This focus point jumped at me as I read the Business Section of the New Zealand Herald on Friday 3 February;
Kate Jorgensen, Kiwi Rail CFO
– “my real lesson is that you get an answer and something in your gut tells you it is not right, always follow through, always keep going until you’ve got the right answer.”
Quoted in Herald Business 3 Feb 2017 – Kate Jorgensen was commenting on a lesson she learned soon after she graduated from university. She was interviewing elderly victims of a fraudster and found many had asked the fraudster questions about doubtful looking transactions. However the fraudster never replied to the questions. The victims all gave up asking again! Until it was too late!
This brings to mind the examples of inappropriate or illegal actions by staff of New Zealand schools.
One example involved an IT technician in the early days of school IT networks, making sure he could use the school server for his own nefarious actions. He set up new locks on the room and space where the server was using the excuse that only he needed access as others could mess up the system. The principal asked about these and accepted the answer but was left uneasy.
Still questioning in his mind three of four months later the principal attended a session about school IT safeguards and was told by the police that the most important thing to do was to know what your IT experts are up to. Be suspicious of locks being changed, access to servers only being the role of the one expert and the expert “doing work on the server at all hours of the day or night”. The police also insisted on persistent questioning – all the “dumb questions you can think of”
The principal looked at his BOT Chairman who was also there and said, “We have a technician who is doing all those thing!”
They discussed things with the police and that night broke into the server room and the police forensics team had a field day uncovering use of the school system as part of an internet porn ring.
The principal had got the answer.
Every year in New Zealand a few teachers have inappropriate relationships with students. All too often these cases occur over quite long periods of time and on reflection other teachers in the school can say, “I thought that Teacher X was being unprofessional and it was not appropriate but when I mentioned my view X brushed off my concern.”
One instance involved a teacher ingratiating his way into the minds of teenage girls in his form class and consequently isolating them and touching them inappropriately.
We in the school were concerned enough to warn the Principal that things did not seem to be as they should – after an investigation the Principal said there was nothing to be concerned about. We accepted this – despite the teacher taking photos of the students in his class for a database of his making, using a darkroom with students, having special counselling sessions with female students.
Fortunately our guidance counsellor kept on questioning – until finally a student confirmed she had been touched inappropriately by the male teacher. The Guidance Counsellor’s persistent questioning and joining up of the different pieces of information led to instant dismissal and a prison sentence for the teacher.
School finances can lead to similar need for strong persistent questioning. A classic example involved the Principal using a school bank account as his own personal money source. He had an imprest (petty cash) account set up and controlled the use of this account even to the extent of ensuring it was regularly topped up. Members of his Board of Trustees asked about this account and were told “it was not their business to confirm how this money was spent.”
After several years the Principal left and the new Principal confirmed in no uncertain terms the BOT had been “taken for a ride” – following investigations the previous principal was found to have carried out similar fraudulent actions with community groups he acted as Treasurer for.
In this instance it is really hard for community members of a BOT to keep asking the dumb questions when things seem wrong. However we should applaud each time such questions are repeated.
Kate Jorgensen will not be surprised to think of her persistent questioning being one of the most powerful tools when dealing with bullying by students or teachers. Small signs can when added together over a series of questions and answers provide the picture to uncover bullying and injustice. Yet all too often we as teachers do not want to believe bullying actions are occurring or that other teachers are being deliberately unjust in their treatment of some students.
Sometimes we think that if we have passed on our concern about something we have done our bit and the Principal or Deputy Principal will handle it from here. (All too often these concerns can get lost in the busy flow of their daily work and may not get dealt with for weeks!)
Perhaps we all need a “warning light” question list when becoming aware of situations that cause us to be uneasy;
- why do I instinctively feel that is not right?
- why has that student changed in the last month or so?
- What am I not being told?
- Why did I get the brush off in that answer?
- Why did the teacher not look at me as he answered?
- What other questions could I ask to widen the scope of my checking?
- Who else might be able to cast some light on this situation?
- Why is only one staff member in charge or involved wirh this? (money, activity, group)
- Who else needs to know about my concerns?
- How can I remember to re-visit this concern shortly? (In a week or month no more.)
These are all negatives – I wonder what happens when you keep on questioning as a leader in search of “great ideas and things going on around here”?