Friday, 28 November 2008

We take your children, and you expect us to talk to you?

I have whinged and moaned about how the state school that we are currently dealing with is not the most communicative of organisations. This seems to be a common thread - we have dealt with two other state schools in the past 2 years for various reasons, and the staff at all of them appear to have a bunker mentality.

I have seen this mentality before in other government organisations. I used to work for a mob where I had up to 40 people reporting to moi. They were spread all over the state, and about half of them were mobile - out servicing clients on a daily basis (no, I was not running a prostitution ring). When I took over that role, one of the first things I did was to start writing a weekly communique to all those people to let them know what was happening in the rareified air of the office that I inhabited. And I told them everything - all the dirt, all the shit that needed fixing and all the crap that we were having to deal with. I was pretty straightforward about it.

Most of them were gobsmacked that I would put in the time and effort each week (actually, each weekend - I wrote most of them on Sunday morning when I had some free time) to let them know what was going on, what they should be doing and what I wanted them to achieve. They were also generally astounded that I was completely honest and open about our fuckups - and we had plenty of them. Except that I was politic enough to call them "learning experiences" instead of fuckups.

Anyway, enough of blowing that trumpet. After a few years, my boss got a new boss. A big boss - corner office, big salary, all that sort of thing. By that time, my newsletter had a much wider circulation. People outside of our department wanted to know what was going on, so they asked to be added to my mailing list. It was going to a few hundred people by this stage. We were so bad at communicating with our internal customers that often the only way outsiders could find out about the status of their projects was to read my weekly screed.

So the new boss comes in, and after about a week, they read my missives.

I get a phone call.

I am told that I am being very brave. And perhaps a little blunt. But I am not muzzled - just asked to knock some of the rougher edges off my language (calling someone a "fucking fucked fuckhead for fucking up a crucial fucking system at 4 in the fucking morning" was deemed to be a bit over the top, even for the profane and angry company that I worked for).

But here is the thing. Our organisation had over 10,000 employees. I was the only person in the entire company sending out useful information to their staff on a weekly basis. Everyone else relied on the sanitised bullshit that was produced by the PR department, which was utterly useless. They even printed it on slick, shiny paper - so you couldn't even wipe your arse on it.

Many, many people told me I was "brave". Managers would look at me and shake their heads. Most could not believe that I was getting away with it.

For they were shit scared of doing the same sort of thing. They knew there was a crying need for the honest transmission of useful information in a format that people could actually use, but none had the guts to pump it out. The downside risk was just too great. They feared for their jobs and their careers.

I think the same horrible feeling of dread has inflitrated our state education system. Teachers and Principals do not want to say anything for fear of having their head shot off by some shiny bum way up the chain of command. The thing that most big government agencies cannot abide is seeing their organisation in the media - especially when that appearance has not been sanctioned and sanitised by PR types in head office. If a teacher manages to get a good news story about their pupils into the local rag, and the interview has not been signed off by eleventy-two levels of management, then that teacher is a dead duck. "Breach of media policy" will be the order of the day.

Now to school communications.

Here is the website of one of our local state schools - Concord High. This web site is unusual in that you can actually find the names of teachers on this site, although no contact details bar the usual school information email address.

Here is a private school in Perth. I did not go to this school, but checkout the contact details for Christchurch Grammer. The name of every teacher in every subject is listed. The email addresses and phone numbers are listed for all the executives and departmental heads. For the plain old teaching staff, you don't get an email address, but you do get an individual desk phone number.

I looked at another Perth private school recently. For some staff, they also listed mobile phone numbers.

Amazing. Chalk and cheese.

1 comment:

1735099 said...

Read my second comment on - "More school stats to ponder"