A Valuable Life Lesson

FFT results analysis lands in Inbox this morning. Bold change of direction in 2020 sees this document re-position itself in the Fantasy Fiction genre. Provincial School therefore happy to trumpet Best Results Ever but wryly notes that this makes us Underperforming. Refection on this underperformance suggests Other Schools obviously making more judicious use of Generosity plot device in narratives or, if feeling less forgiving, have overplayed the Dishonesty card. However, if present government have taught us anything in recent months it is surely that we ought always to assume that No-One Is Being Honest Ever. This is a Valuable Life Lesson.

Nothing is Normal except…

It is only with almost all students now back in school that levels of anxiety felt by Other People really come into focus. After five months of very happily living inside own rural bubble with only occasional visits into The Wider World (not been Up To Town since February and still not been in a supermarket since, was going to say March but actually is probably something like a year, supermarkets really not being Part Of My Life anyway). Genuinely surprised therefore to see so many colleagues wearing Face Coverings of various descriptions in areas and circumstances outside of those included in Guidance. Must stress that whilst I admit may be moribundly attached to many of The Old Ways, am resolutely not some anti-mask lunatic who sees themselves as ‘free thinking radical’ (for which read person who thinks ‘research’ is reading some memes on The Social Media). Seems clear that all talk of getting used to a New Normal has significant roots in reality.

Pleased to note, however, that The Old Normal is swiftly re-established in Leadership Team Meeting, where ‘strategic’ meeting instantly becomes mired in detailed thirty minute discussion argument about glue sticks and pens. Only when it is finally agreed that perhaps students should bring own to school does meeting move on to thirty minute discussion argument about Handing Out Books. At least there is no mention of chicken burgers.

Something To Think About (Welcome Back)

Back in school today ‘properly’ for the first time since The Lockdown. Like many of my colleagues I was of course in school on a weekly basis during the entirety of The Lockdown but it is certainly the strangest Return After Summer I have experienced in my twenty eight years in the profession. Challenges include getting used to being surrounded by so many people, familiarising self with Bubble Zones and, most critically, reacquainting self with the controls of the (personally funded) coffee machine in office.

Have interesting conversation with C. who tells me that The Lockdown has helped him Reappraise Life and that as consequence he is committed to taking The Retirement just as soon as he possibly can. He suspects that many colleagues Of A Certain Age will have had similar epiphanies and I agree that the influx of emails advertising Retirement Seminars would bear this out. As we go our separate ways I tell him it is certainly Something To Think About.

Whatever You Do Will Have No Effect

Watched interesting video about Millennials and Mobile Technologies recently, prompted by leadership discussion around use of devices by students impacting negatively on Behaviour. Feel that chap in video (Simon Sinek – looking as though surely Millennial himself) makes compelling points but with Cynical Hat on cannot help but laugh at point being made that change needs to come at corporation level to have impact. This is something that chimes with Provincial Teacher thoughts on environmental ‘climate crisis’ at the moment, where all of us middle class worthies are getting in a tiz about not using plastic, buying loose lentils from the hipster shop in the city and buying almond soy hazelnut oat milk for our lattes. Firmly believe that all such actions will have minimal to zero global positive impact unless there is significant strategic and sustained committed change at government and corporation level. Argument that ‘market forces’ of people buying bamboo toothbrushes will force change seems to me profoundly naïve. Have been around long enough to have seen similar concerns expressed about the environment in past, accompanied by similar levels of hand wringing and resulting in zero long term commitment. All leading to change occurring extraordinarily slowly and positive impact being negligible/non-existent.

So the parallel is that my belief is that corporations simply WILL NOT make changes that Sinek is suggesting because ultimately they don’t care about worker welfare/people. Firmly believe that economic/cultural history (particularly recent) has shown this to be the case. So whilst am certainly in favour of implementing changes to phone/device policy in school(s) (i.e. students don’t need them in school and should not have them in school. Not even turned off and in bags. Just not in school. At all. Period.) I will take come convincing that schools can have a longer term impact when the cultural forces outside of our immediate environment continue to encourage the use of those technologies and devices.

May be horribly defeatist, but currently feel that our world is necessarily in period of civilised retreat. In face of rampant neo-liberal and right-wing ideologies becoming The Norm there are increasingly barriers being erected (both literal and metaphorical) to keep ‘the other side’ out and to ‘protect’ ourselves from what we find unpleasant/unwelcome/unacceptable (true from both sides of the barriers). Some will call banning use of social media and mobile devices in spaces such as schools and workplaces an action that will improve collective and individual mental health. Others will proclaim such actions abuses of power by elites and an infringement of Personal Freedom. A middle ground will not be permitted.

Would grudgingly concede that such bleak opinion on Bigger Picture may not be a reason to Do Nothing, but nevertheless cannot help feeling that this particular Dark Genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going to go back in. Perhaps in a hundred years from now historians will write papers on the strange, transitory blight of ‘social media’ that caused a global spike in depression in early 21st Century before the invention of (insert new technology that will Solve All Problems And Create Different Ones – probably the same as previous ones but given a different buzzword). Perhaps not.

Only time will tell (and most of us won’t be here to say ‘I told you so’).

Meanwhile, over on Side 2…

Today spent the most enjoyable three school-based hours of recent years with a trainee teacher and a subject specialist tutor discussing teaching and learning in My Specialist Subject. On reflection, discovered several things:

  1. After three decades of practice it turns out I have A Lot Of Experience that Other People seem to value. This may seem blindingly obvious but is something we too often actually blind ourselves to. Or perhaps let the Other Pressures of the job blind us to. It is good to be reminded of this.
  2. I love my area of subject specialism and on reflection as a profession we do not value this highly enough. In the delicate balancing act between teaching and being an active participant in the subject(s) we teach, it seems to me that the balance too often tips in favour of the Practice Of Teaching.
  3. Talking to other adults about area of subject specialism and/or practice of teaching immeasurably more rewarding than hours spent telling eleven year olds to stop eating glue sticks.
  4. Point number 3 is now really All I Want To Do.

If you tolerate this your children will be next

January is the cruelest month or so I understand from various Northern hemisphere cultures where the winter starts to bite and the bitter desolation of Blue Monday (or Blue Week, Blue Month, Blue Lifetime…) blows down unsightly corridors and chills our very souls. Or perhaps that is just the case in my particular provincial high school. Certainly feels more energy-sappingly unpleasant than ever in 2020, but willing to concede this may be symptom of age withering all aspects of body and soul.

However certainly feels as though Behaviour In School has wilted further in recent weeks and feel temptation to lay blame firmly at feet of mainstream media and results of unwelcome General Election in December for firmly establishing notion that Bullying Is Good and that Hate Is Acceptable. Narrative appears to be that people (students and parents) feel empowered to defy rules and expectations that are set by anyone in authority. Time in school now feels like it is spent lurching from one confrontation to another, each one driven simply by the fact that individuals (again, students, parents) seem to think that they are in charge of making rules that are specific to their own personal whim and/or standards. The notion that we might have some kind of universally agreed notion of decency and respect seems to have been firmly rejected. Never felt more like retreating to Cabin In The Woods to meditate on… well, to meditate on ANYTHING that is not this day to day grind of bleakness and misery.

Contrasts

Last hour of school day spent in hugely positive review meeting with trainee teacher. Productive conversations are firmly focused on teaching and learning.

In contrast, two hours after school spent in soul-destroying leadership meeting where almost entire time is spent listening to conversations about benches, barriers and queuing in refectories, when a water bottle is not a water bottle, logistics of organising theatre visits, end of term celebration events, key rings, chicken burgers (it just wouldn’t be a leadership meeting without it), mock exam results assemblies, Secret Santa and yes, Christmas Fucking Jumpers.

End day questioning Entire Reason For Existence.

Building A New Generation of Trivia Quiz Experts

Read a fascinating interview with the photographer Bruce Davidson where the interviewer (Charlotte Cotton) points out that neuroscience has shown that “in the process of recalling a memory we literally reposition that memory in a new place in our neural systems, among new experiences – a new context.” Cotton goes on to say that she finds this “a really liberating thing to think about, that we are constantly renewing moments from our past.”

This has intriguing implications to the way in which we read photographs, or indeed any text and it also has implications in the way in which we think about the accumulation of knowledge. For if we accept knowledge as being memories stored in our neural systems then it would appear that there is actually no such thing as ‘definitive knowledge’ in so far as those elements of knowledge are perpetually changing (however subtly) simply thanks to the way in which new connections are being made each time we recall them.

Current mantras amongst many educationalist Twitterati appear to be very much around accumulation of knowledge. “Students need to know” (remember) “this and that” they tell us. To which I suggest the correct response would be “yes, perhaps they do. And?” Or possibly even “That may be so, but also So What?”. Try this at home. It provides endless hours seconds of sublime entertainment. “The capital city of Albania is Tirana”. So What? “Babies have around 100 more bones than adults”. Really? But So What? “A teaspoonful of neutron star would weigh 6 billion tons”. Wow! But really… So What? And Why Would I Care?

Knowledge out of context is just ammunition that might might allow us to be successful at trivia quizzes, which is a fleetingly hollow thrill at best. Surely the thing that matters is the way we plug that knowledge into new neural connections to give meaning outside of mere remembrance/parroting of facts? It seems as though the notion of synthesising knowledge (or certainly the notion that we teach HOW to synthesise knowledge, because that would be a SKILL) has fallen firmly out of fashion with Educational Trendsetters and Tastemakers in recent years and this, I think is a damned shame if not a profound mistake.

Are we teaching our students to think and create with knowledge? Or are we just building a new generation of trivia quiz experts?

On the Astonishing Effectiveness of Detentions

Supervise another gloriously effective After School Detention session this afternoon, to follow on from similarly effective Lunchtime Detention. Registers for both comprise multitude of names of Usual Suspects, none of whom turn up. Also several names who are not on the list but appear to think this is a Good Way To Spend Their Time. Resist temptation to explain to students that this is most certainly not the case after reflecting that such explanation would have as much positive impact as detention session itself.

Look at calendar and think about number of days left until the end of term. It is always too many.