One of the things that many private schools are particularly good at as a group is communicating with each other and with parents and students with high affinity. It’s often noticeable to visitors and can be a selling point for new parents and students. It’s something that schools should definitely maintain and strengthen.
However, if certain fundamentals are overlooked, this high affinity can be violated and undermined. These fundamentals are covered by the broad term ‘professionalism’ but this needs to be defined a bit more when it comes to a school environment The particular thing I am trying to address here is the relationship with paying customers, the parents, and how schools deal with them on a day-to-day basis but also in the longer term. These things often aren’t really adequately covered in existing school policy and teachers may feel that they need more guidance as to what is meant by ‘professionalism’. The same points also cover other aspects of being a staff member in a school and extend into the realms of work relationships with students and other staff.
Professionalism at school should include the following
•learning every aspect of the job, rather than skipping the learning process whenever possible.
•carefully discovering what is needed and wanted rather than just assuming it.
•looking, speaking and dressing like a professional, rather than being sloppy in appearance and speech. (This includes the point about watching what you say and how you say it to paying customers. Teachers have be aware that whatever they say and the manner in which they say it can be misinterpreted and create problems for seniors and for the school. Being professional means always being able to be accountable for communications with others, parents, students and other staff.)
•remaining focused and clear-headed even under pressure rather than getting confused and distracted.
•not letting mistakes slide by and jumping into difficult assignments rather than trying to get out of them.
•remaining level-headed and optimistic instead of getting upset and assuming the worst.
•facing up to other people’s upsets and problems rather than avoiding them.
•being enthusiastic, cheerful, interested rather than hostile, resentful, fearful, or a victim.
•persisting until the objective is achieved rather than giving up at the first opportunity.
•producing more than expected rather than just enough to get by, and consistently producing a high-quality product or service.
These would be expected standards to be upheld in any post in private schools, and for the most part they are.
Where things can go wrong is when they are neglected. This happens usually when staff forget that they have an important hat to wear and that they are often the primary communication line to a customer who can be paying thousands of pounds to have their child educated at the school when a comparable free version of the same service is available down the road. Teachers are accountable for this not only in terms of what happens in the classroom but what happens in the corridors and on the pathways and in the dining areas and so forth.
Like it or not, they are even accountable for what they say and do when they are not even at the school but bump into an inquisitive or even concerned parent in the supermarket or elsewhere.
‘Loose tongues’, which means not only the inappropriateness of what might be said but the inappropriate manner in which it might be said, can and has caused difficulties throughout a school’s history with paying parents, who can choose to pull their children out and send them elsewhere with relative ease.
An example of this is where a parent is told, in casual conversation with a staff member, the ins and outs of another parent’s business with the school. This can be explosively destructive later. Apart from being unprofessional, it’s just wrong.
Does this mean that we must ‘shut down’ communications and restrict staff from free and easy relationships with others? On the surface it looks like that, yes -but a deeper look will reveal that the effect of being more professional in communications will actually have the opposite effect not only with parents but with students and with each other. Curtailing communications so that a school's approach is altogether more professional and purposeful, in alignment with the above guidelines, will actually markedly raise the affinity of those to whom staff speak.