Unprofessionalism breeds unprofessionalism


I saw something on Twitter about how people speak about children and it has reminded me of a post I wanted to write.

Over my years of teaching I have met people who have varying levels of professionalism. In this I mean how they behave in school (in front of students, with other staff or in offices/staffroom), what they say (about other staff, students, parents etc.) and their overall outlook of the school itself. Schools are unique places to work. It is really tough to stay professional at all times especially when unexpected or bizarre events test you out.

The thing that has really saddened me over the years is where ‘young’ and impressionable teachers have worked alongside teachers and leaders whose professional behaviour is variable and in some cases unacceptable. They have then seen this as accepted practice and go on to replicate the behaviours.

In the most extreme cases, new leaders have watched poor senior leadership and have copied them. It is exacerbated where these people have not worked elsewhere and seem to think these behaviours are acceptable practice and how all schools work. They’ve never worked with an inspirational leader. They’ve not worked with someone whose professional behaviour is exemplary.

I will not claim to have had 100% perfect professionalism throughout my career. I am embarrassed and saddened to admit this. I too have succumbed to peer pressure in accepting or not challenging poor practice or improper comments. However as much as possible I try to reflect on how certain people in my career, who I hugely respect due to their professionalism, would behave and what they would say in a situation. I have the luxury to have worked with some inspirational leaders. Some people have not and the sad spiral of unprofessional behaviour has the potential to carry on infinitely unless they realise this. Even sadder is where these people are seemingly rewarded with promotion or extra responsibilities because they have made senior leaders think they are worthy as they have replicated their own poor behaviour.

Where unprofessionalism is practised in groups it often becomes a ‘You’re one of us’ situation. People who may point out that what was said might be inappropriate or even dare to question behaviours become the enemy and cannot be trusted. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing in these situations. You have to be a strong person to disagree. You have to put your neck on the line. Is it easier to conform and be accepted or to speak out and risk isolation? And if it’s serious, whistle blowers rarely survive.

I don’t really know what my conclusion is on this. Solutions? Try our best to be as professional as we can be even if surrounded by some that aren’t? And if there is anyone reading this who has no idea what I’m talking about then you have been really blessed in the schools you’ve worked in. That, or you’re blind to it….

2 thoughts on “Unprofessionalism breeds unprofessionalism

  1. It’s a curious one this: a kind of rhetorical mousetrap. I was involved in the discussion on Twitter and I understood the central clash to be whether or not it was beneficial to ban swearing about children. I took the position that, whilst I don’t condone swearing about children, I don’t see the point in having a set of rules about it (one such rule being, for example: “you are not allowed to swear about children”). However the opposing argument seemed to conclude that if you were against having a rule, you were pro-“swearing about children”.

    Yes, I accept your point that if opinion-leaders and authority figures are swearing vociferously about particular children then it sets a terrible example. And I agree that to change that situation would require bravery and professional risk. However, a blanket rule is the other extreme, where the very existence of the rule could electrify an already pressurised environment.

    Many schools, I would guess, have an unspoken agreement. If someone bursts into the staffroom and says “that bl@£$y Callum blah blah blah”, they might calm the colleague down, and let them get whatever is necessary off their chest. However, they might show greater professional concern if this occurs frequently and it begins to sour the staffroom.

    The fact is some schools have an unwritten rule, some have a written rule and some have no rule. In each case, there are tensions on either side. My preference is the ongoing negotiation by consent of the unwritten rule. We are all responsible for the morale of the staffroom – the more rules we have, the more we abdicate that responsibility and make our lives a little less free. And I don’t mean free to swear about children, but free to be fallible.

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