Grief and Turbulence in the Educational Setting

UnknownAbout four years ago, as a parent at my children’s school, we were advised that we were to amalgamate with another local primary school. I, for one, through perhaps ignorance, had no idea this was coming. But when a letter is sent home with the new name of the school plus the Bishop’s name and signature attached, I realised that the decision was made and there was no going back. I personally didn’t have a problem with it. Worse things could have been happening to my children. What I saw was “simply” a school getting bigger with lots of positives coming our way. More resources, a Learning Centre for Children With Special Needs and a new vision for the school were just some of the bonuses of this “turbulence” happening.

“Turbulence Theory” is a theory defined by two academics Shapiro and Gross. “Turbulence Theory” is explored as changes in an environment which impact on the overall decision making process and the ongoing effects of this decision making process. What I didn’t expect was the ongoing turbulence that arose from this amalgamation and that which continued for a couple of years. Even to this day, there ae still “older, original parents” who still throw in the concerned comment about the amalgamation.

What I have come to realise is that through turbulence there is always a form of “grief”, too. The grief comes from change or disruption. And depending on your positionally, especially for those families who were shifting schools geographically,  in the  “turbulence”, the grief can be escalated or minimised. Grief is what provokes the concerns of change, the concerns of the disruption.

Turbulence, especially in education, in my view, refers to change not necessarily instability. Instability comes when there is no integral vision in place. Instability through turbulence comes when the decision making process is based on an individual’s ideology rather than a collective need.

Where no communication is informed. When a plane suffers turbulence, the Captain will immediately respond with communication to staff and passengers. There is a reassurance, regardless of whether it is ongoing or not, that the “Captain” is still steering the plane for the common good of all on board. Turbulence in ethical decision making processes plus the element of grief is considered and understood to expect that it may need communication. Whether instructional or conversational .

When there are people on the fringes of the decision making processes,their opinions and their concerns need to be centred. When there is ongoing reactive turbulence in the decision making arena a clear ethical decision making process needs to be used so as an overall vision is always “ahead”. In our situation, the turbulence was not an isolated occurrence with one issue. It reacted on the school motto, uniform, size of classes, the teacher placement, sporting teams, geography and layout of the school. These were to name a few of the turbulent issues.

What is important to note is that a leader will not be able to clear the path of turbulence, and just like a pilot, he / she may not see any turbulence coming especially when making decisions in what was previously “clear, blue skies”. As  a leader, we need to be aware that it can happen; where all the stakeholders are in the turbulent times; the decision we make to “soften the flight or landing” are driven by common good and that we expect that there may always be more turbulence as a result.

In our school’s case, I personally believe that through flying through some seriously “turbulent” times we have come out flying “bright, blue skies” in many areas.

References: Shapiro, J. & Gross, S. (2007). Ethical Educational Leadership In Turbulent Times: Resolving Moral Dilemmas (pp.47-62).  Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


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