Sunday, 28 February 2016

Blaze Your Trail

The word 'autonomy' comes from the Greek 'auto' meaning "self" and 'nomos' meaning "law", so together the word means "one who gives oneself one's own law".

But I know too many teachers wanting autonomy who are waiting around expecting to be given it. But if the definition of the word is anything to go by, that's not how it works.

For example, many teachers who are bogged down with work are not willing to speak to their leaders to ask for some extra time. They worry that the answer will be no. Or they believe there is no point in asking because someone else once did and their request was rejected. My answer to these objections is that you don't know until you've tried. If you are a hard worker and have a good reputation then most heads will be inclined to listen to your concerns and find solutions. And what's the worst that could happen? I can't imagine many headteachers who would start capability procedures just because a teacher asks for a morning out of class, even if they do turn down the request.

Being an autonomous teacher means being a go-getter. Go get that extra time you need, go get the help from a colleague, go get that next job if your boss really is that bad.

In the business world employees are much more used to autonomously blazing their own trail, whereas many teachers expect to be led down a well-trodden path. My wife, who worked in the private sector before we had our children, and who is much more savvy than I am when it come to employment, has shown me another way. I have written proposals asking for TLR awards, I have suggested that a role be created for me after pointing out a need in school, I have asked for the advice and training I've needed in order to further my career. After a few years of waiting around for things to happen, becoming an autonomous go-getter was the only solution.

Even the best heads need signals from their staff before they can cater for their needs. Start sending out those signals - and make them obvious. Make your signal as obvious as walking into the office and explaining your problem and suggesting your desired solution. Go get what you want - blaze your trail.


  1. I thoroughly agree that in order to get things done, it's often necessary to make them happen. In order to get the best for our students, we can't wait around if we know there's a solution, and we can't just accept stuff we know won't work.
    I would add a word of caution, though, from personal experience. Being a go-getter in a culture that doesn't value it can be dangerous and foolhardy. To put the onus on staff to be go-getters without appreciating the need for a change of culture at the top at best perpetuates a top-down culture that absorbs the best ideas and people but is only exposed to them effectively by chance, and at worst encourages staff to take personal risks with their own health and well-being.
    A leadership culture that doesn't seek to understand the value of what is being done by go-getters but simply permits it because, well, *something* is being done, is the culture of leaders who can't and won't support the implementation or management of that change, whatever it might be. Go-getters can be left to drown in a pool perceived to be of their own making, and their value and the value of their ideas lost to the school and to the students.
    So be a go-getter, but if you get to the top, remember to create a new culture: one in which becoming a go-getter isn't the result of a cathartic personal realisation but a normal part of your professional experience; one in which each new idea is deliberately selected and actively supported.
    Leaders: go get the go-getters.

    1. Really good points - thanks for adding. I fear the one post every day thing did make for some hasty thoughts!

      Leaders do have a great responsibility and I like your point about making a difference when you get to the top - if all the go-getters get in to leadership then hopefully that'll happen.

      Do you think that leaders rely too much on having proactive members of staff in some schools? Do you think in those situations leaders are absolving themselves of responsibility because they know things will get done?

  2. I think the whole system relies heavily on proactive people, but in schools that do, my experience isn't of managers absolving themselves of responsibility, so much as a culture that misjudges what constitutes a priority. Everybody is very effectively delivering on their responsibilities, but well-being is not one of them - neither their staff's nor their own.
    I know this isn't the case everywhere, but that it can be the case anywhere, in my opinion, is everybody's problem.

    1. I definitely agree - I am blessed to work in a place where we all work very hard but also have an eye on our own, and each others' wellbeing.
      It does get cloudy where priorities come in because everyone has slightly different priorities. Clear comms the key here?