Directorate or self-governance

By Roland Schulze-Schilddorf, September 2016

How we can learn to carry responsibility together.

How will our children organise the way they live together in the future? Will they accept the social forms we have left them? From what I know of children and young people today, I assume that they will want to govern themselves and will embark on a path to overcome as many hierarchical structures as possible. They will thus have the task of developing new forms of social coexistence.

How as schools do we wish to face up to such a development? Are there opportunities for us as a college of teachers to embark on new methods of social organisation, to find forward-looking ways of together carrying responsibility for the school?

Non-hierarchical self-governance?

In consensual moderation we have a method which can replace a structure. A simple example: the music teacher has the problem that her room is often used for other purposes and that almost every day she has to restore it to its original state before she can start to prepare her lessons.

The first task of the leadership in the college of teachers is to talk with their colleague in person so that everyone can prepare together. It would be useful for all the people who are or could be affected by the problem to be present at the meeting, even if they are represented by someone else. In this way all the people with the greatest possible competence have gathered together.

In the meeting it is the music teacher who speaks first. She sets out the frequency and scope of the problem and describes one or two concrete situations. Here both the facts are set out and the feelings they generated.

This raises the fear among some people that the situation will now turn subjective. The response to that is: indeed, it will become subjective because objectivity is only appropriate for objects. When we are dealing with human beings we need a human approach. The point is that in general we do not have any moderation tools to deal with feelings and emotions and therefore shy away from them.

But in our example we will assume that there is a trained moderator who is able to pick up the emotions and accusations which come to expression in such a way that they are not directed against anyone but become part of the description.

We are dealing with the moderation method of reframing here. Alongside the clarification of questions of fact, it is now important that the response to the music teacher’s description is one of empathy, which might be expressed with a sentence such as for example: “That must be pretty stressful if you then still have to tune the instruments.” If relevant, the other users of the music room then also additionally describe their problems.

This is a crucial step in the moderation as the colleagues concerned perceive that their problems are taken seriously and they will subsequently no longer have to introduce their feelings. They are free of them and can turn towards solutions.

At the same time the other participants obtain an awareness of the situation of the affected person separately from their own feelings. Via such empathy the whole of the college adopts an attitude which is borne by consciousness and everyone can clarify for themselves the emotional level which is otherwise always there unconsciously below the surface. This lays the foundations for the further course of the meeting. Furthermore, by recognising the need, everyone becomes committed to the process and will at the same time take greater care in the way that they use the music room in the future.

“Yes but” and “no but” don’t help

When as a college of teachers we look into the future, we are not only used to reacting to open questions with the best proposals and suggestions we can come up with, but also to making quick judgements. Both of these things stand in the way of a consensus. Because every proposals means that the other has to respond by adopting a position: “yes”, “yes but” and “no” lead to endless discussions which can often only be brought to an end by a majority decision or the delegation of responsibility.

Hence it would be more forward-looking to ask to begin with: “What do we want to achieve with our solution? What quality should live in it? What are the conditions which would enable our colleague to work well”

This addresses the level of needs and interests. In our example it could mean that our colleague should always find the room in a tidy and clean state, that we allow her a start to the day which enables her to be there completely for her pupils, that each person’s individual responsibility in the way they treat the room is strengthened, etc. In this way good impulses and motives are brought together which do not contradict one another but together make a full bouquet. “And how can we achieve that?”

This question will trigger ideas in a brainstorming. The attitude which was built up in advance and the open and targeted question mean that viable solutions will quickly develop. If there are several different ones, they can be measured against the needs and interests as previously brought together and examined once more for their effect.

Experience shows that agreement can quickly be reached on such a basis. If there is nevertheless a colleague who cannot support the solution, it is worthwhile taking their concerns seriously as a contribution to a sustainable solution and to take them up: “What possibilities are there to integrate this problem as well?”

Fundamentally this way of finding a solution avoids polarisation since everyone has worked on the various solutions, including the ones they favoured less, so that we can agree to a solution even if it is not our favourite one.

It is also a means of avoiding the informal power which is exercised in colleges of teachers by various colleagues more or less consciously. Because it is not about the issue whether I can assert my proposal but whether we find a good solution. And here clever tactical moves are of no help but only an authentic approach. The brief contribution from a reserved colleague can tip the balance.

In a college structured in this way there is no need for a code of behaviour or to sanction misconduct. On the contrary, a greater awareness of oneself and the other will develop in each member of the college. This will have enormous consequences for teaching, indeed the way we deal with pupils and parents in general.

Because the personal level has been clarified, because people are no longer facing one another confrontationally but the community forms a vessel in looking at the issue together, the spirit has the opportunity to be perceived.

Such a process is particularly needed by subjects which must be penetrated with consciousness. In one instance that can be the organisation of the carnival celebrations, in another the salary structure. Always when different views develop to such an extent that they lead to conflict, the challenge is to form a common awareness. Subjects which are rational in nature can be delegated without anything being lost.

Joint decisions release energies

Experience shows that decisions for which joint responsibility has been taken release energies which continue to work independently of the college of teachers and which are enduring. If implementation is delegated to individual people, they are not just formally given the authority, in the best sense of the word, to carry out such decisions but they are also underpinned by this force.

This will not work without skilled training of the whole college of teachers because various moderation methods are used and there are all kinds of obstacles for inexperienced moderators which are often not recognised in everyday life and yet make themselves felt.

At the beginning, this procedure seems to take more time but in the medium term it has great potential. Observe in meetings of colleges of teachers how much time is spent while each person explains their position, how much energy is regularly used to pick up and repair the broken pieces. This time and this energy will become available.

And at the same time the members of the college of teachers will be more awake in perceiving one another. They will treat one another with greater mindfulness and our own difficulties or conflicts will be addressed more rapidly because methods are used which allow us to encounter one another with humanity in our work.

About the author: Roland Schulze-Schilddorf studied history, sociology and Waldorf education and worked as a class teacher with the additional subjects of music and free Christian religion at the Waldorf schools in Filderstadt and Müllheim/Baden; training in mediation, systemic coaching and moderation; has been self-employed since 2013.


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