Every school has its own atmosphere and those at the top set the climate. The administration set the tone for the school and when they create an unstable atmosphere, staff do not know what to expect from one day to the next. This causes a lot of unnecessary stress and the school climate deteriorates.
When there are good headteachers or department heads, they will work to shield their teachers from unnecessary chaos and stress. Often this will involve making unclear or contradictory directives (from admin) clear and consistent. Doing this is difficult.
When busy work and other frustrating (educationally empty) tasks are sent down from above that must be done, good department leaders can clearly communicate where the directives are coming from, “The office says..Administration wants….I am just relaying this message as accurately as I can…” Then, after communicating the message the leader works with teachers to accomplish the task in the most time effective manner possible (because they understand that teaching is important and the whims of administrators are something that must be dealt with). Doing this helps create an environment of trust and respect between the teachers and their immediate superiors.
The chain continues with good teachers. Good teachers will work to shield their students from the chaos sowed by administration. This is done by maintaining a positive approach in the classroom and by focusing on academics, not bringing school politics into the classroom. Students should focus on learning and applying the course content. They don’t need to know how upset the teacher is with certain school policies.
The issue and this is what makes good administration so valuable, is that even with good department heads and good teachers, there is only so much they can do to combat the climate set by administration. Frustrations and stress will show themselves, it is inevitable. And the more perceptive students will pick this up. And then the climate’s atmosphere seeps into the students and their interactions.
However, just like our Earth’s climate, our school’s climate can change! Changing climate is difficult and it takes time. The quickest way would be for administration to have a change of heart, gain competence, or be replaced. But all of this is out of a teacher’s control. We need to focus on what we can control while keeping perspective. We need to keep perspective because we need to be grounded in reality as opposed to idealism or pessimism.
Teachers do not have control over the school climate, but we do have control over our classroom’s weather. We first need to choose to and put in the work to be consistent, positive, and academically focused. Then we can work with other teachers to help them develop the same traits. If enough teachers buy in, the weather will consistently be better, and, with time, the climate may change.
However, fighting the climate is an uphill battle, and there are people who do not like climate change (those who have found success in the system and administration). Be prepared for pushback (“Why would we change this? We have always done it this way.”) and blowback (You could lose your bonus or job if you push too hard. It is very important to be calm and tactful.), two steps forward then three back. Change is messy, but it can often be better than more of the same.
My department head has been invaluable. Hopefully yours is too.