The Westbrook Middle school has 157 students, and teaches six, seventh, and eighth grades. There are seven sixth grade teachers, and each one has the responsibility of teaching one to two core subjects and five teachers have home room responsibilities. The other two teachers, are Core Leaders and responsible for coordinating activities and working with the assistant principle to oversee the academic progress of students and identify improvements as needed. This discussion is from the view point of the core leaders who are responsible for working with the assistant principle (AP).
While the AP has decision making authority, she is too involved in administrative tasks such as ordering copy paper, supplies, and searching the Internet for deals to be effective. When she is not involved in these types of task, she is undermining the authority and organization of the core leaders. Her husband is the sixth grade teacher and longtime friends with the other sixth grade teacher and two of the seventh and eighth grade faculty. The AP’s husband, Mark believes he should have a role as Core Leader. He is quite influential with his wife and jealous of initiatives the Core Leaders try to implement. He intimidates several of the teacher aides, and the new eighth grade teacher by making them believe he has influence with the AP. They fear him because they believe he can make them loose their jobs, but they don’t exactly respect him because they feel he unfairly abuses his authority. The husband has his own agenda and he promotes it with the hope that he can move into a core leader position.
The Core leaders are concerned that the student body is not progressing as they should be based on the budget and resources they feel are available. It is always a problem, even when the suggestions are appropriate, to get buy in from teachers and the AP. The principal expects the AP to carry out his directives, but she is timid and has a difficult time communicating effectively.
Core leader A is very charismatic and knows how to work around the AP most of the time. She is very in tuned with the multi-cultural student body and has been successful at reaching out to the parents and raising the percentage of parent participation at meetings and other school events. Because core leader A is so successful, she is able at times to reach out directly to the principal to promote some of her important initiatives. Core leader A has a great relationship with the teacher aides, the office staff, and the student body loves her. She freely compliments and encourages others. She is seen as a SME (subject matter expert) and is approached for clarification on academic and administrative matters.
The Westbrook principal is ultimately responsible for the implementation of ensuring that his school meets the achievements set by the school board. He has a great relationship with the AP, but is unaware of her incompetence with regard to unifying the efforts of the core leaders with the teaching staff. However, he will listen when approached and will override the decisions of the AP when necessary. While the AP’s husband is very vocal with his cohorts and wife, he rarely says anything disparaging about core leader A to the principal. He regards her highly.
However, the lack of communication has ultimately resulted in a less than optimum situation for the students. The principal has the right to make policy changes on the behalf of the school. Westbrook is the only middle school in the district and serves three small suburban communities. The school is given a specific budget which is appropriate given the small size of the school. The principal has the final say regarding spending, curriculum, hiring, and the overall operation of the school. Unfortunately, internally there remains a constant tug of war between the core leaders and the AP and her husband. It is an unnecessary problem driven by jealousy and a lack of leadership. Westbrook is a small school but the alliances and the folly of unfair politics are alive and well regarding the decision making process.
While the principal has the ultimate responsibility for conflict resolution, he has failed miserably. Instead, he makes too many decisions on the fly and has on occasion reversed decisions, because someone he respected more, felt differently. While he is overall a nice person, he can be influenced not only by the academic staff, but also by parents who donate monies and help out in other ways. The AP, the core leaders, and the principal often make decisions independently, when they should be made jointly. These decisions are sometimes communicated untimely, and cause confusion.
Leadership and Effective Communication
One of the missing components in the leadership style of Westbrook Middle school is the principal’s inability to effectively communicate. Tomlinson in a 2015 article said there are certain characteristics of an effective communicator. “They spoke and acted from deep conviction; Their communications and actions cultivated trust. What—and how—they communicated helped others develop a sense of agency and competence. They remembered to express gratitude” (Tomlinson 2015 p. 90). These attributes are very telling regarding Westbrook’s principal. While he is well liked, his convictions are not obvious, he is not exactly trustworthy, and he did not offer rewards tangible or intangible to his staff. Therefore, instead of the power being in the hands of the principal, several others are running the school.
The objective, when considering a small school is that the efforts of all involved are collaborative in nature. Each person has weaknesses, but also strengths that they bring to the table. One must understand how to align the strengths of individuals to achieve mutual goals (Jones 2006). Therefore, the objective of Westbrook’s principal is to meet with each teacher. In order to make sure the meetings are meaningful, the agenda of the meeting should be planned by asking each participant the same questions designed to elicit the information needed. The only variables are for the AP and the core leaders. Allow time in each meeting for an open ended closing comments. Taking the time to listen, and drawing from the perspective of others will help the process of effective communication going forward.
Creating Upward Influence in Organizations
People who are seen as problem solvers in an organization are considered assets. Core leader A has a wide view of the problem, and she understands that it is in the best interest of the school that all parties be aligned towards one goal. Despite the AP husband’s leadership style he is an excellent sixth grade teacher and is why the principal felt that his expertise is in the classroom. Therefore, as a core leader, the goal is to bring the teachers together and uniting them towards one goal. Core leader A went directly Mark to have a candid conversation and to gain his trust and move him closer to agreement.
Making the initiative to reconcile with a disgruntled peer is very important. Most often that person is surprised and the problem is usually not as difficult to overcome as originally anticipated. Leaders, even before they are designated as such, are able to move others towards agreement and to make them feel good about themselves without being ingratiatory (Chaturvedi & Srivastava 2014). Core leader A also used her influence with the principal to have team building sessions over the next few months. One of the first things they did was to initiate a social outing for the teachers, assistants, and administrative staff in an effort to create a better work environment.
The objective of any person in an organization regardless of the political environment is to be seen as one that thinks objectively and takes ownership of his or her position. One must recognize the political climate of an organization and make decisions and moves appropriately and timely. Therefore listening before speaking and becoming an astute observer will go a long way in anyone’s career.