Beneath the Cracks Lie the Colours

We are delighted to introduce this guest blog post and artwork from teacher David Tidswell, who is clearly an insightful blogger and talented artist. 

I use to run. I ran slowly, but I ran. As all runners do, I faced injury. I have bound my ankles and knees tightly to alleviate the strain on my joints. It worked. It worked so well that I could enjoy strapless strides for weeks…until I couldn’t anymore. When the pain reappeared I re-strapped. Re-strap, run, repeat…until again I couldn’t anymore. I never looked at where this pain was coming from, what was I doing wrong and how could I change? Covering up the injuries that were a symptom of bad technique not only ignored the cause but exacerbated it.

Schools can be like runners, clambering to cover up obvious injuries. We use the first-aid kit of policy and procedure to cover wounds that need air to heal. We don’t look at the root cause of problems. We don’t have the difficult conversations which need to be had. Why? For fear of conflict? For fear of discovering the truth of our organisational cultures? Nowhere is this more notable than dealing with bullying and incivility in our workplace.

Teaching is a person-centric profession and with people come relationships. The word relationship often brings with it connotations of companionship, friendship and support but relationships can be toxic. A toxic relationship is not only one between two people who don’t see eye to eye. Toxic relationships can exist between people who are friends. Toxicity can lie in the content of the conversation not the absence or presence of it. What do we talk about? Who do we talk about? Why do we talk about them? Are staffroom conversations to make the school better? Or are they just to make me feel better about my insecurities?

These are the questions we need to ask. These are the niggles that become injuries. These are the wounds we need to expose to the light of day. Facing down these questions requires will and strength from those involved. The answers that are revealed may not be what we want to see. Unknown answers are causes to unseen problems.

Bullying procedures can be a long and arduous chore for all involved. It is the steep incline on our run. Who will reach the top first? The bully or the bullied? It is on this incline where our injuries become most apparent. The knees ache and the ankle twinges. People on the side-lines tell us we must push through. No pain, no gain.

Organisations can often focus too much on the individual incidents of bullying, ignoring the complicated networks that cause them or the culture that underlies a casual sense of acceptance.

Let’s press the reset button. Let’s treat people like people. Let’s care for each other. Let’s support colleagues struggling not comment from afar. Let’s build the culture which will make these injuries a thing of the past. When these incidence occur, let’s not accuse but instead explore.

Beneath the plasters that hide the scars of workplace incivility lies the path to creating a better workplace: beneath the cracks, lie the colours.

Tear off the plaster. 3…2…1.

If Not Me Then Who? If Not Now, When?

At a meeting recently I heard a colleague say that there should be no limit to kindness. On Twitter hastags of #BeKind #kindness abound, so there is no doubt that there is sense of the need for more kindness.  

Kindness is characterised by being self-aware and by caring about the impact that we have on others. It requires putting ego aside and engaging in empathy. In organisations where kindness dispositions are built into the very fabric of human relationships, incivility and bullying have no space to thrive.  Kindness as a way of being, fosters a workplace environment where people can flourish and where being at work can be a life enhancing experience. 

What is incivility really, but the absence of kindness? We know that anti-bullying policies alone have limited effect on the eradication of incivility and bullying in the workplace. There are a number of factors that influence this, not least of which is poor implementation. Our research has revealed that participants’ experiences were overwhelmingly negative in respect of organizational responses, despite the fact that organizations have invested much time in creating an anti-bullying policy artefact. There was clear awareness of failure or unwillingness to address the complex power relations in the workplace both in schools and universities. It is little surprise then that bullying and incivility flourish in these environments.

It certainly raises the question that if zero tolerance approaches are not working and if creating policies that require people to keep records of abusive behaviour are not working (not to mention the problems that this has on the resilience for people) why do organisations still rely on these ineffective policies.   The answer is complicated but is linked to a distinct failure to recognise that complex power relations underpin the problem and the organisation itself is a key player that feeds into and sustains the incivility/bullying dynamic. 

Clearly a different focus is needed.  Deeper understanding of the role of workplace culture is needed if we are to engage effectively with the problem. In parallel to violence breeding violence, conversely kindness breeds more kindness but we seem to be reluctant to give it a try. In the same manner as bullying breeds a toxic culture that ripples out into the workplace, kindness breeds positive work culture that also positively ripples out into the workplace.   We need to break the cycle of toxicity, and it needs to start somewhere.

A teacher wrote of our research that it “caused me to reflect on my own teaching journey. I for one will be standing up to improve the work culture in our schools.”

If she can, then I can and so can you… 

If not me then who?

If not now, when?

Food for thought,

Patricia

Kindness- Wherefore Art Thou

Hello there and welcome…

Thank you for taking the time to join us and to read this Food for Thought space. This is a forum for the sharing of ideas and insights. Like many of us, you may sometimes have been in workplaces where you have seen real kindness between people that is worth sharing. Other times you may have seen quite the opposite and have been left with discomfort and a sense of ‘being wronged’ from the interactions you have experienced or that you have witnessed happening to others.

Mostly, this is brushed off as a personality clash or just part of working life. BUT! What is rarely highlighted in all of this, is that organisations really need to get to grips with the fact that when people have a sense of being wronged they can really suffer as a result and have nowhere to go with it, and so they carry it with them. We refer to this as institutional hurt. When organisations don’t pay attention to the idea of ‘psychological safety’ in their workplaces and when people carry workplace hurt with them, the culture of the workplace deteriorates, because what is seen is – that hurting others is how you get ahead. Our research has highlighted some quite toxic cultures that have emerged as a result.  

The behaviour in organisations research group (BORG…yes we get the Trekkie reference) seeks to draw together knowledge and practice in organisational behaviour. Here, in this space, you will read insights on the issues associated with workplace bullying, incivility and toxic cultures. We will share our research and our work with you.  Don’t worry it won’t be all doom and gloom, you will also gain insights about positive and health promoting workplaces.  So we invite you to join us on this journey and please get in touch if you also have insights to share, we will be delighted to hear from you.

And in the words of the wise one…Live long and prosper

Patricia and Margaret