Thursday 31 January 2013

The Universal Panacea? Trusted to improve
If I had the power to change one thing in the world of education in the UK, I would put trust at the centre of everything we do…
It all started about six years ago. I was running a Comenius school project and was invited along with two other colleagues and four students to meet with our partner schools in Finland. We were visited by OFSTED the week before and when asked about differences between educational systems, it was hard not to mention our inspection.
The headteacher enquired: “Do you mean, you still have school inspections?” I nodded. “Isn’t that a little archaic?”. I stopped dead and looked at him. “We don’t have these any more… very old-fashioned…”.  And then, the killer : “Why don’t they just trust you?”. All three of us started laughing nervously… but we could not really provide any immediate answer.
Why indeed? Is it really such an airy-fairy idea that the vast majority of teachers do a good job and want to constantly improve what they are doing? Maybe the vast majority is not enough, I will accept that, but more disturbing was the opinion from some of my colleagues that OFSTED could not be done without. I mean… How do we know we are doing OK? How do we know how good we are?
My response to that is that if we do not know deep down whether we have tried our utmost with a set of students or not, then our ability to reflect professionally is seriously lacking. Accountability is also a double-edged sword. It does safeguard children’s interests but it also dictates rules all have to play by as well as make attractive any loopholes and shortcuts to get to the same end result.
As for the second question, how good we are does not matter as much as how much better we can become. There is something dangerous about wearing an outstanding badge and not trying to change things for the better any more…
Trust does not just happen. It feeds through everything we do. Students should be able to trust us to be professional, prepared and constantly striving to get them to learn in more effective ways. Respect relies on trust, mutual trust, as that goes for students as much as it goes for staff.
Hyper-accountability can cause extreme stress and damage confidence, self-image and performance. The impact is negative all around but trusting is not providing excuses for poor performance. Trust contributes to setting up a context where improvement takes place not because it has to happen but because groups of individuals want it to happen. If improvement does not happen as planned, then the group agrees on further steps to be taken to rectify this rather than drop the whole process as it was unsuccessful and not meaningful.   
Acknowledging  context is not providing excuses, it’s humanising data. We do teach human beings who are probably at their most vulnerable emotionally and nothing saddened me more than the following comment I heard made by a student  “I am not a person, for some people I am just a walking A Grade”. 
Allowing committed teachers to sometimes feel disappointed rather than guilty is essential as guilt is a destructive downward spiral that affects teachers’ health and children’s education. Guilt erodes enthusiasm, energy levels as well as the willingness to take risk and be creative.
We don’t teach numbers, we teach children whose potential to learn can go up and down.
Simple but daring-Trust is the only way to improvement, a policy of openness where trying to paper the cracks is not a way forward.

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Enjoy the conversation...

1 comment:

jeremyinspain said...

I've been teaching for 30 years. I remember the first couple, when I was new to it all, and I was supervised and helped and encouraged. Then a golden period when I was indeed trusted. I don't believe I betrayed that trust, I was so proud to be doing what I was doing. Then it all started to change and the bulk of my career has has been played out under a shadow of suspicion (that we didn't know what we were doing, or we were lazy and feckless). I never accepted the charge. I hadn't changed. 'They' were the ones who's changed, not me.
I get the impression from your blog that you are younger than me. That makes you the furute. I feel happy to know that you are not one of 'them'. Trust yourself. Look at the children in you classes. You and they are the beginning, the middle and the end of this job. And isn't it a great one!