The Importance Of Developmental Dialogue

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Found this interesting flow diagram in relation to last Sunday’s diary entry about EQ and QA (or is it QA and EQ?). Successfully fight initial impulse to badge diagram as outstanding example of Building An Audience By Stating The Bleeding Obvious and concede that perhaps Key To Success is to grasp hold of one idea and continually repeat until dead, or successful route out of teaching is achieved, whichever comes first.

Further consideration leads to irresistible desire to tinker with diagram. First thought is to humbly suggest that ‘feedback to teachers’ stage be written out entirely as it carries strong, pungent scent of traditional hierarchical structures that ought to be avoided at all costs except in the classroom with respect to children. And in the corridors. And the playground. Obviously.

Mutual professional trust and respect surely the most important element of driving up standards in Quality First Teaching after all. Feel certain that Research must prove this to be the case. Ask fellow professionals on The Twitter about this and feel mildly depressed by crushing silence that follows.

Convinced that stage of ‘Developmental Dialogue’ is most important element in process and wonder for the umpteenth time just how, exactly, this is achieved for classroom practitioners who frequently experience days where they have No Time To Pee. Decide that capacity must be explicitly built into practitioners Directed Time for such dialogue to take place then promptly worry that time will instead be filled with Opportunities For Complaining and other avoidance activities. Decide solution might be to have Identified Champions leading dialogue sessions and immediately worry that this is merely example of imposing hierarchical structure on process. Tempted to accept this compromise as another splendid example of the need to Celebrate Contradictions and mark this job as ‘complete’ on lengthy to-do list but this prompt immediate revisiting of earlier concerns about finding the Ultimate List App. Hold head in hands and ask self once again about potential retirement age.

No Time To Pee

I believe that ‘Hydrate Or Die’ was once the Snappy Slogan for the Camelbak company. It may still be, but I am afraid I have not really been paying attention to such things. Certainly the theory of staying properly fuelled and hydrated has long been established as being Of Vital Importance not just to those pursuing physically orientated goals but also to those interested in more esoteric or indeed academic pursuits. A Healthy Body is A Healthy Mind don’t you know.

Shocked to discover this week then that I am not the only one in my team falling desperately behind in the league table of Ideal Daily Fluid Intake as S and I compared water bottles at the start of Leadership Team meeting after school. Neither of us, it transpired, had drunk more than three fingers worth since 8am. Both agreed that this measure of daily consumption more than adequate for whisky or gin but not going to cut it when it comes to a healthy hydration routine. Proceed to compare days and forced to concede that lack of fluid intake largely dictated by fact that typical days’ pace is such that there is No Time To Pee: Morning of meetings lead straight into break-time duties which lead straight into teaching which lead into lunchtime duties which lead to full afternoon of teaching and then finally to more meetings. J overhears conversation and points out that it sounds like Typical Teacher Whining and suggests we Man Up. Less than fifty precent convinced this suggestion is made in ironic manner.

Determined to include Daily Hydration And Urination Policy For Staff in agenda for next Leadership Team meeting. Also make note to self to cite failure of timetable to meet needs of such a policy as key reason for lack of progress in next appraisal review. Consider this to be a successful solution-focused outcome to the day.

You say EQ, I say QA

Outburst over coffee this morning from M upon reading something on The Twitter about schools’ EQ processes. Apparently several leaders from different schools have been taking potshots at each other over this matter with each insisting their own QA process is The One True Way. Criticism in this instance appears to have been around the idea that one might be able to attain a clear and coherent overview of one’s colleagues strengths and weakness through “three snapshot observations a year”. Deeply concerned over this for a number of reasons:

  1. Troubled to think that any senior leader in a school would genuinely suggest that their QA process of teaching and learning is solely based upon formal lesson observations used for an appraisal/performance management process.
  2. Concerned that any senior leader would intentionally suggest 1. to be the case in order to Score Points in Social Media squabble.
  3. Confused as to whether the de-facto acronym for this process is EQ or QA. Are we Ensuring Quality or are we Quality Assuring? Admit this confusion reigns even in my own school where EQ and QA are routinely used within the same documents (none of which are written by my good hand, I hasten to add).

Convince self that The Reality Of The Situation must surely be that any self-respecting school leader engages with a range of tools and techniques to ensure quality of teaching and learning in their establishment. Convince self too that senior school leaders around the land are in fact triangulating evidence from a variety of sources in order to quality assure teaching and learning in their establishment. Share these Contentious Conclusions with M who, speaking from experience, immediately suggests replacing ‘triangulation’ with the phrase “from three different places” in order that colleagues not feel threatened by complex vocabulary. Take this suggestion on the chin and embark on lengthy period of mutual declamation of Other People with M. Agree that this is another opportunity to Celebrate Contradictions and pour another coffee.

It’s Trad, Dad

p01hg06pMuch fulmination on The Twitter about a so called ‘Progressive Edu-Twitter’ “blindly accepting what others have said”. Admittedly brief exposure to The Twitter suggests default use of the entire service appears to be either blind acceptance or rejection of what others have said and therefore not entirely certain what point is being made.

Still no nearer an answer about what the opposing camp to ‘Progressive Edu-Twitter’ might be. M, who has more experience of these things than I, suggests it is The Traditionalists. This hilariously conjures a vision of legions of educationalists all sporting Acker Bilk hats and mumbling ‘it’s Trad, Dad’ at their conventions.

Further declamation of The Progressive Edu-Twitter suggests that it spends much of its time unthinkingly repeating slogans. Wonder if things like No Excuses and Data Driven Research are not also Slogans. Suspect this is a perfect opportunity to Celebrate Contradictions.

The Appeal of Uniformity

As expected, much fuss this past week about School Uniform. Somewhat surprised to discover however that Prince George’s uniform for his first day at his ‘prep’ school cost only £340. Over the years M and I have crafted a theory based on occasional viewing of ‘Antiques Roadshow’ which suggests that the more ugly and unpleasant something looks then the more valuable it will undoubtedly be. As such, £340 seemed to us to be remarkably cheap. To be fair, one could argue that the little prince’s uniform is more banal and forgettable than idiosyncratic and vile, though counter argument may run that it is the very unremarkable and forgettable nature of the uniform that makes it so very hideous. Would be happy for either argument to prevail just as long as time was not wasted parading the arguments in the Press and the Social Medias. Acutely aware of the irony of touching on the topic in my diary and immediately remind myself of previous entry about Embracing Hypocrisy and Acknowledging Contradictions. Wonder now if that should be ‘Celebrate Contradictions’? The alliteration is appealing and perhaps it comes across as more Positive? Resist temptation to edit yesterday’s post in some Orwellian ‘re-writing history’ manner.

Prince George’s uniform of course merely an hors d’oeuvre to the main course of delight taken by many in The Media in delivering gleeful beatings of State Schools attempting to Raise Standards by implementing No Excuses approach to uniform. Shared various examples of such stories with M over breakfast most mornings last week, to which she replied that she was patiently waiting for the first comments about how The Poor may whine about the cost of school uniforms yet are still able to find the money for their satellite televisions and mobile telephones. From which it is of course merely a skip and a hearty jump to someone suggesting that that nice Mr Hitler Had The Right Idea. Or at least that he Wasn’t All Wrong. Suggest to her that if she were reading The Daily Mail instead of The Manchester Guardian then these kinds of comments would be immediate, plentiful and likely even more vilely vitriolic. ‘And poorly punctuated’, she added.

Often wonder just where the English pre-occupation with School Uniform emanates from. No doubt some weighty academic tome exists somewhere that explains all in excruciatingly dull detail but cannot even find the motivation to ask The Google for an easy answer. Feel certain however that it is deeply rooted in militaristic myth and maintaining the status-quo of Class boundaries. Admit that this thought is, like the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ theory of the relationship between aesthetics and financial value, somewhat lacking in Scientific Basis and is indeed founded on data that is flimsy at best and non-existent at worst. Recognise that such an approach to establishing educational theory will not sit well with so-called Learning Scientists or the nice people at ResearchEd, both of whom clearly understand How To Build A Following and leverage business opportunities within the educational market place. Decide that this is undoubtedly a strength.

Embrace Hypocrisy and Acknowledge Contradictions

Re-read ‘Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People’ and immediately worry if a book first published in 1988 can Still Be Relevant in a world changed out of all recognition. I know this is the case because I am old enough to remember 1988. Resist temptation to watch video clips on The WikiTube of old Top Of The Pops performances by Yazz and Tanita Tikaram.

Quickly and confidently identify that the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People are ones that I already have and that therefore any failings in my leadership must be Someone Else’s Fault. Remember that this is the argument put forward by colleagues I have been challenging (in a supportive manner) about the examination results of their students and that perhaps I should re-consider my stance. Consider that the alternative is to accept the hypocrisy and decide that embracing hypocrisy (or at least acknowledging contradictions) could be another habit of Effective Leadership. Immediately make commitment to add this idea to my canon of Highly Individual Ideas that I will propagate endlessly via this diary and on The Twitter. Convinced that the educational illuminati will embrace me for this and welcome me into their midst with open arms.

Time Well Spent

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Contemplate writing down all the things that have occurred in The First Week Back and decide that:

  1. I do not have the time, energy or headspace necessary to do this.
  2. No-one wants to read about how many things I have had to juggle at once because this is what the job of teaching and leadership in a school entails and is what the phrases ‘Suck It Up Princess’, ‘Man Up’ and (my personal favourite, courtesy of Don Draper in ‘Mad Men’) ‘THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR’ were intended to address.

Nevertheless, all week I have been vaguely aware of Things Happening on The Twitter and as a consequence have asked myself on numerous occasions where these people find the time, energy and headspace in order to be quite so ubiquitous. Decide there may be several answers:

  1. Tweets are all scheduled and in fact people are Just As Busy as I am in school. This answer perhaps more troublingly suggests that if this is the case then composing must be done in evenings, nighttime or the early hours of the morning. Suggests also that such colleagues must be androids who do not sleep (and therefore do not dream of electric sheep) or that they have no Work Life Balance. Consider if this is the case then all those Tweets about Workload are deeply ironic.
  2. People Tweeting and blogging about Education are not in fact involved with working in schools at all and are actually writing their words at home or in some delightful coffee shop with free WiFi.
  3. People Tweeting and blogging about Education are indeed working in schools but are so desperate to Build A Following and reach the point where they can get out of school and write their words at home or in some delightful coffee shop with free WiFi that they are willing to sacrifice Work Life Balance in the short term.
  4. They all have better supplies of coffee than I do.

Another possibility is that they are all People With Highly Effective Habits. Concede that whilst this may be the most likely scenario, decide that option 4 is the one that will have the most impact on my practice and proceed to spend several hours researching coffee machines for my office. Consider this Time Well Spent and a fine way to end the First Week Back. Look forward to a more caffeinated Week Two.

More Avoidance Activity

More hours spent on Avoidance Activities this afternoon, this time on The Twitter where a degree of disagreement quickly developed today over a comment made by the Chair of the government’s ‘behaviour group’. Mr Bennett apparently gave a ‘shout out’ to all the teachers who are planning on arranging their desks in neat rows for the new term, the implied assertion being that this one simple action would Solve Behaviour Problems. Found the resultant flurry of accusation and counter-accusation bewildering and mildly depressing. Led me to reflect on the past twenty five years of my own experience and concluded that although a suggestion that the mere re-arrangement of physical space would lead to Good (a word which here I perhaps wrongly interpret to mean compliant) behaviour to be somewhat naive and wilfully simplistic, realise too that counter-arguments perhaps also failed to miss this point. Wonder if this is inevitable where ripostes are character limited, which leads me to doubt if The Twitter is a place I really want to be inhabiting on a regular basis. Decide on further reflection that what I find most troubling of all is that a senior representative of a Government initiative should be using the phrase ‘shout out’, but willing to concede that this may simply be more evidence that I am Old and Out Of Touch.

Avoidance Activities

Up at some unholy hour this Sunday morning and instantly tell myself that if 8am feels unseemly today then just imagine the unpleasantness tomorrow when I shall be forced to rise two hours earlier. Breakfast passes somewhat in the manner of the last meal of the condemned as over yoghurt and fruit I peruse my to-do list whilst being silently determined to Get Organised for the week ahead. Once more worry that I am not using the most efficient list app on my mobile telephone and immediately embark on a range of avoidance activities including rearranging books in the first landing bookcases. Consider asking The Twitter what method of categorisation would be best: alphabetical by author; by genre and then author; by colour of spine or Other? Not entirely convinced this would be helpful as it would undoubtedly lead to squabbles and recriminations. Decide in the end to put books back in same order they were previously.

Handheld vacuum cleaner runs of out power halfway through the downstairs rooms. Consider this is probably A Sign. Look again at my school email inbox and add three more actions to The List. Consider that on reflection none of the actions are time critical. Also convinced that vacuum cleaner will be charged enough to finish off the downstairs rooms in an hour or two anyway and that starting something new would be foolish so therefore decide to make third coffee and write this diary entry. Feel this is surely the most efficient use of my time.

The Twitter

Dipped a toe into the heady waters of The Twitter this morning. I understand it is The Place To Be Seen for anyone involved in education who wants to Get On. Try in vain to keep the sceptic in me from suggesting that those wanting to Get On in education usually means wanting to Get Out Of The Classroom and of school in general. Acknowledge that to many of my colleagues who are main scale teachers I have already succumbed to such temptations through my traitorous move to Leadership. Adamant, however, that a position of leadership has not changed me and that in the year ahead I will endeavour to prove that I am still a Worker like everyone else.

On first perusal The Twitter appears to be full of excitement about a television programme called ‘Educating Manchester’. Understand this to be the latest in a franchise of such television programmes, none of which I have watched. Education experts on The Twitter appear much exercised by the programme and proffer advice to the teachers they have seen on the screen. Amused that many on The Twitter appear to consider the television programme as A Training Video rather than fulfilling the role of Entertainment as I assume is intended. In no way tempted to watch the programme to see if I am right (as I am sure to be. I am In Leadership after all) and am generally mystified by anyone who would choose to watch television programmes about their work for pleasure. Grudgingly accept that perhaps this is another sign that I am not a successful leader and is why I am probably wrong about the programme, or at the very least about the education experts’ attitude towards it. Yearn ever so slightly to be acknowledged as one of these experts but know too that I should probably need to surrender all vestiges of remaining humanity in order to become one.