FE culture & paternalism by Jayne Stigger

FE always looks forward, maybe it’s time to stop and reflect? Do we need more Principals with vision like Salt, Cadbury and Lever, to enable culture changes to turn FE into ‘a model village’? A supportive and improving community like those built by the enlightened industrialists to house their workers. The workers were provided for; their education, health and welfare. Is paternalism as important a quality as fiscal proficiency? FE staff work hard, they constantly undergo challenges and external revolution impacts on us all: Government focus changes, followed by funding and policy changes and we’re urged to do more, with less. Internal revolution takes a little longer, and it’s not always easy.

Some fly; they adapt and evolve quickly, rising through the creative and technical challenges seemingly without effort. Others remain mired in their past … ‘it was good enough then’ is their motto.

People who find change difficult become resistant, the more they are urged to change the more they dig their heels in. It can be hugely damaging to the ego to find that your employer no longer approves of the way you do your job. Issues raised are taken personally, not professionally and the need to change, to evolve is seen as an attack, not support. They’re frightened of change, to let go of the rudder and alter course. They want to change but it’s scary; they’ve already been labelled as ‘failing’ (and that was something they were good at), what if they fail at this too?

Staff busy doing their jobs and generally doing them well, don’t tend to think about morale and culture except when they feel overwhelmed. Staffroom gossip fuels a spark into a roaring flame of resentment, giving a department a miasmic air of gloom.

Changing morale and culture is not just the responsibility of the Principal, it is up to each of us to play a part, make the effort;  to communicate, offer a simple act of kindness, share resources and ideas, ask how they are and value those we work with. Offering a helping hand when we’re all flat out isn’t easy. Not doing so is like walking past the same homeless person every day and not giving them a spare pair of gloves. It is inhuman.

We can do this too: arrange good CPD, talk to each other (up and down the pay-scale), work together, not just share a building. If we don’t, FE will become the ‘IronBridge’ of our generation, preserved for all time as a once great idea whose time has passed.

We can do it, by believing that the grumpy old bugger in the corner of the staff room who repels all offers of help and ruins your SAR data with his lack of achievement was once a great teacher who has just lost his way and if you smile often enough, one day, he’ll smile back.


Posted by Jayne Stigger