It goes without saying that children should not feel terrified at school — nor, for that matter, should the adults who teach them.
Unfortunately, as reported here a week ago, both students and staff are regularly subjected to feelings of fear at Queen of Peace School in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — fear caused by harassment, intimidation and dictatorial favouritism.
“The … thing that immediately is noticed about the staff in this school is the level of fear,” reads an Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association workplace assessment written by employment assistance co-ordinator Gail Carroll. “Staff appear afraid to voice their opinions and suggestions.”
Most staff members, even those on leave, had no doubt about the source of the problem: “The majority of staff at Queen of Peace School describes their leadership as dictatorial, militant and inflexible, setting a tone of negativity and fear within the school for both staff and students,” Carroll wrote. “This style of leadership has caused anxiety for the staff. The day-to-day atmosphere is described as ‘like walking on eggshells’ … Many are reluctant to approach the administration for a number of reasons including … fear of repercussion(s), uncertain of reception, being met with an attitude of defence, and some do not approach because they see administration as having a closed-door policy. Less than 20 per cent of staff reported positive comments in this area.”
What this does is force staff to experience “a significant degree of emotional pain that appears to have been either unrecognized and/or unmanaged for a significant period of time.” It causes “increased conflict and misunderstandings, absenteeism, rebellious behaviours, low work performance and low morale, which has a significant impact on the recipients of service, the students.”
It has also prevented the entire staff and student body from learning together as a team, splitting everyone instead on lines drawn by class (so to speak) and by dysfunctional power relationships.
The Labrador School Board called for this assessment last December, but because of budget cuts it won’t be around to oversee the implementation of Carroll’s recommendations.
Carroll said getting the toxicity out of Queen of Peace would take several years, but should quickly start with a full staff meeting, followed by leadership coaching, healing sessions, workshops and follow-up reviews.
Meanwhile, principal Gary Dove was not willing to discuss the report.
When asked about the 80 per cent of staff who consider Queen of Peace to be a toxic workplace, Dove debated the figure, then suddenly claimed to have no right to discuss the matter.
When asked what would happen to anyone who dared talk about the assessment, Dove compared the situation to someone leaking state secrets from the U.S. White House.
“Whoever shared the report with you is out of line,” he said during an interview in his office.
He said when the recommendations were submitted on Jan. 16, the report was briefly shared with staff, but then all the copies were collected to be stored in a secure location.
As reported last week, the principal said the recommended staff meeting intended to discuss the contents of the workplace assessment had originally been scheduled to take place this school year with the current aggrieved staff, but it has been postponed until at least next fall — by which time the local school board will no longer exist.
Gail Carroll left no doubt that the teaching staff at Queen of Peace School have nothing but the good of their students in mind.
“Teaching is a passion and love for each of them,” she wrote.
Neither did Carroll leave any doubt that their priority is to make the school a better place in which to work and learn.
“The staff of Queen of Peace School seems to view the issues in their school as a combination of factors and have all expressed a desire to be part of the solution.”
In attempting to keep the assessment secret and by delaying action on its recommendations until after the summer break (if ever), the administration at Queen of Peace School shows little desire for being part of any solution.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.