Recommended Good Practice
INTO and management have identified the following key practices as being very important in the promotion of positive working relations. The presence or absence of these practices within the school can determine the school climate and culture and the dynamics of working relations among staff.
Regular, transparent, open and direct communication should be encouraged. As part of that process, staff may wish to raise issues, as appropriate, with each other or with the principal teacher/management. Each party should be open to hearing and addressing counter view points and to responding in a constructive manner to any matters raised. There should be regular staff meetings (ie, at least one per term) where staff are fully aware of the agenda in advance and given an opportunity to submit items for discussion. There should be clarity about the issues discussed, the decisions taken and the agreed follow-up action. At the following staff meeting, minutes should be adopted and a report given on follow up action.
Processes of Decision Making
A hallmark of positive staff working relations is the manner by which decisions are made within the school. Each staff should consider, discuss and if appropriate, review its processes of decision making. In some instances decisions will be relatively automatic, particularly if governed by clearly established rules and regulations, while in other cases, decisions may be made on the basis of existing custom and practice. Alternatively and increasingly, staffs are called upon to make decisions on the basis of consultation and consensus within the school community. This is particularly the case in drafting school policies, e.g. discipline, home/school links, RSE, etc.
The processes of decision making should give due regard to the role of the principal teacher and the board of management in accordance with DES Circular 16/’73 (PDF) and relevant legislation. In order to foster collaborative decision making, members of staff should be willing to make constructive contributions, to listen and respect each other’s viewpoints, to be prepared to be flexible and to compromise if necessary and to uphold the majority decision. Those chairing staff meetings should encourage such open and constructive discussions.
Effective School Policies and Procedures
All staffs should be aware of and have access to copies of school policies and procedures covering the curricular and administrative areas. Administrative policies cover such areas as dealing with parental complaints (complaints procedure), dealing with parents (home/school links), disciplining pupils, bullying among pupils, supervision, dealing with child abuse etc. There should be school policies on a wide variety of administrative matters and these should be implemented fairly and consistently and in an open and transparent manner. It is in the staff’s interests also to ensure that such policies and procedures are approved and adopted by the school’s board of management.
Each member of staff performs a different role in the school and each is fully entitled to be treated with professional respect and with dignity. The principal teacher is both a staff member and a team leader with overall responsibility for the day to day activities in the school. Particular functions and responsibilities may be delegated to the other management personnel in the school, eg deputy principal, assistant principal and special duties teachers. As well as being responsible for their individual classes each teacher also has a clear responsibility for the implementation of school policies.
A Sense of Fairness
Individual staff members should be aware of the importance of demonstrating a sense of fair play, tolerance and goodwill. Exercising sound judgement based on relevant information, common sense and reasonableness are also significant factors in promoting positive staff relations. For example, deciding to compromise on a matter rather than holding steadfast, can often be the wisest and most sensible thing to do.
There are certain behaviours which are not acceptable among staff members and which create negative staff relations. Such behaviours include, workplace bullying, sexual harassment, rudeness, aggressiveness, offensive language, threatening or intimidating behaviour, victimisation and harassment. Each member of staff should respect the integrity and dignity of his/her colleagues.
Further, in relation to adult bullying and sexual harassment, management and INTO recommend, that each board of management/school adopt a policy and procedure which would include a clear statement that any such behaviour is not acceptable within the school. A complaint of sexual harassment or bullying may result, following investigation, in disciplinary action.
Conflict generally arises, where two or more people disagree over issues of organisational substance and/or experience some antagonism towards each other. Principal teachers/management may spend significant amounts of time dealing with conflict situations, either as a third party in trying to resolve matters or as one of the parties to the conflict. In so far as the school as a workplace is concerned, it is important to recognise that: a) over a period of time conflict is inevitable; and b) that it is critical to resolve conflict at the earliest opportunity and before it is allowed to fester. In the vast majority of cases, teachers deploy conflict resolution skills, informally, effectively and constructively, such as:
- identifying the source of conflict;
- addressing the issue early and in a constructive manner;
- putting forward options for resolution which may include reaching compromises;
- acknowledging if errors have been made and likewise accepting that errors may have been made by another party or that misunderstandings may have occurred;
- accepting solutions whether as a compromise or otherwise;
- closing the matter; and
- moving on.
It is recommended that each staff foster a culture of open communication and debate, where conflict can be aired and dealt with constructively, speedily and in a reasonable manner and, if possible, without recourse to the procedures set out.