(This is the final part of an 8-part series reflecting on the book, Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving.)
In a school setting the tasks of management are usually thought of as the procedural and organisational tasks like timetabling, organising and running assemblies, publishing assessment schedules and reports, and the myriad of other tasks that together help a school run smoothly. Because schools are large organisations, management and leadership roles may be distributed and involve staff at many levels including administrative assistants.
Contrary to this traditional understanding of management the book Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving lists five essential management roles that are not limited to procedural tasks. These are:
2. shepherding or managing staff welfare
3. managing expectations
4. supervising or managing conflict
Apart from planning, the other ‘tasks’ listed often sit outside of our construct of management, perhaps because they are so people-focused and can also easily be considered as a part of leadership. There are, however, helpful insights to be gained from considering these topics as part of active ‘management’.
Teachers are automatically role models for their students, whether in the classroom, on the sporting field or in a leadership position. This is captured in the saying ‘students learn their teachers’ as well as what the teacher is teaching! As teachers move into leadership positions their behaviour has a more direct impact on other staff members in terms of what they model or live out. In all areas of teaching, modelling should include:
• acknowledging weaknesses and mistakes,
• sharing how one handles weakness,
• repentance and faith during trials, but using wisdom and discernment as to the appropriateness of the disclosure.
This is not easy in a culture that wants hero leaders and where being a hero to students may be a real possibility. We are encouraged in this endeavour by the way the Bible portrays the weaknesses of many leaders (eg. David and Paul) (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.225-226) and the call of today’s culture for authentic leadership.
Managing staff welfare is more than just sorting out problems. It involves active listening, encouraging, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 15) and at times counselling. It begins by knowing staff and proactively seeking their good. Knowing staff is facilitated by active listening, which requires a level of emotional engagement that may be difficult. Proactively seeking the development of staff also involves creating an environment where staff are encouraged to explore their gifts, test out different roles and skills, and are encouraged in their efforts. They should also be allowed to freely acknowledge if they don’t do things well. Speaking the truth in love may at times mean saying uncomfortable and challenging words, and confronting difficulties, but this is far better than holding out false hope, which is discouraging and dishonest and leads to broken trust and denying the staff member the opportunity to learn and to improve (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p229).
Managing expectations from self and others involves understanding and being who we are, as opposed to who we want to be. This means developing a responsible understanding of our limited capabilities and accepting that God is in control of our calling and career, and trusting Him to use us for His will and purposes (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.231). We may have to disappoint ourselves on occasions and not teach an amazing lesson!
To manage the expectations of others, whether those of students, parents, colleagues, leaders or the Board, it is helpful to know what the expectations are. As the adage goes ‘you cannot please all the people all of the time’, so managing expectations means knowing the expectations, considering priorities, making choices and having strategic conversations to validate the expectations that are not always met.
Conflict is inevitable in any organisation and can become a vehicle for personal and organisational growth if handled well. It cannot be ignored and avoiding dealing with it will only make it fester. Quick solutions and imposed resolutions or false resolutions do not result in growth. Intentionally embracing conflict supervision and resolution as an opportunity to help people grow is both challenging and time-consuming but the results are worth the investment (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.234).
If our concern is to see the conflict as a pathway to help others grow and mature we should take a stance of curiosity, asking questions to seek to understand rather than showing others we are correct (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.235).
The task of planning involves both big picture planning and day to day planning, and will occur on different levels throughout the school, whether vision development, leadership selection, selecting and restructuring the staff team, reviewing governance structures, or planning lesson sequences, assessment and reporting. Many areas of planning are best achieved by a cooperative effort and this brings a challenge to deal with our own learned impatience. Cooperative planning, shared ownership and mutual regard which all develop trust, all take time (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.239).
In the workplace, it is difficult to separate leadership and management as both contribute to the role of principal, deputy, faculty leaders and classroom teachers. There is much we can learn that is relevant to every role.
One principal that underlies much of the wisdom contained in this book is: 'when leaders fail to develop others they actually harm their own effectiveness' (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.240).
Burns, B, Chapman, T.D., & Guthrie, D. C. (2013). Resilient Ministry: What Pastors told us about surviving and thriving. (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press).
Resilient Ministry is available for purchase from The Wandering Bookseller
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.