Values are things that we generally take for granted. We have our own moral compass and assume that others have the same. Until something happens that makes us question either our own values or someone else’s. Like, for example, the day when my head teacher’s negligence led to a serious safeguarding incident that was brushed under the carpet. Or the days when staff were unfairly suspended but investigations were delayed for months causing unnecessary stress as they weren’t deemed to be a priority by the head teacher. Or the day when my head teacher said that she couldn’t care less what our Teaching Assistants thought (45% of the total staff). Or the many days when any member of staff who wasn’t a teacher was treated like a second-class citizen. Or the days when my attempts to support colleagues in their professional development were deliberately blocked by the head teacher. Or the day that my head teacher manipulated the appointment of a new Chair of Governors whom she felt she could influence for her own personal gain. Several months later, when he had become too professionally challenging towards her, she manipulated him into resigning. That, for me, was the final straw which brought me to the realization that I needed to leave that school. Our values were just too far apart for me to continue working there.
My values are respect (for myself and others), integrity and equality. As this head teacher was my direct line manager, I was in a position to challenge each of these incidences with her and I did. But it’s not always obvious exactly how much power a head teacher has until you challenge them over their decision making. A head teacher has the power to make or break your career. They control how much you earn, what duties you will perform, what training you can access, and how much support you receive in performing your role. In short, they have total power over you as my head teacher had over me. That can leave you feeling very vulnerable and exposed when you decide that you just have to challenge decisions that are unethical, unfair and downright selfish. But I decided that I also needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror in the mornings and I wanted my head teacher to recognize how her personal values, which I perceived to be based on ambition, success, authority and wealth, were increasingly affecting her staff and the school in a detrimental way.
So whilst trying to be as supportive and diplomatic as possible on each occasion, I did challenge my head teacher. I was one of three people who knew the full story on each occasion and I knew that the other two would never challenge her. So I felt I needed to be that 10% braver even though I knew there would be a price to pay personally. So what happened? I challenged her, she dismissed my concerns, and I started the search for a new position. I now work for a head teacher who respects my expertise, listens to my advice and acts on it and whose values are in alignment with my values. I’m much happier and a lot stressed so if you’re facing a values crisis, my advice is to confront it, challenge it and, if necessary, move on. You won’t regret it!