You can’t lead where you won’t go!


I refer back to the article, Improving Relationships in the Schoolhouse, quite often when considering the work we need to do as school leaders. The article, by Roland Barth, serves a constant reminder that the our biggest challenge as school leaders is to bring out the “nondiscussables” if we wish to see healthy collaborative cultures in our schools.

Barth refers to nondiscussables as “important matters that, as a profession, we seldom openly discuss.” Thinking about this further, nondiscussables include matters that are not openly discussed in 1-to-1, small group or large group conversation. A result of not addressing them is that frustration, cynicism and distrust builds within a school’s culture. As Anthony Muhammad puts it so well in his book, Transforming School Culture, schools are filled with too much “Adult Drama”: “Dysfunctional social interactions between adult professionals within a school environment that interfere with the proper implementation of important policies, practices, and procedures that support the proper education of students.”

School leaders are challenged with the task of both addressing the key issues in our schools but also the behaviours surrounding those issues. Furthermore, as school leaders, we need to look first and foremost at our own behaviour as to whether we are contributing further to the issue and its associated drama.

I received a great reply to a blog post on ‘Leading with Empathy’ from Tamra Wilcox who said “Sometimes a principal addresses the whole staff about the inappropriate actions of a few. Like bringing up an over-extended budget for substitute teachers when only a few teachers have multiple or prolonged absences. Or sending an email about tardiness for recess supervision, when one or two are chronic offenders.” It’s actions like these that our own behaviour, as school leaders, does not help us in trying to ameliorate the culture in our schools. Wilcox concludes their point with the following request: “Please don’t ask those of us who are fulfilling our responsibilities to be accountable for those who are not.”

So, how do we address the above problem as leaders in our schools?

It is about being courageous and bringing the issue out into the open but, more importantly, making sure that the matter is addressed in the correct forum with the right people in the room. A group staff email is no good when there are only one or two people that need to be spoken to individually. Of course, it’s far easier to send out the group email, as it avoids the face-to-face conversation, which is essentially at the heart of all nondiscussables.

It is, however, the role of the leader to take the first bold steps in commencing discussion about any nondiscussable, as hard as it may be.  As Barth, so aptly, refers to a bumper sticker: “You can’t lead where you won’t go!”

Connect with me @richard_bruford

Originally posted on the Ed Leader Blog


  1. Lute Croy said:

    Todd Whitaker discusses this same issue in “Shifting the Monkey.” When you send out the mass email or address it in a faculty meeting, the real offenders most likely do not realize you are talking to them, and your best teachers automatically start stressing out about whether or not you were talking about them (even though they have no good reason to assume that). It is a terrible practice that far too many of us adhere to for the sake of convenience (or cowardice). Be bold. Be courageous. Lead.

    Great post.

    April 1, 2016
  2. Thanks for contributing to the discussion. Todd Whitaker’s book has some really good pointers for shaping school culture. Other than being courageous in having these conversations, as opposed to hitting everyone on staff with the message is that individual conversations take time. They are definitely worth it but you need to pick your battles, which issues pertaining to staff behaviour and professionalism are most important for your school?

    April 1, 2016
  3. Joe Balzan said:

    A headmaster of a school I used to teach in, every other week called an early morning staff meeting to tell us the importance of being punctual in the morning for our assembly and our lessons. He used to do this to address a certain member of the staff who was repeatedly late. So instead of speaking to this member of the staff the head used to address the whole staff who all of them were always very punctual. The problem was that this late comer used to arrive after the early staff meeting used to finish. So practically the meeting was for the converted as this staff member never heard what the head said as he was late to arrive.

    April 3, 2016

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