The other week I decided to watch The Secret Lives of Six Year olds. I’m not sure why, as it seems pretty much like being at work. While watching, like a wazzock, I joined in with the Twitter hashtag ‘conversation’, which is not so much a conversation as much as hundreds of people all sitting in a large vacuous hall, shouting at equal volume, their favourite lines or how adorable they find the children.
Some tweets were funny, some endearing and some of them just mean. The below, for example:
The reply made me recall something one of my PGCE tutors once said: “There’s no such thing as a bad child, only a child in a bad situation.” It’s true. No child is born bad and whenever you’re faced with some little tinker, some irritating monster or some annoying imp, even if the most trying circumstance, you need to remind yourself that the child is not inherently a tinker, monster or imp, they’re just from a bad situation.
I’m not sure how old a child has to be before you can decide that they their bad situation has indelibly corrupted them into a genuine ‘nasty little shit’ but for a six year old, that’s too young.
We think of Santa Claus as a benevolent, giving fellow, keeping his eye out to make sure that all the girls and boys have been good, when really it is clear that he should have been keeping a watch a bit closer to home. While he was focused on ensuring that the target of delivering millions of presents in one night is met (something we can all agree that he excels at every year), he has done so at the cost of the happiness of a key member of his staff.
If you look at the Staff Welfare Policy for Llandrindod High School, (which just happened to be the fifth Google result for ‘school staff welfare policy’ and appears to be a fairly indicative of what a school staff welfare policy should look like) the opening paragraphs state that the policy’s general principals are that:
Every member of staff will be treated courteously, with dignity and respect at all times
Every member of staff is entitled to work in an environment free from discrimination or prejudice, be it based on gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or race
Duties and responsibilities relating to staff’s individual roles will be clearly identified
(Llandrindod High School Staff Welfare Policy, 2014: 3)
It is apparent, and I will explain why, that Santa Claus in his single-minded pursuit of his target driven enterprise, systematically failed to address all three of these points.
Robert May’s 1939 study, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, into the working practices of key members of Santa Claus’ senior leadership team makes for very enlightening reading. In the text, May highlights several examples of sustained bullying by a clique of eight reindeer against Rudolph, a younger reindeer with a nasal pigmentation condition. This victimisation appears to be based solely upon this condition and resulted in Rudolph being ‘called names, laughed at and excluded from any reindeer games.’ (May, 1939: 1) Already it is clear that Santa Claus has not ensured that ‘every member of his staff is treated courteously, with respect or dignity’ (Llandrindod High School Staff Welfare Policy, 2014: 3) or that they have been ‘entitled to work in an environment free from discrimination or prejudice.’ (ibid: 3) While skin pigmentation disorder is not listed as one of the protected characteristics in Llandrindod High School’s welfare policy, it is clear that the policy should cover the condition under the umbrella of disability (interestingly, a characteristic that Llandrindod High School themselves have failed to address in their policy).
It could be argued that Santa Claus was not aware of the actions of the senior leader reindeer team and the effect it was having on his newest member of staff, who may have otherwise felt intimidated by the actions of his more experienced colleagues. It is possible that Rudolph felt unable to voice his concerns to his line manager. Indeed, although speculative in this case, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is not uncommon for victimised staff to blame themselves for the actions of others. What makes Santa Claus an ineffective headteacher, however, is that he did not notice something was wrong with his Newly Qualified Reindeer (NQR) despite the fact that it must have been having a detrimental effect on his workplace performance.
One can only assume that Santa Claus was so focused upon achieving the highly challenging floor-level target of delivering presents to ‘just over 526,000,000 Christian kids under the age of 14 in the world who celebrate Christmas on December 25th’ that he lost sight of whether his team were able to deliver this in a way that would not negatively affect the very staff members he was expecting to deliver it. Some of the blame for this must also be laid at the door of the inspectorate (OFMAS) for creating a climate of fear and pressure across the sector, with such a heavy focus on results and present attainment.
Regardless of the above issues, if we refer to point three of Llandrindod High School’s welfare policy, it is clear that Santa Claus has not ‘clearly identified [Rudolph’s] individual duties and responsibilities’ (Llandrindod High School Staff Welfare Policy, 2014: 3). Why was he employed? The sole responsibility of Santa’s reindeer is in the sleigh pulling department and, although Rudolph has been employed as part of this team, until recently he had not been tasked with fulfilling any duties. It is almost understandable that resentment towards Rudolph would have grown if his colleagues perceived him to not be pulling his weight within the larger group. However, at no point does this make the bullying actions of Rudolph’s colleagues acceptable or appropriate.
Rudolph’s case reaches some form of resolution during one ‘foggy Christmas Eve,’ (May, 1939: 1) when Santa Claus finally calls on him to demonstrate his proficiency and unique worth within the team. After this event, the rest of the reindeers finally accept him as one of their own. However, prior to this, Santa Claus should have implemented regular performance management meetings where issues and concerns from both sides of the table could be addressed and dealt with, in a considered and professional manner. Had Rudolph had the opportunity to raise his concerns about his treatment, it would be hoped that Santa would have had a statutory policy for staff discipline and grievance or, if Rudolph was found to not be fulfilling his basic duties, that the North Pole would have a standard approach to staff capability procedures. Sadly, it seems unlikely that Santa Claus would have had these measures in place. Questions should also be asked about why there was also no reindeer union representation in the workplace.
In conclusion, Santa Claus would make an awful headteacher – or indeed any manager – because he has become so blinded to the larger picture of hitting targets (set by external agencies that come with their own unique set of pressures) that he had forgotten the importance of ensuring the happiness and support for all of his staff. By losing sight of the minutiae of his day-to-day operation, Santa Claus allowed divisions to appear within his team, which, although they may not have an immediate effect on achieving targets, did have the potential to sow seeds of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that could create far bigger problems at a later date. In spite of all the external pressures of the position; targets, OFMAS, parental expectations and concern over compromising situations with children’s mothers, it is one of a headteacher’s responsibilities to ensure the welfare of all of his staff so that they are able to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. If this approach is taken, the reindeers will feel they are valued and will want to hit their targets, rather than have to hit them.
Last week I wrote about how it would save time and energy if lesson planning was stripped to the bare bones of what was needed. A couple of days later I went to a school that used this for their maths planning:
Look at it! It’s like War and Peace. And that’s only the first page! All that detail for a single lesson. It is so dense that I had to read, re-read, re-read again and then still keep returning to it to try and extract the key information hidden from the extraneous fluff.
Admittedly, it’s from a pre-planned scheme of work, so the inclusion of so much detail is understandable (so that the company producing it can tick all the potential boxes any class might face) but the teacher has not stripped it back at all. She has even included additional information about when and where stuff should happen, in one solid block of text.
The teacher was lovely and the class were very nice but that planning…when you get something like that and 30 children are about to walk in the door it’s like staring at this: