School Bureaucracy — Is this a manifesto?

These comments will be familiar to teachers, counselors, even administrators wherever they work.  We sit on committees, only to conclude we are either to rubber stamp already concluded decisions, or we deliberate to a consensus only our time to be wasted by a higher level, different decision. Or the consensus laboriously reached seems never to be implemented.

We encounter decisions from the level above our own that conflict with or detract from good practice on our own level.  Even when the new initiative is a reasonable one, we know that modest input to the decision would have resulted in a better solution.

More maddeningly, directives arrive from levels over our own that simply make no sense, detract from our valuable time, and even become obstacles in our work with kids.

In all of the above, anger is the first response if we still care, then at some point, further down the road, resignation in the face of steady diet of the same.

Isn’t it obvious line staff level types have something to add beyond the perspectives of higher levels? Supervisory and district level administrators have valuable perspectives, but these points of view are not fully synchronous with the different yet also crucial perspective of teachers, counselors, instructional aides, and the like. Even the best and most sympathetic administrators, for example, lose sight of the emotional and tactical realities teachers face every day.

It strikes me that the same dysfunctional dynamic occurs between building administrators and their own, district level, supervisors.

Too much of this and we already have our head down, burrowed into our compromise, which for many is to establish boundaries on our time and emotional involvement. Commitment to kids continues, but the sum of it all is that we become detached, emotionally protected from our professional surroundings, and no longer “own” them. If we care too much, we can end up feeling as though our professional energies are stuffed down our throats, as though we really do not matter in the larger view of things.

Clearly, these circumstances are shared by many workers throughout public and corporate bureaucracies. Where they occur, they hinder purpose.

In the case of schools, kids suffer; schools struggle, test scores and learning remain sluggish.

Solutions are difficult, and call for enlightened and aware management, and courage on all parts. Upper levels are not evil people; nor are they any more enamored of their ascendance than the normal (at least it is useful to assume so), but time and resources are limited, even scarce, and so often the failure to consult, to take into account important perspectives other than their own, is more to expedite process than to lord position over lower brethren and sisteren. Still, a problem, one too little acknowledged in the exhaustive discussions about schools.

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