The Importance of Relationships in Creating a Positive School Culture

A principal was once discussing with us the trials and tribulation that he was going through in trying to ‘disengage’ from a difficult member of his teaching staff, perhaps one of the most disagreeable duties that a Principal is faced with. In the course of the conversation he made a statement that I found to be profound at the time and one that stayed with me. What he said in relation to this situation was that; “good relationships cover a multitude of sins”.

The problem that this staff member was creating within the school was not of lack of commitment or lack of subject knowledge or even poor pedagogical approach. No, the problem was that there was a total inability of the teacher to interact in a way with the students so that that felt that they were cared for in at even a minimal level. The approach was wonderfully organised but legalistic and officious with the consequence being a relationally toxic learning environment which the teacher expected the principal to fix. The other consequence was that parents of students in this teacher’s classes were looking for the exit door.

A school environment is primarily not about buildings, playgrounds or carparks but about the social environment created by the different strata of relationship that exist in a school.

Perhaps the key relationship is the one that is described above. However equally important to school culture is the other relationships that make up the school environment e.g. Principal-staff, Principal-Executive Team, staff-parents and of course Board-Principal. All of these relationships have their own dynamic The challenge of maintaining healthy and appropriate relationships is made more challenging by the intensity of activity that the school environment entails. In other words, the key activity of the college is contained within around 39-40 weeks of the year and within a much shorter daily time span than most enterprises. Such an intensity, with strict timelines such as assessment deadlines, is a recipe for potential tension within the relationships between school participants.

If a potential exists for tensions to arise, then what can be done to relieve these pressures? The first obvious way that any organisational study consultant would come up with is to ensure that the lines of communication are kept open. This can be done sometimes very efficiently and on a daily bases without a continual need for time consuming “D and M’s’. For instance, administrative and support staff can ensure that changes to procedure, however minor, are always communicated to staff in a timely manner and that such things as emails, phone messages and the like are at least acknowledged even though the substance may not be able to be addressed at the time. Such timely responses show respect and without a lot of effort may help to prevent relational issues. In my years as a Principal, I was continually surprised how a quick response to the urgent email or phone call to a serious and urgent parental concern would so often go towards solving the issue. The parent respected the fact that you were concerned enough to give them a quick response. The relationship was maintained and the solution more often than not followed.

In conclusion, if we return to our example at the beginning, it is important to employ those who display high EQ abilities as much as IQ abilities. The price can be high if we dismiss this aspect of the school culture.