Should Managers Tell Teachers What To Do? Part 3

December 10, 2015

Previously, I was looking at types of instructions that should never be given. Continuing from where I left off:

3)  Instructions that no manager would ever subsequently admit to giving.

Examples include:

  • an instruction to cheat in coursework and controlled assessments;
  • an instruction to ignore the school’s official behaviour policy;
  • an instruction to tolerate verbal or even physical abuse aimed at you;
  • an instruction to undermine or obstruct colleagues;
  • an instruction to mark absent pupils as present.

As a general principle managers should not be asking teachers verbally to do things that they would not be willing to put in writing and be held accountable for.

Before I move on to the fourth case, which is a bit trickier, I will stop to consider the three types of instruction that should never be given that have already been mentioned.

They were:

  1. Instructions contradicted by other instructions.
  2. Completely idiotic instructions.
  3. Instructions that no manager would ever subsequently admit to giving.

Now all of these three types of instructions I have discussed so far can be dismissed as examples of bad management. But if you talk to frontline teachers you will find they are hardly uncommon. While the obvious advice to managers is “don’t do any of these!” there are perhaps some general questions heads should ask themselves about their school to avoid any of these situations.

  1. Could more be done to ensure important instructions, routines and rules given to teachers are put in writing as well as being explained verbally?
  2. Is it okay for a teacher in your school to (politely) question the logic or practicality of following a new instruction, routine or rule?
  3. Are there systems in place to check the workload impact of new instructions, routines and rules?
  4. Would it be considered acceptable for a teacher to ask to have an instruction in writing as well as verbally and(assuming the matter wasn’t urgent) wait until they had it in writing before following it?

The fourth case, however, is even harder to prevent and has almost become a normal part of how schools are run in this country.

4) Instructions which, if followed, will be used against you.

This is not completely different category to contradictory instructions, but instead of simply having instructions that conflict, the conflict is disguised by its indirect nature. Instead of having to choose between different instructions, you have to choose between following a manager’s instruction and avoiding the consequences of following it, which in many cases is actually to be criticised by that same manager. So, for instance, managers might enforce a terrible style of teaching, and blame teachers for poor results. Or managers might require teachers to follow a completely unworkable discipline system, but then blame teachers when there is poor behaviour in their lessons. Or they might tell teachers to give their opinions, then blame teachers for saying things they didn’t want to hear.

At the heart of this problem, and why it is so common, are faulty systems of accountability and management. Teachers are given too many instructions from too many managers and held accountable for too many consequences. I will discuss this in more detail in a future post.



  1. “So, for instance, managers might enforce a terrible style of teaching, and blame teachers for poor results”.

    Next Thursday I am going to have an observed lesson. I am going to be judged on how much I have implemented a policy forced upon our department. This policy looks good but is actually preventing good teaching, in my humble opinion. What to do?!

    • ‘What to do?’

      Accept you operate in an environment which favours the professional preferment of narcissistic incompetents; accept that your position in the food chain is a necessary sacrifice – it allows you to look honestly into a mirror; and, above all, don’t take it personally.

      • Thanks Rainbow Warrior
        I remember a comment from you before. I can’t remember exactly what is was about but it was direct and helpful, as is this one. Thanks

  2. I received some excellent advice many years ago when I was made to take part in a teaching regime which I felt was not manageable and a less-satisfactory arrangement than the previous organisation.

    My headteacher told me to write my concerns ‘professionally’ in a report when I was sort of crying on her shoulder.

    If teachers did exactly this to describe scenarios that are not considered satisfactory (for whatever reason), then their issues and worries become tangible, recorded, inescapable and would carry more weight and be more likely to be addressed ‘professionally’.

    I’ve recommended this step to many teachers over many years – for example, asking for the ‘time management study’ in writing when expected to do onerous marking regimes – and describing, in writing, why it is untenable to fulfil the policy on marking.

    Best wishes.

  3. “Or they might tell teachers to give their opinions, then blame teachers for saying things they didn’t want to hear.”

    Ha ha. You don’t teach at my school by any chance do you?

    You could add:

    “Or they might tell teachers to give their opinions, take any small disagreement as a personal attack and react accordingly”.

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. […] This is a follow up to my recent post asking Should Managers Tell Teachers What To Do? […]

  6. […] Should Managers Tell Teachers What To Do? Part 3 […]

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