Avoiding the blame game, not over-complicating things, building on trust and making time for reflection are Jon Hutchinson’s picks of this week’s education topics
Headteacher Sallie Stanton treats us to an hilarious anecdote setting out a scene in which she yo-yos from disinfecting the kitchen to helping her daughter with online maths homework. Gloves on, gloves off. Inevitably, this leads to the blame game. Tensions rise, arguments ensue, tears flow. This has to be someone’s fault. “Of course,” Stanton steps back to note, “the blame game is daft.” From the perspective of both a parent and a headteacher, Stanton was desperate instead to reach for the playbook to calmly navigate her way out of the crisis. Irritatingly, “the book I need hasn’t been written yet”. This could easily lead to paralysis, to a “freeze” reflex in the fight-or-flight response. But Stanton’s got her gloves back on. And so the remainder of this blog sets out some of the most measured and sensible advice I’ve read as a school leader to help us all write the book while we read it.
Inevitably, bloggers have turned their attention to issues arising from the new challenges that distance learning has created. So much of what we rely on as educators has been whipped out from under us; most notably, as headteacher Matthew Evans notes, the “ability to control” has been removed. Rather than try and recreate the structures that we once relied upon within our new virtual normal, Evans argues that “we must accept that we cannot control most things” and that instead “all we are left with is trust”. The blog reminds me of a recent Sam Harris podcast with Matt Mullenweg who developed the WordPress platform on which many of the blogs listed in this article are hosted. Mullenweg argues that when moving to virtual, distributed working, most people default to simply duplicate existing working norms, when in fact a new approach is needed out of which new opportunities will bloom. Evans’ foundation of relying on trust as a first principle seems like a sound place upon which to build our new edifices.
Teaching is both astoundingly complex and yet incredibly simple. This paradox, along with a way out of it, has been set out lucidly, practically and powerfully by blogger Mark Enser over the past few years, most comprehensively in his excellent book Teach Like Nobody’s Watching. In these extraordinary times, Enser observes, it is so very tempting to default to our position of unhelpfully overcomplicating the teaching and learning process. Resist, he pleads. Instead, Enser strips back the teaching process and suggests that we should follow the tried and trusted “recap, input, application, feedback” protocol that we all know, deep down, works so well. Sure, it may not be whizz-bangy. It may even be “very far from perfect”. But staring the elephant in the room in the eye, Enser reminds us that “perfect isn’t achievable”. In the meantime, the advice in this blog will serve us all well.
The aphorism that “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision”, usually attributed to Maimonides, has been embraced by many a Silicon Valley start-up with a move-fast-and-break-things approach. Since we all now find ourselves embracing new tech and working mostly in our pyjamas, it’s easy to get swept up in such a philosophy. Prof Rachel Lofthouse urges caution, however, and asks us instead to use this period as a chance to “be more reflective than our normal busy schedules allow”. This process of “critical reflection” set out by Lofthouse is usually taken by teachers to be a luxury that can simply never take priority over the day-to-day hustle of teaching. But now that we finally have the chance to “connect with our values and beliefs”. Let’s seize it.