Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers Speak Out

Today’s blogger is Amy Orange, an Assistant Professor at University of Houston–Clear Lake, whose recently published article Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Why They Were Mistreatedappears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum. In that article, she shares her research on teachers who have suffered mistreatment.

As educators, we are familiar with student bullying in schools and various ways to address the problem.

What isn’t publicly discussed as much is workplace bullying in schools. Yet workplace bullying in educational settings is more prevalent than in other environments (Fahie & Devine, 2014), with the exception of nursing (Berry, Gillespie, Fisher, & Gormley, 2016).

When I looked at the reasons why teachers felt bullied by their administrators, few patterns emerged that showed a single clear factor that led to teachers being targeted. Some felt it was because of their age and others felt that their own behaviors, such as being outspoken or questioning their principals, may have led to the mistreatment.

Others felt that their administrators were jealous of them, either personally or professionally. Some teachers perceived that it was simply about power and that their administrators needed to exert power over them for unknown reasons. Ultimately, most of them will never know why an administrator targeted them, but the perceptions they shared with me are their realities (see my piece in this issue of The Educational Forum).

Interestingly, when discussing my research with colleagues or at conferences, I’ve had some ask whether the teachers who felt bullied were “bad” teachers, as if that somehow excuses the administrators’ behaviors.

Others have asked how I know whether the teachers I spoke with were really bullied without talking to administrators too, as if the teachers’ perceptions of what happened to them were not valid without the administrators’ discussing their perspectives. If people feel bullied, it is real to them and they will react accordingly; it has consequences for their performance at work, their desire to stay in the profession, and their mental health.

Even if it is a misunderstanding or misperception, it should be dealt with so that both the teacher and administrator reach an agreement about how to positively work together and treat each other with professional courtesy.

Prior research found a connection between low autonomy and the likelihood of being bullied in the workplace (Baillien, De Cuyper, & De Witte, 2011; Bowling & Beere, 2006). Therefore, one potential approach to managing this crisis is to increase the amount of autonomy teachers have in the workplace; hopefully this could contribute to decreases in workplace bullying in schools. Another approach may be to change the culture of the workplace. Changing workplace cultures that condone bullying, rather than refusing to deal with the problem, is not easy; but everyone deserves to work in an environment that is not harmful.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. One of the major issues with addressing workplace bullying is that we can’t create policies to make people treat others decently—kindness can’t be legislated. But we need to hold adults in schools to the same standards we do students and create the expectation of treating people with respect.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the current issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2018.

When Worlds Collide: A Teacher Becomes an Administrator

mceachern_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. Kirstin Pesola McEachern, Curriculum and Instruction Director at The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read her full article, “Developing a Research Identity: Promoting a Research Mindset Among Faculty and Students” (coauthored by Dr. Jessica L. Horton), in The Educational Forum.

A few years ago, I moved to an administrative position at the private school at which I had been teaching high school English for more than 10 years.

I had long wanted to be in a position to change the problems I and other teachers lamented over in the lunchroom, but it wasn’t until the assistant principal role opened unexpectedly and others encouraged me that I threw my hat in the ring.

When the school announced my appointment, colleagues’ responses took one of two forms, sometimes both: delight that I was bringing my teaching experience to the job, and disappointment that I was joining “the dark side”—the place where administrators forget what teaching is all about and make decisions that leave faculty scratching their heads. 

mceachern_photo_mugFellow teachers even gifted me with a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head, which still sits in my office.

Some might have perceived this change as abandoning one world in favor of another.

However, such transitions often grant us opportunities to draw from past experience to improve our future practice.

While teaching, I had gone back to school for my master’s and doctorate degrees, and being a student again made me a better teacher. My classroom assignments were more intentional, as I didn’t want my students questioning a lesson’s purpose like I sometimes did in the courses I took. My methods were more varied, as I was learning new approaches from my professors. And I better understood the realities of being a student with seemingly impossible homework loads and teachers who thought their class was the only content occupying my headspace.

Much like being a student made me a better teacher, being a teacher made me a better administrator because I knew firsthand the implications for the decisions I made.

For instance, as a teacher of freshmen, I believed the timeframe in which I had to recommend their level for sophomore year was too short; students often didn’t hit their stride until after Christmas, yet I had to decide whether they were honors material when half the year was still ahead of us. As a teacher, I did my best and crossed my fingers, but as an administrator, that deadline was one of the first policy changes I made—much to the satisfaction of my colleagues.

Another important transition I had to negotiate when becoming an administrator was what it meant for my identity as a researcher of my own practice. Did I have to give that up? As I describe in my article in The Educational Forum, teacher research was an empowering force when I was in the classroom, and encouraging teachers at my school to embrace a research mindset remains a passion of mine as an administrator. It requires cultivating a culture of trust and risk-taking, and doing so communicates to faculty that administrators understand and respect their teachers’ knowledge and contributions to the larger learning community.

My identities as a teacher and researcher strengthen my work as an administrator, and I remain confident that others can find similar benefits when facing transitions between what might appear, at first, to be different worlds.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. McEachern and Dr. Horton’s article free with the education community through November 30, 2016. Read the full article here.