This section outlines a critical incident which occurred during Autumn term 2018.
A child in my class had behavioural issues which I was struggling to manage. When I spoke to the head teacher to get some advice, I was told to observe a senior member of staff who he felt had the right approach to pupils with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This made me uncomfortable as the senior member of staff in question had always struggled with the same behaviours and had not managed to improve the child’s behaviour previously. I tried to mimic the approach taken by the senior member of staff which ultimately led to an incident in class which acted as a wake-up call for me. Instead of handling the situation how I usually would; by talking to the child privately, I stopped my lesson and spoke to the child in front of the class which resulted in the child becoming agitated and then being sent out. As I was unhappy with the outcome of this situation, I decided to meet with the deputy head as the head teachers approach had failed and I did not want to make things awkward meeting with the head again. After a conversation with the deputy head, she suggested as different approaches work for different people, I attend an ASD course for my CPD. This incident was critical because I realised that I could not just copy exactly what other ‘senior’ teachers were doing and assume that it would work for me. It also made me realise that not all leaders have the same way of handling situations and that I should not just follow advice given to me if I believe it is wrong in that specific situation.
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According to (Poulson and Wallace, 2004:6) to be critical I must have the ability to have reasoned doubt towards my own and others knowledge in regard to teaching or in this case, leadership. This means I must question myself while also being open-minded and constructive towards actions taken. The leadership action taken by the head and deputy shows the varying ways those in leadership roles deal with situations differently. There are many definitions of leadership, for example Koontz and O’ Donnell (1959) state that “leadership is influencing people to follow in the achievement of a common goal” (p.435). In addition, there are also several definitions of leadership styles which are defined as patterns of behaviour that enable leaders to effectively influence others (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2008).
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According to Robbins and Judge (2007) characteristics are important when it comes to leadership. Leaders should match their personality traits to their leadership style. Taking this all into account, it is useful to investigate how both the deputy and heads approaches could have been different for this reason. One, a very traditional British male headteacher of thirty years and the other; a deputy of seven years who spent years teaching abroad while studying a master’s degree.
One reason the critical incident in question occurred was because of lack of knowledge on teaching strategies and learning styles for children with ASD, it was also a mistake to follow the style of another teacher. The advice given from a leadership role was incorrect as there were no questions asked about the situation and instead was ‘passed off’ to someone else.
This incident became critical because the child was put on the spot and made to feel uncomfortable and thus started to misbehave because of this. Danielson’s (2007) framework for teaching talks about four requirements for a teacher; the last being the student’s behaviour. This framework insists that teachers should reflect upon themselves to develop their professional practice at pedagogy. Coe (2015) suggests that learning from more experienced colleagues will create a well-defined teacher. Both of these theories talk about teachers developing and learning from others. In regard to this incident, imitating the class teacher’s behaviour management style was not beneficial. For example, the teaching style that was mimicked was ‘coach style’ or ‘demonstrator’. However, this technique creates a lack of focus on individual needs. It would have benefited the child if the teachers could blend their approaches so that they could tailor their style to their student’s needs rather than copy a certain technique that was known not to work. This is similar to Grasha (1989) who believes incorporating all styles is important so that we can adapt. This advice would have been better suited to this specific situation as just imitating other teachers techniques does not allow practice to be adaptable. In relation to leadership, it seems important to find a balance of both ideas as we not only need to reflect upon ourselves but also learn from others with more experience. This incident has shown how easy it is to take leadership advice regardless of whether the management style fits the situation.
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This leads onto the idea of power and influence as an important factor. Weber (1947) argues that people can have a legitimate power that compels people to act in certain ways. Leadership is thus a power over others. Although he identifies four kinds of power, in this situation two would apply, knowledge power resources; which can be administrative knowledge or technical and normative power resources, where a set of desired beliefs and values are held highly. Taking the advice from the head even though I was unsure about the approach fits with this example. Whereas, taking advice from the deputy after the situation helped to create deeper understanding of practice.
Mintzberg (1990, p.168) argued that leadership was not specific to senior members of staff but also middle managers. This fits with the example of the critical incident as the head took this approach and delegated to another member of staff. Culture is also an important factor to consider when looking at this situation. It is difficult to explore our cultural norms as we take them for granted. According to Mertkan (2014) who studied headteachers in Turkish Cyprus, headteachers are often focused on “administrative and management issues with limited opportunities to exercise leadership, very little agency for change, and limited capacity to improve teaching and learning.”(Mertkan 2014, p.226-42) Therefore, problems are passed to other members of staff rather than being dealt with by the head teacher with advice that would have improved teaching styles and practice more effectively.
Another factor that could have affected this situation was the route taken depending on the roles of men and women in leadership. As women are increasingly entering leadership roles that traditionally would have been occupied by men, there is a possibility that the leadership styles of women and men differ. One obvious style difference would be between transactional leadership, transformational leadership, autocratic leader and a democratic leader.
The idea of transactional leadership fits with this scenario as one has taken the intuitive to make contact with others to exchange valued concerns or ideas (Burns,1978, p. 19) to improve existing practice. Similarly, calculative compliance is where colleagues discuss their practice and can share advice as to how to ‘fix’ a problem they might be experiencing. In this instance the advice from the deputy undermined the traditional values of the head. The headteacher has taken the role of an autocratic leader while the deputy has a transformational approach.
Transformational Leadership is a style that comes with a leader that is friendly, approachable and that treats all employees equally, while also helping them with personal problems (Lowin, Hrapchak & Kavanagh, 1969). They care for the needs and personal interests of their employees (Trevino, Brown, & Hartman, 2003). In contrast, transactional leadership pays attention to managing the day-to-day operations of the organisation and the rewards for performance (Durskat, 1992). Good work will be rewarded and poor performance is not. Only when things start to go wrong will the leader intervene (Bass, 1990). In this case, the deputy has taken a transformational approach while the head teacher would have taken a transactional approach to the situation. This is evident in the way that senior members of staff were rewarded with observations regardless of the appropriateness of the situation.
In conclusion, it is clear that one leadership approach was autocratic while the other was democratic. The Head teacher did not care to listen to the problem and instead used a dominant or pushy process that showed little respect towards other opinions (Bass, 1990). The head teachers ideas were pushed onto the situation making it critical as there was little to no room for discussion about the situation and therefore there was a lack of voice or control in my own teaching practice. The Deputy head however showed a democratic leadership style which according to Gastil (1994) is a way of leading that influence shared change that is equal and shows concern towards staff and their development.
After critiquing the incident it is clear that the deputies leadership style was more efficient as I was given the chance to improve my practice by attending courses as well as observing other members of staff. Her approach to this situation also made me feel more comfortable unlike the heads domineering actions which were not necessarily appropriate in this situation.
Brookfield (1995) argues that we need to use lenses to critically look at ourselves and others. He wants us to reframe and refocus our ‘lenses’ to help highlight areas of improvement within our own practice. These ideas have been reflected in this essay as I have managed to look at a leadership incident that I believed was critical and then ‘refocus’.
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