What things should we keep loose or tight in our schools?

With schools being complex organisations, it can feel like school leaders are trying to herd cats at times.

As leaders, we seek to exert a degree of control in our schools, so that there is a semblance of order and prevention of organizational chaos. In trying to keep a degree of order in schools, a significant amount of work is required on the part of leaders to set up systems and structures, so that a school can function efficiently and effectively. While certain systems and structures may appear particularly frustrating for some teachers, there are specific things that schools cannot do without and thus particular aspects of compliance and alignment are necessary. The same goes for what a school may value in the type of learning that is provided for its students and, therefore, has particular expectations of its teachers

One challenge that many leaders encounter is that they wish teachers to meet every standard and expectation placed upon them. The problem is that teachers simply cannot do all that is required of them. We can seek incremental improvements to meet the standards we set but will all expectations be met? No.

It is vital that school leaders at all levels of the organization understand this, as they seek to improve our schools. If leaders do not come to terms with this, it will only lead to frustration and anxiety, as we fall short in meeting all the requirements or expectations we so wish to fulfill.

A good way to address this issue is to consider what we wish to keep ‘loose or tight’ in our schools. The concept of ‘loose and tight’ was something I came across when studying Organizational Theory, as part of completing my Masters Degree, and I have found it particularly useful in guiding the focus of my work in supporting school improvement.

Things that we decide to keep ‘tight’ in our schools, are the specific expectations that we have of our teachers, with no exception. This means that teachers are fully aware of what these expectations are and they know that there is a system of follow-up where everyone is held to account in making sure the expectation is met. Those things that are tight quickly become part of the school culture, where everyone is clear on what it is they are required to do.

What may immediately come to mind in terms of what may fit the ‘tight’ category include emergency and health / safety procedures. That aside, what else would you like to have all teachers do in your school, especially when it comes to supporting student learning? Would you like to see better communication between teachers and parents? Perhaps you would like to ensure teachers use strategies across the curriculum in support of building student literacy? Or, maybe, you want to see teachers use more self-assessment with students?

Those things that we decide to keep ‘loose’ in our schools are desirable expectations that we would every teacher to meet but we cannot realistically insist upon, as there is only so much a teacher can do; we have teachers of varying abilities requiring different levels of support and guidance. Furthermore, leaders in the school do not have the resources to follow-up to ensure that everything that is expected is practiced.

So, stop feeling frustrated if teachers do not meet all our expectations that a great education demands. Instead, determine those things that need to be ‘tight’ in our schools and give ourselves and our teachers a realistic chance of being successful in meeting the expectations that we have for them, while giving them some slack for teachers to also meet their expectations in other areas that they feel will make a difference.

Connect with @richard_bruford

Originally posted on the Ed Leader blog


  1. Francis said:

    The concept of ‘tight and loose’ expectations placed up teachers can definitely enable the leader to build a positive school culture. This idea also elevates the leader’s frustration build up on the teachers and also allows teacher’s to put in their best effort to meet the ‘tight’ expectations. When teacher’s feel successful and recognized they will be motivated to work a little more harder to meet even the ‘loose’ expectations.

    July 27, 2016
  2. […] about what we keep “tight” in our schools and what we keep “loose”. The blog was titled “What things should we keep loose or tight in our schools?”, and it got me to thinking first thing in the morning, usually not a good […]

    August 3, 2016
  3. Ari Yares said:

    I often ask myself when I’m considering being tight if this is a hill that I want to die on. It was advice that my graduate school advisory offered when thinking about all of the small battles that we might need to fight as school psychologists. Not all of them are worth the fight. This mantra has helped me think about when I need to stick to my principles about something and when to loosen things up and think about the big picture

    August 5, 2016
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