Thursday, March 17, 2016

Unfair treatment

Generally I think we do a good job of promoting the responsible use of technology at school, but of course there are times when students do things that are unwise or inappropriate and I'm called upon to step in.  At the start of every school year I take the time to talk to students about our Responsible Use Policy and with our older students about issues such as security, privacy and cyberbullying.

Sadly it's not only students who have to deal with bullying.  I've had colleagues in different schools who have been subject to bullying by their students - for example setting up a fake Facebook account in their name, or having photos of themselves posted publicly with inappropriate comments.  The reaction of schools to these incidents has varied and has not always been supportive.

A friend posted a link to this article about workplace bullying this week.  It contains useful information, especially the bulleted checklists.  If you think you are being bullied I would definitely recommend reading the whole article as I'm giving just a short summary of it here.

Bullying at work happens when there is a concerted attempt to undermine a person's reputation, self-esteem, self-confidence and ability to perform.  When I saw this happen in a previous school, the teacher involved was made to feel useless and responsible for the situation she found herself in with her students.  Because the admin did not support her, the psychological impact was that she became less and less able to do a good job, which led to more bullying.  She resigned, but in a way it was constructive dismissal because the school could have intervened when the issue first came to light and put an end to what was happening.

I've watched this happen as part of an appraisal process too.  While evaluation can be very valuable, providing data to help you become more self-directed as to how to improve your performance, it can also be done in a harmful way.  For example, I've seen it used to build a case against someone, even though the teacher himself was at the time unaware that he was doing anything "wrong".  By the time an evaluation meeting was held, numerous trumped up allegations were  put on the table, and some colleagues had even been coerced into making statements about his performance. Meetings like this are a "done deal" with the teacher involved being unable to present his or her own viewpoints, and coming away feeling that they have been stitched up.

In schools teachers who are bullied may find themselves marginalized and treated differently - often being deliberately excluded or denied information or resources that would help them to enhance their performance.  I have also seen people being overloaded with "busy work" or being given tasks to do that were way below their abilities.  The article talks about people having their responsibilities increased by their authority removed.  Teachers being bullied often have the feeling they are being controlled, for example through micro-management.  Maybe they don't have access to a policy manual (at a previous school I told that the policy manual existed only in the head of the director of the school!) so there is no due process, or maybe they do not have a job description for a position they have been moved into, so are unclear of exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  Sometimes in an attempt to steamroller a new initiative through, teachers are given unrealistic goals.  At the same time they may be constantly criticised both to their face and behind their back, and they may be lied to and lied about.  Finally something that I've seen happen on a number of occasions is that a teacher has been invited for a chat, only to find out that in fact what is happening is a disciplinary meeting designed to either get them to resign or to dismiss them.  Because this is simply a "chat" these teachers are often alone in such meetings without anyone representing them, supporting them or even taking notes.  The threat is always to "go quietly" or else not get a reference.

This sounds a bit extreme, and thankfully the vast majority of international schools where I have worked have not been subject to workplace bullying.  However I felt it was still important to write this post, as there are many dodgy schools with dodgy management, and if this post reaches out and gives hope to any teacher being bullied I feel it will have been worth it.

Photo Credit: ucumari photography via Compfight cc

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