Why avoiding in-school politics isn’t always the best policy

Schools are inherently full of different characters. With a mix of personalities, students and staff can often clash with each other, using different strategies to gain the upper hand, or simply to avoid conflict and live a quiet life. Yet, there are those characters who can be sneaky, back-stabbing, manipulative or darn right confrontational. It’s these people who know how to play politics to win friends, influence and possibly to gain the upper hand in climbing the next step on the career ladder.

If you are like most people, you probably avoid in-school politics wherever possible, but it can sometimes be unavoidable with many people choosing to ‘play’ only when necessary. Yet, if you tend to ignore in-school politics, consider the consequences (some positive, and some negative). Every educational setting has an intricate system of power, from those who have been in the setting for decades, to those who have been thrust into positions of power, and each teacher should work the in-school politics ethically to your best advantage. Learning to deal with in-school politics is vital for teachers at any stage of their career.

Research by the Centre for Creative Leadership showed that those who are politically savvy have better career prospects, better career trajectories, and are seen to be more promotable. This is crucial, and understanding the dynamics involved, and using these dynamics in a canny way are key. It is also worth noting that being savvy to the in-school politics does not mean that you need to be manipulative, and when properly applied, can benefit all individuals in the school. In their book Gerald Ferris, Sherry Davidson, and Pamela Perrewe identified four important skills of individuals who are politically savvy, of which we have tweaked for school settings:

1 Social Astuteness
Observation is key. Explore the relationships that are already embedded in the school and pay attention to informal social networks. Who plays off who in the staff room? Who seems to charm everyone with their wit and insights in the world? Who are the colleagues who seem less popular, and what did they do to be ostracised in this way?

By observing the communication and relationship in your school, you will discover where the balance of power really sits, then you can strategically place yourself with the people whose respect you want to earn.

2 Interpersonal Influence
Consequently, each school has people whose influence extends beyond the responsibilities awarded to them. Do you know who they are? Look for the colleagues who are not necessarily in the high-level positions, but seemingly have the ability to make things happen.

3 Networking Ability
After you have identified the key influencers, draw up a strategic plan to build stronger relationships with them. Consider your most important career and leadership roles. Does your network consist of influencers, connectors and people who can help?

4 Sincerity
As you build all this, be cautious in that you are not becoming someone who can’t stand to see in the mirror. One of the main conduit’s of influence is warmth. You must connect with sincerity and build trust before you can start climbing the career ladder.

Developing these four traits will help you resist from recoiling from in-school politics. By building your social intelligence you will be able to read situations on the spot, reacting positively and coping with the in-school politics that are inevitable in every setting.


This article was inspired by this post which originally appeared on The Muse.

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3095 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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