A Culture of Fear…


Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Private Pyle has dishonored himself and dishonored the platoon. I have tried to help him. But I have failed. I have failed because YOU have not helped me. YOU people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation! So, from now on, whenever Private Pyle f**ks up, I will not punish him! I will punish all of YOU! And the way I see it ladies, you owe me for ONE JELLY DOUGHNUT! NOW GET ON YOUR FACES!

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket is one of my all time movie heroes.  His job is to turn raw recruits into United States Marines, at the height of the Vietnam War.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with the USMC and have met chaps who have obviously followed the “Hartman Method” to the letter.

However it doesn’t always work.  Hartman’s methods endear because, in some situations, an element of fear is what is required.  Where it isn’t needed though is in schools…

Several things have made me think about school leadership in a different way recently.  Firstly I moved schools and it is a massive culture change from where I was to where I am now.  Secondly I was part of a conversation on Twitter whereby someone had been sent an email about going to see their head and had no idea what it was about.  This is the culture of fear incarnate.

So how do we deal with a culture of fear and make it work for us?  This conundrum links neatly to my previous blog piece on stress management and the boiling lobster analogy.  If we don’t notice the gradual increase in temperature then we adapt to it and subsequently increase our stress levels.

Now, before anyone comments, I do see the enormous pressures that head teachers and SLT are under nowadays; one would have to be completely blind to not see it.  While I empathise with this situation it also comes with the leadership role.  Simply put, if you don’t want the pressure then don’t climb the tree!  But when you reach the top of the tree then your first loyalty has to be to your staff.  An effective team can be killed off by ineffective leadership so you have to see where people’s strengths lie.  A culture of fear is the antithesis of effective leadership.  People will blindly follow out of the fear whilst their stress levels increase.  They become less effective and end up going through the motions just to survive.

The culture of fear must be destroyed.  We talk of Growth Mindsets for the children in our charge but, all too often, school leaders are not applying the same principles to their staff.  The culture of fear remains and emasculates teachers to the stage where they become automatons instead of the vibrant, enthusiastic creatures that arrived for interview.

If you work in a culture of fear then it is incumbent on you to do something about it.  Make sure your school has a whistleblowing policy and use it if necessary.  Make sure you have support in your actions.  Most importantly though, recognise that others may not have the same moral courage as you and help and support them!

There is no room for Gunny Hartman in education…



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