What keeps a professional relationship healthy? Much the same as a personal one, as it turns out. But in a crisis, desperation can cause us to forget our values in favour of ‘sticking plaster’ solutions.

For maximum benefit for pupils, relationships between schools and teachers ought to embody certain core characteristics. They should be:

1. Trustful

A school must trust that a teacher is both competent and a cultural fit for their school. A teacher must trust that a school to which they are engaged is a cultural fit for them and will facilitate their teaching and personal growth.

2. Fair

This goes without saying, but being treated and paid fairly underpins good practice in any industry. We call on all parties to adhere to national pay scales for supply teachers.

3. Transparent

In any relationship, be it business or personal, effective communication is founded on the equal sharing of information. Anything less than complete transparency will breed distrust.

4. Positive

Positivity amongst staff has real impact on their ability to support pupils and can help to reduce pupil misbehaviour.

5. Ongoing

Pupils benefit from trickle-down effects of all of the above, but particularly by building a relationship with an admired teacher over time.

But the relationship between schools and teachers is often distorted by a middle-man. Relationships with agencies have been shown to precipitate distrustexploitationopacity and negativity, as well as being inherently geared towards sticking plaster solutions — think of the turn-off effect of finders’ fees in permanent recruitment decision making.


Innovation and the zeitgeist

In the private sector, the term ‘industry disruption’ is routinely bandied about in the context of rocketship, commodity-oriented startups in the sharing economy (which some commentators have rightly pointed out should more accurately be termed the ‘access economy’).

In the public sector, disruption is different because the nature of the service is different. To an AirBnB user, temporary access to a bed (a commodity) is the end goal. For the end consumer in our case — pupils — it’s not a question of temporary ‘access’ to a great teacher. There is a quite different paradigm at play — the ongoing nature of the service: the relationship.

The accepted definition of a disruptive innovation is one that offers a cheaper, faster and ultimately better way of attaining a desired result. In a commodity-based model like AirBnB, simply providing a cheaper and faster alternative to a hotel booking constitutes disruptive innovation — and we all know the impact such change can have, as the disruptive innovator quickly becomes the authority in its field.

In a more complex — let’s call it a ‘relationship economy’ — model, where we are not dealing with a commodity, the disruptive innovation still counts lower prices and convenience as benefits. But its end goal (and its own longevity depends on this) is the integrity of the ongoing service, which itself is defined by the quality of the relationship between buyer, seller and facilitator. That relationship is based on the other four founding pillars outlined above: trust, fairness, transparency, and positivity.

So, to reclaim positivity and longevity for our professional relationships we are left with a set of cultural and behavioural requirements from each of the three parties involved in bringing a great teaching experience to pupils:

From schools: Institutional trust, in the form of strong, decisive leadership that is ready to challenge the status quo. A real-world commitment to the support of innovation and change.

From teachers: Individual trust, and a willingness to embrace new ways of working, including the concept of ‘micro-entrepreneurship’. The mandate demanding the change.

From recruiters: A commitment to fairness and transparency that will earn trust, and the competency to drive forward a disruptive and lasting systemic improvement.

When all of these cultural and behavioural characteristics coalesce, a positive and ongoing relationship between education professionals can be formed. The effect is a positive, dynamic environment that will foster a better educational experience for all.