Last Week Of School and emails drift in like flurries of snow on a January evening. Probably not the best analogy to use in the height of summer, but it’s all my aching brain can come up with. Many emails concern themselves with Lists Of Things To Remember (aka Knowledge Organisers) and Homework, including what feel like endless conversations around Sanctions for Not Completing Homework, where said Homework is about remembering things on aforementioned Lists. Fight urge to ask colleagues philosophical question of ‘What Is The Purpose Of Remembering Things On Lists?’ and instead take great pleasure in deleting emails in devastating purge of Inbox.
One day to go.
One week to go. Spent some time earlier in week listening to presentation by a colleague about mental health in young people. Very saddened to see statistics showing alarming increase in mental health diagnoses in 15 – 19 year olds in particular and shake head at State Of This Country. Saddened and a little shocked to then see data about mental health of teachers appearing to show significant numbers would be classified as being very close to clinically depressed. Not entirely sure why this should come as surprise but shake head once again at State Of This Country.
Consider mental health of own leadership team with one week to go and decide there is no-one who could be described as Entirely Sane or Normal as meeting this morning descends into chaotic cacophony of Everyone Talking and No-One Listening. As always at This Time Of Year the focus of all talk is around Things That Need Completing, where Things That Need Completing actually rarely need completing at all. At least not immediately. End of term hysteria however prevents us all from seeing this fact as anything more than ridiculously vague blob on horizon.
Consider own mental health with one week to go and conclude it is on no firmer ground than any other colleague’s. Proof delivered from fact that on three separate occasions in past week have found self reduced to sobbing fountain of tears on reading most innocuous and disparate texts about faith, meditation, song writing and collecting promotional items from sporting events. Feel eternally grateful that on each occasion only witness was cat who miaowed encouragingly. Convince self cat language can be translated as ‘I love you and am here for you’ when in reality it is more likely to mean ‘my food dish appears to be empty’.
On writing this immediately find difficulty focusing on screen from blurred eyes. One week to go.
Three weeks to go, and every meeting I attend feels infused with the rising scent of hysteria. Tonight’s meeting hijacked at one point by conversation veering wildly into realms of fantasy involving (if I read the signs correctly) suggestions of senior leaders also entering into role of Heads of Year. Sit on hands and forcibly resit temptation to ask if what colleagues are describing (in wildly spiralling crescendo of manic exuberance) is not actually part of current House Leaders’ job descriptions. Meeting also derailed somewhat by J describing in excruciating detail the level of micro-management involved in carrying out what I had, perhaps in my naiveté, always assumed to be little more than a symbolic support mechanism for House structure. In moment of comparative sanity T asks quietly what impact J’s remarkable level of work has had and feel momentarily safe in believing self to be Not Alone.
In which we revisit the question of QA versus EQ and all the wonders involved therein…
Delighted to learn that after much review of QA/EQ process in the past year it has been agreed that the system is too unwieldy and that colleagues do not have the capacity to carry out all the different tasks outlined in our policy document. New QA/EQ process document is shared ahead of team meeting and I glance over it with interest. Decide it looks suspiciously like the old one but with the buzzword/phrase Deep Dive inserted at key points. Much time in our meeting is given over to exploring this but have to admit that I leave meeting None The Wiser as to what Deep Dive actually means other than All The Things We Did Before but with a Fashionable Title.
Look at proposed new QA/EQ schedule again this morning. Look at weekly calendar. Look back at proposed new QA/EQ schedule then back again at weekly calendar. Wonder once again How On Earth I can fit all the learning walks, work scrutinies and meetings in alongside teaching commitments, Duties and my own leadership areas of responsibility. Idly wonder what will therefore Not Get Done and am not surprised to find myself thinking it will be the same things as this year.
Immediately put note to discuss failure of QA/EQ process in diary for July 2020.
During a Rare Weekend Away I meet R for the first time in too many years and he reminds me that I have not written anything in The Diary for a long time. Somewhat shocked to realise that almost the entirety of the academic year has in fact passed since last putting fingers to keyboard and resolve to Do Better. Decide to write something about the often hilarious antics of an end of the school year and immediately regret doing so when looking at various To Do lists and inordinate number of emails sitting unread, unanswered and, let’s be brutally honest, unloved in the inbox.
This morning then, with five and a half weeks to go, it is decided that we should have A Meeting to draw all the upcoming events and leadership commitments into a timeline. S is kindly volunteered to scribe and draws extensive timeline on whiteboard. As we prepare to leave, J immediately wipes contents of whiteboard in preparation for next meeting. Feel certain this is A Metaphor, but reflect (quite smugly, it has to be admitted) that prior to deletion, whiteboard contents largely reflected contents of own electronic calendar and that (for once) I Know What I Am Doing. Nevertheless, remaining five and a half weeks loom like rather unsightly ogre with unpleasant glint in the eye and a t-shirt reading ‘The End Is Nigh (and not in a good way)’.
Breakfast reading for the past six months or has been The Atlantic Monthly magazine. This is attempt to both keep brain active and also avoid reading in any depth about Brexit and British Problems which all UK journals appear to be (probably) rightly obsessed with and which (probably) wrongly I have a desperate desire to avoid. Over toast (locally sourced sourdough, naturally) and coffee (black, naturally) I delved into article titled ‘Yes, America Can Still Lead The World’ (cheekily provocative title) wherein I was struck by a quote from Harvard economics professor Michael Porter who has apparently said that “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Immediately struck dumb by apparent obviousness of statement, resonance with what I’ve been saying for the past couple of years in leadership meetings (colleagues no doubt bored to tears by my constant refrain of ‘yes, but if we do that what are we Not Going To Do?’) and deceptive difficulty in carrying through on aforementioned quote.
By some strange quirk of coincidence this quote is read the day after teaching year 9 about notions of interdependence, for I think it is this idea of interdependence that is central to Porter’s observation. For if strategy is too complex, too convoluted, then surely this creates more opportunities for errors? Complex strategy that focuses exclusively on Things We Are Going To Do runs the risk of failing to predict the interactions of the multiple strategy actions we put in place. Better surely to say “we will do this, and by doing this it means we cannot/should not do that because if we do This AND That it will potentially cause The Other (where The Other is something unpleasant and counter-productive to the aim of the strategy)”.
What does this have to do with education? Well, a lot I think. One example would be the battle against The Content. A bad strategy would be predicated on all the students having to get through all the content regardless, whilst a good strategy would be predicated on ensuring students are securing knowledge before moving onto the next piece of content. In this instance the strategy of choosing What Not To Do is inherent in that decision to be prepared to possibly/probably/definitely not cover all of the content. Again, this is much easier to say/write than to do in practice, particularly for heavily knowledge based subjects and teachers who may be very Set In Their Ways (the words pot black and kettle spring to mind here to which I plead Guilty As Charged).
Another example might be around assessment/marking strategies and teacher workload. If a school leaders’ strategy is to lessen workload (and it possibly/probably/definitely should be) by implementing less frequent but still effective assessment schedules then it is in the interests of everyone to clearly communicate What Not To Do (e.g. DO NOT mark every piece of work, DO NOT mark every line of every piece of work etc). Focus of monitoring/EQ procedures could similarly align with this consideration of What Not To Do and be predicated on nudging colleagues away from those practices and into thoughts on What To Do With All That Gained Time! Strategies for which might include Reading The Atlantic Monthly magazine over breakfast. Well, it’s a thought, right?
Currently reading Mr John Le Carré’s second George Smiley novel ‘A Murder of Quality’ and struck by the language of teaching used by some of the characters. The book was written (and by assumption set) in 1962 but it is suffused very much with a pre-(Second World)war feel. This is partly because the book is very much in the spirit of a Golden Age detective story and partly because it helps reinforce the notion of the private school in question being Terribly Old Fashioned and desperate to hang on to pre-(Great)war class structures and sentiments. As an aside, this resonates strongly with two other novels I have just finished, ‘The Village’ and ‘Tory Heaven’, both by Marghanita Laski and both of which I cannot recommend highly enough. (As additional aside, remind self to prepare rigorous riposte to challenges from colleagues wondering Where You Find The Time to read so many novels and therefore unspoken Why Are You Not Working All Waking Hours Like Me?).
As an ageing Provincial Teacher however the main point from Mr Le Carré’s story that strikes me as interesting is when the teachers at the Old Fashioned Private School refer to doing “exam corrections” and to “correcting work”. Immediately I read those words I am myself transported back to own childhood and vividly recall teachers talking in same language (this despite own school hardly being Illustrious or Celebrated Private School but Bog Standard Secondary in Scotland).
It strikes me that many teachers of the Traditionalist Persuasion might appreciate a subtle shift back to using the term ‘corrections’ when perusing students’ books and work. Indeed, on reflection am somewhat startled to think that Mr Gove did not propose this when he was Ultimate Leader of Education in England and Wales. What is our role, after all, if not to correct misconceptions and to highlight Where It’s Gone Wrong?
Immediately determine to start using ‘corrections’ in place of ‘marking’ and/or ‘feedback’ in all Leadership meetings if only to see horrified reactions of colleagues around table. Simple pleasures and all that, what?
Alerted today to an online survey that proclaims an ability to determine a ‘resilience score’ through the completion of a range of questions. Feel certain that wording of questions arrived at through studied Scientific Approach yet cannot bring self (or find time within Busy Schedule) to proceed further than number 20 of 180. Strongly suspect that survey has been devised by people with Too Much Time On Their Hands and therefore most emphatically not employed within the Public Sector. Convinced also that on completing question 180 result would simply be ‘Congratulations! By completing this survey you have proven yourself to be 100% resilient to mind-numbing tedium! Detailed feedback from your responses has already been sold to Google, Facebook and The Russians and will be used to send you individualised advertising.’
Immediately forward link to J and suggest online survey as activity for next PSHE day. It would certainly fill a hefty amount of lesson time, encourage students to work independently and thereby significantly lower planning time for colleagues and contribute magnificently to Lessening Workload. Job done.
8.45am, first day back after half term and our school network grinds to a halt. Our stalwart IT technician team (now significantly reduced in number following years of Government cuts to education budgets) leaps into action and switches things off and on again. Switching off and on again appears to only temporarily fix the problem and the rest of the morning is spent watching colleagues descend into troughs of despair and panic. In a burst of intermittent connectivity B fires off an email to the rest of leadership team exclaiming that WE CANNOT SAFEGUARD WITHOUT THE INTERNET. Somewhat heartened to read a response from J moments later bemoaning the fact that he also hopes our Internet Problems are quickly fixed because it is having a negative impact on his ability to listen to Apple Music playlists in his office. Resist temptation to respond to J with a barbed quip about this being a blessing for the rest of us who do not share a predilection for Queen and to B with a reserved observation that in the pre-Internet Age we seemed to Manage Just Fine.
Feel certain that some hardy youngsters who have determined to truant from double Science will no doubt emerge victorious in their endeavours today thanks to inability of electronic registers to fully track their every movement. Also enjoy a morning otherwise devoid of emails and actually manage to Get Things Done. In every cloud Silver Lining and all that.
Last day of term. 9.10am. Email arrives with good news saying that I am still not teaching History next year. Bad news is that I will be teaching Geography instead. Reflect on fact that I have not considered anything to do with Geography for at least 38 years and that only thing I remember is term ‘Oxbow lake’. Try and remember what an oxbow lake actually is or how it is formed but almost immediately lose interest.
Consider It fortunate that recent purchase of waterproof jacket in the Finisterre sales will undoubtably make me Best Dressed Geography Teacher In The County. Assure self that whilst bar on that accolade is set remarkably low this is Hardly My Fault.