying degrees.  This has has a number of consequences for both attempts to measure trust i.e. the need to measure all three facets, but also how to develop, maintain or report trust in schools.   For example, there may low levels of trust in a school, even if individuals act with high levels of benevolence and integrity, but with low levels of competence.  In other words, trust requires the presence of high levels of benevolence, competence and integrity.

What are the implications for trust in schools.

It seems to me that this analysis has a number of implications for schools and school leaders.

  1. Given the interrelationship between trust and each of benevolence, competence and integrity,  maybe low levels of trust within schools is likely to be the norm. This does not mean low levels of trust should deemed acceptable, instead it should be seen as a recognition of the challenge of creating high trust environments. 
  2. If school leaders wish to develop levels of trust within a school, it will involve spinning 'multiple plates' - just being deemed to be a good person or good at your job will not be enough to generate trust.
  3. The actions necessary to develop trust in schools - will depend very much on the situation in each school.  If there are perceived low levels benevolence, competence and integrity, this will require sustained action across all three factors.  Whereas, if there are concerns about leader competence - it may require a school leader to focus on doing the basics of school leadership - managing pupil behaviour, recruiting staff on time, and keeping the books balanced.
  4. If you accept the notion that of what its meant to be competent changes over time, with increasing levels of performance being required to be competent, then schools then schools have no choice but to constantly investing in the professional learning and development of ALL staff.
  5. At whatever level of the school system you operate at - be it a CEO of Mat, school leader, head of department, teacher or teacher assistance - do not take trust for granted, as it can so easily slip through your fingers and disappear
  6. Probably the simplest thing to do when trying to develop a high trust environment is adopt Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule, Sutton (2007)


Adams, C. M. and Miskell, R. C. (2016). Teacher Trust in District Administration:A Promising Line of Inquiry. Educational Administration Quarterly. 52. 4. 675-706.
Bryk, A. and Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. New York. Russell Sage Foundation.
Sutton, R. I. (2007). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. London. Hachette UK.
Wallace, M. and Wray, A. (2016). Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (Third Edition). London. Sage.

Friday, 13 April 2018

School Leadership and Civility

In a recent post I argued that both procedural and interactional justice within schools are  essential components of promoting teacher and organisational well-being.  Indeed, thanks to a retweet by Jill Berry @jillberry102 this post generated some traffic on Twitter, the vast majority of which was supportive.  However, the post was interpreted by some as 'SLT bashing,' which was never the intent.  Ironically, the post was designed to be supportive of SLTs by identifying evidence-based strategies which could be adopted and which may reduce both staff turnover and teachers leaving the profession.

In this post I'm going to continue to look at strategies which can support interactional justice within schools.  In doing so, I'm going to look at the work of Christine Porath (Porath, 2018) on how promoting civility can have an important role in developing interactional justice.   Porath argues that if you want colleagues to be 'civil' to one another it is important that leaders engage in conversation with team members to establish precisely what civility means.  By doing this, Porath argues that it then becomes much easier to generate support for 'civility' as a way of doing things, and at the same time empowers colleagues to hold each other to account.

Porath then goes onto describe a law firm's (Bryan Cave)  code of civility which has 10 elements.

Bryan Cave's Code of Civility

1 We greet and acknowledge each other.

2 We say please and thank you.

3 We treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions.

4 We acknowledge the impact of our behaviour on others.

5 We welcome feedback from each other.

6 We are approachable.

7 We are direct, sensitive, and honest.

8 We acknowledge the contributions of others.

9 We respect each other's time commitments.

10 We address incivility.

However Porath then argues that it is not enough to define cultural norms of civility, they need to receive specific training which examines

" What civility looks like
" Situations where colleagues may act with a lack of civility
" Techniques to maintain civility when under pressure
" Opportunities to practise being civil

So what are the implications for school leaders?

If you accept the notion that how you behave has an impact on others, and that  school leader civility may be an important part of a school's strategy for retaining staff, the following may be worth considering.

1. Keep a  daily civility diary and record where you have may behaved in way which lacked civility - and reflect on what might have triggered that behaviour.
2. Ask a colleague to observe how you behave in meetings and other settings - and whether they can identify occasions where you have acted in a manner - which could be described as disrespectful to others.
3. See if you can spot when colleagues have acted with a lack of civility towards one another and ask the following:
a. Did you intervene?
b. Is this behaviour new ?
c. What are you going to do about it?

And finally 

Am I holding myself up as a paragon of virtue when it comes to civility, absolutely not.   What I do know is that as a senior leader I could have done a better job at being civil and I should have been more proactive when  colleagues displayed less than 'civil' behaviour towards colleagues.  In future posts I will begin to explore the role of trust within schools.


PORATH, C. 2018. Make Civility the Norm on Your Team Harvard Business Review. Cambridge, : Harvard Business Review.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Research shows that human resources management practices in schools matter.

Friday 6 April, 2018 saw the TES publish an article with the headline:  Performance-related pay is 'ineffective in schools', and which is based on a study by Bryson, Stokes, et al. (2018).   What’s particularly disappointing about the article – apart from the reference cited in the article being a blog post based on the research rather than the research itself – is that the research shows that human management practices in schools do matter.  Whereas the focus of the TES article is on what we already have a pretty good idea does not work i.e. performance related pay. So given the increasing concerns about a shortage of teachers in the future  and the impact of poor leadership and management on teacher retention  it would be far more helpful if the article focused on ‘what works’ rather than recycling a tired old headline.

Can HRM improve schools performance?

Bryson, et al. (2018) compared schools to observationally equivalent workplaces in the rest of the British economy using measures of workplace performance that are common across all workplaces and found that intensive use of HRM practices is correlated with substantial improvement in workplace performance, both among schools and other workplaces. Yet, the types of practices that improve school performance are different from those that improve performance in other workplaces. Moreover, there would appear to linear returns to HRM intensity in most workplaces, whereas in schools they are an increasing function of the intensity of HRM use.

In their blog post summarising the research Bryson, Stokes, et al. (2018b) state:

Schools benefit from increased use of rigorous hiring practices when selecting new recruits, employee participation mechanisms (such as team briefings), total quality management (TQM) and careful record-keeping, none of which seem to improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy. By contrast, increased use of performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which do improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy, are ineffective in schools. The only HRM practice that benefits both schools and other workplaces is more intensive provision of training.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that all research has limitations.  In this instance, although the research headlines are accessible to all, it would requires a post-graduate level of statistics to appraise the accuracy of the research.  Second, the research drew upon work-place survey data from 2004 and 2011, which raises questions about whether HRM practices have changed since the data was collected Third, the research is not actionable as there is insufficient detail about how the various human resources techniques were carried out, and as everyone who is involved in evidence-based education knows – it ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it.

What are the implications for senior school leaders?

  • Always, always read the original research cited in newspaper articles.  The odds are that the research will take both a difference stance to that reported and will also have a number of unreported limitations.
  • Do not confuse correlation with cause and effect – extensive use of HRM practices appears to be correlated with improvement in work-place performance.  That does not mean that extensive use of HRM has caused that improvement, as other factors may well be at work.
  • Evidence-based practice within schools should not be limited to matters relating to teaching and learning.  Evidence-based practice is also applicable to all aspects of the work of the school including human-resource management, operations and finances
  • If you are thinking about introducing performance related pay for teachers within your school – think again – the evidence suggests that it is not appropriate for complex tasks such as teaching.


Bryson, A., Stokes, L. and Wilkinson, D. (2018a). Can Hrm Improve Schools’ Performance? Bonn. Institute of Labor Economics.
Bryson, A., Stokes, L. and Wilkinson, D. (2018b). Which Modern Management Techniques Work Best for Schools? IOE London Blog. 

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Teacher retention - does the answer lie with senior leadership teams and procedural and interactional justice

Given increasing concerns about teacher workload, recruitment crises and the retention of newly qualified teachers in this post I will be examining the role of procedural and interactional justice on staff and school well-being.  In other words, do fair procedures and communicating those procedures in a fair manner enhance both individual staff and school outcomes.  If so, what are the implications for the leadership and management of staff within schools.  To help do this I will be using evidence-based management and the work of Greenberg (2009) , which is included in Edwin Locke's Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behaviour: Indispensable Knowledge for Evidence-Based Management (Second Edition).


Greenberg argues that individuals 'in the workplace expect to be treated fairly and respond negatively when this expectations appears to have been violated.' p255.  Given individuals concerns to be treated fairly it is not surprising that that this has led to an interest on organisational justice- and the individual perceptions of fairness within organisations.  Greenberg goes to argue that organizational justice can be seen as having three distinct types: distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice.

Distributive justice

This relates to individual's perceptions of the relative fairness of the distribution of the outcomes (rewards) and inputs (workload or contribution) between themselves and others .  In other words, if the rewards and inputs within an organisation are perceived to be distributed unfairly this will lead to inequity distress.

Procedural justice

This relates to individual's perceptions of the perceived fairness of the of the manner in which outcomes (or inputs) are determined.  In order to address this - Leventhal came up with six rules of fair procedure:
  • Certainty - Procedures should be consistent across time and persons
  • Bias suppression - Procedures should not be affected by personal self-interest or blind allegiance to existing preconceptions
  • Accuracy - Procedures should be based on completely accurate and valid information
  • Correctability - Procedures should include opportunities to modify and reverse decisions (appeals and grievances)
  • Representativeness - Procedures should reflect the basic concerns, values, and outlooks of the individuals who are effected by them
  • Ethicality - Procedures should be in keeping with the moral and ethical values held by the individuals involved. (Greenberg p 256-257)
Initial research into procedural justice found two important findings
  • Perceptions of fairness of procedures used in and organisation predicted  key job outcomes (eg job satisfaction) independent of the effects of perceptions of distributive justice.  Distributive justice impacted upon perceptions of fairness of pay increases, whereas procedural justice was the predictor of peoples' feelings of personalcommitment and trust.
  • Procedural justice accounted for significantly more variation than distributive justice in people's assessments of fairness in organisations.  In other words, procedures matter more than outcomes.
Interactional justice

This relates to people's perceptions of not just the distribution of outcomes or the fairness of procedures, but also consider the way in which those outcomes and procedures are communicated.  Individual's expect to have things explained to them in a way which is both adequate and respectful.  If this has not occurred then they perceive that they have been unfairly treated.

Greenberg argues that interactional justice remains of interest today for two reasons:
  • Procedural justice has a major effect on who people respond to negative or undesirable outcomes
  • Managers are in a good positions to bring about the benefits of interactional justice by how they go about treating colleagues in the work place.
So what are the implications for school leaders and managers

Greenberg identifies two things that managers must do if they are going to demonstrate high levels of interactional justice (and hopefully increase teaching staff well-being ).
  • Treat people with dignity and respect, showing that you can about a direct report's personal feelings and welfare, where there is a lack of dignity and respect they feel as if there interpersonal justice has been violated.
  • Provide people with clear and thorough explanations about the processes used to determine outcomes - again when individuals feel they have been kept in in the dark about things they feel they should know about - again they feel unfairly treated.
In other words, if school leaders are serious about trying to reduce teacher turnover and withdrawal from the profession, the place to start is how they treat staff on a day to day basis - is it done with dignity, respect, benevolence and transparency or does the normal way of working with colleagues involve bad manners, disrespect, a lack of care and secrecy.


Greenberg, J. (2009). Promote Procedudural and Interactional Justice to Enhance Individual and Organisational Outcomes. In Locke, E.  Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behaviour: Indispensable Knowledge for Evidence-Based Management (Second Edition).  Chichester. John Wiley and Sons.

Friday, 16 March 2018

School Leaders, Crisis Management and Putting Out Fires - what can be done?

In a recent DfE (2018) report senior leaders described their role as ‘akin to ‘crisis’ management much of the time:’ (p21).  My intention is this post is to help senior leaders develop and implement a set of principles which can help prevent most crises and reduce the time senior leaders spend ‘fire-fighting’.  To help do this I am going to draw up work of Bohn (2000) who identifies a set of circumstances when ‘fire-fighting’ has become chronic within an organisation.  Bohn then goes on to provide a model of fire-fighting  and suggests three methods for reducing the amount of firefighting within an organisation.

Are you working in an organisation where ‘fire-fighting’ has become the norm?

Bohn suggests that you are working in an organisation where ‘fire-fighting’ has become the norm if you are the victim of three of the following elements
  • There is not enough time to solve problems
  • Solutions are incomplete
  • Problems recur and cascade
  • Urgency supersedes importance
  • Many problems become crises
  • Performance drops 

Before looking at how to prevent ‘fires’ I’m going to look at a simple model which shows the effects of fire-fighting syndrome.

The effects of fire-fighting syndrome - amended form Bohn 

The consequence of this model is that firms/schools are trying to solve more problems than they have resources to deal with.  Sometimes this leads to minor problems being put to one side or it can consume an organisation’s (school) resources and lead to some of the organisation’s (school’s) best problem leaving through say frustration and burn out. 
How to  prevent fires?

Bohn argues that instead of putting a place ‘quick fixes’ leaders and managers should focus on three specific and systematic methods.

Add temporary problem solvers
If possible draft in resources (people) to try and address the issue

Shut down operations
Can an activity be shut down to give time to fix the problem
Perform triage
Admit that some problems won’t be solved for a while and commit resources to those that are important and can be solved
Change design strategies
Try and come up with generic approaches to new development can be used in multiple circumstances and types of issues 

Solve classes of problems
Look for groups that can be solved together – rather than individual diverse problems

Use learning lines
When running ‘pilot’ projects don’t set up special groups with additional resources, try and implement within a normal situation

Develop more problem solvers
Get more people involved in solving problems
Don’t tolerate patching
Leaders must focus and support real permanent solutions rather than look for the quick fix

Don’t push to meet deadlines at all costs
Can you be flexible on deadlines -measure projects by looking at outstanding issues and problems

Don’t reward fire-fighting
Identify and support those colleagues who are good at preventing fires and engage in long-term problem solving.  Don’t give prominence to those colleagues who are constantly putting out fires

And finally

Although it's never easy to move from a fire-fighting mode to an approach which is more proactive - it's only ever going to get done if leaders begin to prioritise resources to address underlying issues - rather than constantly responding with a quick-fix.  Although school leaders may not be able to choose the external or internal pressures that create crises, school leaders can choose how they are going to respond and whether these problems are resolved or just swept under the carpet.


Bohn, R. (2000). Stop Fighting Fires. Harvard Business Review. 78. 4. 82-91.

DfE. (2018). Exploring Teacher Workload: Qualitative Research Report: March 2018. London. Department for Education