Sunday, 15 February 2015

Honesty is the best policy, is that so? (UPDATED)

The word honesty denotes truthfulness, integrity – positive, admirable values. Should honesty always be a guiding principle in our lives?

A student, several years ago, in responding to the essay topic: Honesty is the best policy opined that honesty is not always the best policy. She illustrated her answer with the example of examinations.

According to her, a person will find herself/himself in situations when she/he has to cheat. If passing an examination well meant that a person would get into the best schools, and getting into the best schools would determine that person's successful future, (a belief in her culture) then it would be all right to cheat.

She did not examine the consequences that a person could likely face if caught. The potential benefit of cheating, to her, it would seem, far exceeded the costs.

The nature of the environments in which we work

We are working in environments in which governments and businesses have been trying to cement what is often referred to as a "managerialist" culture, one which supports the view that all (or most?) of the operations in organisations should be subject to some measurable criteria.

As such, many of us are working in organisations towards achieving set targets that we have been given or which we have set for ourselves, targets which are not only aimed at improving the bottom line of the organisations in which we work, but are also aimed at achieving accountability in these organisations. Accountability is one of the hallmarks of this culture.

In many societies, outside the "developed world"  a "business as usual" attitude has, for a long time, imbued every facet of life.

This "new" idea of managing that "the powers that be," especially in government agencies have been adopting, has been causing stress. That is, the idea of improving the efficiency, effectiveness, economy, responsiveness and the levels of accountability of everyone in organisations, among the other buzzwords that are associated with the new ideologies that are being espoused of managing organisations.

The adoption of these management ideologies by "the powers that be" in organisations has been causing much stress on everyone who works in these organisations.

Those who manage the change are also experiencing stress.

Those who are entrusted with conceptualizing, planning, implementing and operationalising the change are experiencing stress - everyone who works in these organisations is experiencing stress.

What is the real cause of this stress?

These are only some of the triggers of stress in this situation. You may add to this list.
  • The fear of being found out, that we lack the competence that we need to do the job that we have been called on to do, or the fear of losing the privileged niche that we have carved out for ourselves in the organisation. 
  • A rebellion against accountability. We do not want to take responsibility for our work/actions. We have got used to "passing the buck".
  • Anger at the loss of autonomy that we believe that we possessed before the change. We believe that we are not trusted. We believe that the "powers that  be" are treating us like children. We are, therefore, very angry. 
  • Distrust at the new direction that we are being  "forced" to take and/or distrust of the ability of our supervisors to objectively manage the change.
The response to this stress?

Since, in some organisations, failure to meet the targets that have been set, oftentimes, has dire consequences, some of us have been innovating. We have been willing to use any means necessary, orthodox or unorthodox, to get the job done.

But, there are consequences for every action as some of us have been finding out - the hard way.

To what extent do you take the adage, "honesty is the best policy" seriously?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Are you a professional?

I am hearing the resounding "yes" of most of you who are reading this article. "Of course we are professionals!"

But, what exactly makes you a professional?

I can still hear you. Your responses are many and varied. Some of your responses are coherent. You know exactly why you are a professional. Some of your responses are incoherent. You believe that you are a professional but you are finding it difficult to articulate your reasons for your belief.

A number of scholars in many fields - Education, Business,  Government, among others - for example, Donald Schon and M. Noordegraaf who have engaged with the study of professionalism, have suggested, among other things, that there are some key components of professionalism. These components are as follows:
  • There is a knowledge component. That is, the area in which one claims to be a professional has some specific knowledge associated with it. Having gained the knowledge associated with our areas of interest, knowledge acquired through many years of study, we take a step towards being professionals. 
  • There is a skills component. That is, the expertise that we have developed in our chosen fields, our ability to manipulate the knowledge that we possess, then applying it to solving the problems that we will be called on to solve in the fields in which we have settled. 
  • There is a collaborative component. That is, we in our different fields have come together to form groups or associations which we give the authority to take action in our "best interest". Our "best interest" like our responses to the question of what makes us a professional are many and varied. However, if we just delve into the operations of our "professional" organisations that are related to our areas of work, we will get some insight into what they think is best for us or what we have told them is best for us. In addition, they are usually responsible for licensing our practice. 
  • There is a behavioural component. That is, there is usually a document referred to as a Code of Conduct that our professional organisations develop which sets out the prescribed behavioral norms that we the members ought to display. 

The scholars have spoken, but why do you believe that you are a professional?
  • Do you believe that you are a professional because you have ticked all the above boxes? That is, you have spent years and years of schooling and are certified in your area of study, you have developed expertise in this area of your study, you are a licensed member of your professional organisation and you adhere to the Code of Conduct. 
  • Do you privilege one or more of the components of professionalism - either the behavioural or knowledge and expertise or membership of your professional organisation to determine your professional status?
  • Do you believe that you are a professional because you have realised that professionalism may be used as a strategy to negotiate your way to whatever end that you have in mind?
So, why are you a professional and is it important to be a professional?

Sound off in the comments section below.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

New year, same challenges in the education sector, Part 6

Performance of the administrative staff

One of the challenges that the education system faces is that of getting the administrative staff to raise its levels of performance. The administrative staff in schools has very important roles to play in the education system. They, like the principals and teachers, have important roles to play in helping schools achieve their objectives. They do the following:

  • Provide Administrative Support - First, they provide administrative support to the principals of schools, but they also provide 'policy support' in disseminating the articulated visions of principals for their schools. They do this dissemination of the visions of principals for their schools literally or figuratively through their interactions with all categories of staff, students, parents and the wider community.

  • Manage Perception - Second, since they, more often than not, are the first link between the school and the wider community - parents, businesses,  civic groups among other such groups - they influence the type of perceptions of their schools that this community will form. Therefore,  the quality of their interactions with this community whether by telephone, in writing or in face to face interactions is going to determine the quality of the relationships that these groups will initially forge with the schools.

Some members of the administrative staff in a number of schools do not seem to recognise the importance of their roles in their schools. As a result they, at times, display unacceptable behaviour to stakeholders.

  • Manage Resources - The administrative staff is responsible for managing the resources of the schools in which they work. The resources that they manage are many and varied - the plant and its contents, the money, students' records, books and other learning resources, the communication between the school and the wider community among other resources.

They need to be fastidious in the management of these resources because poor management of these resources will negatively impact their schools in terms of having to contend with:

  •  'broken down plants in which the school community is forced to work

  •  reduced sums of money with which the schools have to work, which means fewer needs being met,  lawsuits and general embarrassment

  •  the labels of being incompetent and careless that frustrated stakeholders will affix to schools when they are not quick to respond to their needs and/or are unable to respond to their needs because records are missing or misplaced, for example

  •  frustrated and/or disinterested students

  •  ill-will from the community.

To improve the performance of administrative staff in their interactions with stakeholders of schools, they ought to be trained and monitored and implored to be professional when they are interacting with this community. A number of schools have been hosting seminars on customer service for all members of staff. However, in more than a few instances, some members of staff still refuse to display any of the 'best practices' with respect to their jobs to which they have been introduced in these seminars.

However, the management of schools, that is committed to creating a performance oriented culture in their schools, should realise that this goal is a work in progress that will only come to fruition through committed leadership which is evident in the examples that it sets.

I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in education and society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller