A Demon Under Stress – a story from school

Why do we like reading case studies and what do we learn from them? These are two questions I ask myself as I begin to write this blog article. I guess the answer is a bit of “thank goodness that wasn’t me” or a perhaps a little scarily “oh, I see a little myself in that situation”.

So here is the second case study for January:-

Sarah is a teacher who contacted me last spring concerned that she had been accused of not pulling her weight when it came to preparing for a school inspection.

When she first began her current job, four years previously, she had decided that she would treat each day as thought there were inspectors roaming the school and watching her in the classroom. Many of her colleagues had been surprised by her diligence and meticulous hard work. So in April, when an inspection was announced, none of her colleagues were prepared and neither was the head – though she was. There was an expectation across the school that everyone would have to work extra hard and for extended time to prepare the environment, the children and classrooms for the impending inspection.

Sarah explained that the head and other school managers took on demon-like characteristics, barking orders and shouting at everyone. Some of her colleagues were reduced to tears; partly by the way they spoken to and partly by the hours of extra time they had to work – through the night for some people.

After all was done – the school achieved ‘outstanding’ status – Sarah was called to see the head who was disappointed by the lack of support she gave to the school in the days preceding the inspection. Sarah was devastated and felt like she had been shot down. It appeared that all her previous hard work was now completely unnoticed – even some of her colleagues made accusatory comments. She was not a slacker but was made to feel so by her colleagues. She felt patronised and upset.

We spent a couple of telephone coaching sessions exploring how different people respond under extreme stress and the extent to which she should understand the position of the other (in this case the head teacher).

Her question to me was whether she should take a grievance against the head for her bullying manner, making the staff feel that they had to put in a super-human effort to assuage the inspectors. We discussed how hard it is being inspected – she remembered being a student herself, sitting exams. She acknowledged that being inspected is not easy can be very stressful, which in no way was an attempt to excuse the bad managerial behaviour of the head but to put it into context.

This study certainly leaves me with a question to ask; how would you react in Sarah’s situation, or if you were her manager, how would you act under a threat of external inspection? Do you know?

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in beyond diversity, Bullying & Harassment, inequality, management, Uncategorized, workplace bullying and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Demon Under Stress – a story from school

  1. I have circulated for you

  2. Kellie Auld says:

    I think using case examples is excellent for great learning. It makes it real and understandable – thanks for sharing in this way to clarify the problem of bullying and its impact on people.

    In terms of how I would have handled the “Sarah the teacher'” scenario – probably very similar to what you did – seeking to understand. You may also have done this but chose to end the scenario at specifically helping Sarah, but I think I would have had Sarah speak to the head by starting the conversation very much along the lines of how stressful inspections,are; but also sharing her philosophy of working to that level every day. I would share how the treatment she received impacted her and I would see if there weren’t some way to ‘educate’ others on what bullying actually is.

    Again,thanks for sharing – people really do change when they’re under stress – but as you mentioned, the bullying is not an appropriate way to deal with stress.

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