Monthly Archives: November 2021

Pick One Battle

A colleague and good friend shared this:

It’s beautiful in its simplicity – but deceptively simple. That’s because the injunction to ‘let go’ presumes knowledge of the thing that was picked up, and how sticky, or heavy it’s since become. Of what, specifically, am I letting go? And how do I, specifically, put it down (and then not pick it up again when no-one’s looking)?

We humans are skilled at mentally revisiting issues about which we care, yet over which we have no direct control. Think about the future or the past or the news. Just three small examples for you there.

At least my friend’s poster provides a valuable sorting opportunity. But what kind of battles, here in early December 2021, can we choose?

20 months into a pandemic, as a new variant pops up its vastly mutated head, schools are being invited to keep calm and to carry on, regardless of exhaustion, uncertainty and day-to-day volatility. Energy is low, patience is thin, tempers are on hair triggers. Is there a battle worth picking? I’d argue, yes, there is always a battle worth picking, but make it the best one. Here are four:

Battle OneOthers

The battle that trumps all battles is the safeguarding and wellbeing of our children. I’ve seen some incredible fights over the years as teachers, leaders and other professionals battle to save children from harm and give them a future they would otherwise be denied.

Battle TwoAuthority

And then there’s Ofsted. A headteacher in one of my coaching groups (and the inspiration for this article) wisely recommends this approach: don’t try to control it all during an inspection (or in the transparent pantomime debrief). Pick one theme and fight for it relentlessly. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you’ll loose – you’re talking to the book regardless, but at least you’ll have demonstrated focus, passion, and commitment – rather than presenting as ‘against’ everything (even if you are).

Battle ThreePosition

Leaders often battle on behalf of others or for a value or principle. It’s what makes them leaders. Leaders step forward when others don’t; they speak out when others can’t; they act when others won’t. Leaders take a position and they defend it. Others see the stand they’ve taken and may join or attack. There’s a difference between being outspoken and speaking out. Positions of value are worth defending, worth battling for.

Battle Four – Self

Or maybe for you, the battle is about showing up each day and giving what you can. Teachers affect eternity – even when they’re exhausted. They rarely see the value they’ve added to the world but that value is added non the less. Maybe your one battle is to hang on, to face the world again and to make someone’s future just a touch brighter.

Many more battles are available. Choose one that’s within your control to fight, and one that is worth winning.

How to Build a School: Guidance from The Ministry of Learning

Photo by Nguyen Khanh Ly on Unsplash

The Ministry of Learning requests that you use the following guidelines when submitting a school design:

Define the problem you aim to solve and make sure those funding the school agree. The problem might be, ‘How do we best prepare our children for their futures?’ or ‘What’s the most effective way to equip and empower global citizens?’ or ‘How do we provide the most purposeful teaching and learning on the planet/to save the planet?’

Problems such as, ‘How do we get the best exam scores?’ or ‘How do we get the best school grading?’ will not be accepted.

Clarify the purpose served by the school. Link this to the problem being solved. Include a causal connective. E.g.: ‘Our school prepares children for their futures so that they have meaningful and productive lives.’ Or, ‘Our school equips children with appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes in order to empower them to make significant global contributions.

Vague purposes such as, ‘To love learning and to be happy.’ will not be accepted.

Decide who will work at and for your school. Choose people who will commit to solving the problem and to fulfilling the purpose. Prioritise attitude, integrity and character over knowledge, skills and experience. Don’t rely on interviews. Rely on the testimony of people you trust who have known the candidate through thick and thin. Give these people the best professional life possible with the resources available.

Choose people who say ‘we’ as much as ‘I’.

Buy or make a curriculum that your people can use to solve the problem and fulfill the purpose. Build in slack and make it flexible. As the world changes, change your curriculum.

Do not choose a curriculum to please someone who is not invested in your problem and your purpose.

Use a range of pedagogies that bring the curriculum to life. Let your people thrive in their teaching. Let them play to their strengths and their passions – so long as they stick to the problem and the purpose.

Do not make everyone teach in the same way. Conformity leads to mediocrity. It raises the weak and lowers the strong to the same level.

Insist that everyone holds themselves to account against the problem, the purpose, the curriculum and their chosen pedagogy. Give an account of the school’s performance to whoever is paying for it and, more importantly, to the children who learn there.

Do not be held to account by anyone who is not fully invested in the purpose, the problem and the people.

Co-create about 10 single page quality statements that describe what’s seen and heard when the school is doing ONE to SIX well, safely and legally. Evaluate lived experience against the expectation expressed in these statements. Explore what accounts for any difference and address it. Statements might include: Quality Teacher, Quality Learner, Quality Leader, Quality Inclusion and Diversity, Quality Safeguarding, Quality Character, Quality Kindness etc.

Do not create any policies. Quality statements work; they become dog-eared not dusty.

Grow through regular, collaborative professional learning with the help of invited experts, consultants and colleagues.

Do not accept any external initiative, advice or consultation unless it authentically supports ONE to SEVEN.

Stages ONE to EIGHT will not go to plan or happen in order. Anticipate barriers, challenges, setbacks and revisions. Prepare for surprises and shocks with an open mind and an anti-fragile heart.

To receive an information pack and arrange a free consultation to help you build your own school, please contact the Ministry of Learning. In the future. But not too far into the future I hope.

Open Letter to Teachers, Leaders and the DfE

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Holding too tight, it slips through fingers; bearing too much, it breaks.

You know me, I’m tough, I’m resilient. There’s nothing rocks me. Ever. But see this tear here on my cheek. That’s new. Headteacher

15 pages of vacancies on the website. There’s usually 1 this time of year. Headteacher

I am a coach, a trainer, a mediator. I’m trusted in confidence to listen without judgement; to question with purpose and to challenge with integrity. Therefore I hear the unfiltered, the unmitigated, the hard facts and raw emotion of how it is in schools right now.

In 30 years I’ve never seen an educational landscape quite like this one. The ‘official’ pretense of normality and denial of reality within schools is damaging our greatest asset: our teachers and school leaders.

This is what I see; this is what I hear:

Schools deserving medals for their ingenious approaches to COVID catch up. Yet receiving only pressure to broaden the curriculum once more.

Leaders navigating the daily volatility of staffing and case numbers; being creative, committed, quick thinking. Yet treated as if nothing is amiss; as if we are back to normality.

Teachers remaining dedicated, skilled, caring, resilient; applying their craft to the diverse needs of nearly two years of learning disruption. Yet facing the uncertainty of workplace safety (COVID/no COVID).

Headteachers standing by their values in the midst of overwhelm and an onslaught of unnecessary pressure. Yet fearing inspection; anxious that they are not good enough.

This is what I see; this is what I hear.

Schools deserve inspiration not inspection.

Schools are worthy of empathy not unrealistic expectations.

Schools need kindness not criticism.

Therefore those who hold schools to account, at any level, should think first; think hard before any request, any demand, any policy and judgement. Test plans against four criteria:

  1. Will this protect and preserve the wellbeing, capacity and expertise of educators and educational leaders?
  2. Will this preserve and enhance the efficacy of a school?
  3. Will this enhance and empower educators to prepare children for 2030, 2040 and beyond?
  4. Is this inspirational? Is this empathetic? Is this kind?

Only act with four clear yeses. If you cannot act with four yeses, then do not act.

Loosen your grip, reduce the burden. Help schools be proud of what they have done; help them emerge from pandemic to the inevitable endemic with praise and with heads held high. And make your thank-yous for this, genuine, authentic and unconditional.

The NHS continues to save the present. Empower teachers to save the future. If we do not, that future will slip through our fingers; that future will break.

The New Way to Grade Schools

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I’ve invented a new way to grade schools. It goes like this:

At end of the scale you’ve got ‘1’. Next to that is ‘C’. After that is ‘Square’ and finally ‘Blue’. So the new grading goes: 1, C, Square, Blue. It’s good isn’t it?!

No! I hear you mutter. No it’s not. Really? Why not? What could be simpler? Four simple grades to communicate the results of an inspection; to let everyone know how a school is doing. A shorthand to judgement and information to help parents choose where to live.

Oh. They’re not from the same category you say. Ah, I see. It should be all numbers or all letters or all colours or shapes to have any meaning and consistency. Ok. Fair point. I’ll have another go. How about this one:

Outstanding – Good – Requires Improvement – Inadequate. There. Any better?

No! NO! you say. Same problem?

Oh yes, I see. The opposite of ‘outstanding’ is ‘mundane’, commonplace, that’s a scale of presence, how much a thing appears different to others, I see. ‘Requires improvement’ goes all the way along its own scale to ‘doesn’t require improvement’. So that’s assessing need. ‘Good’ offsets ‘bad’ (which are moral and ethical judgements) and ‘inadequate’ is the opposite of ‘adequate’, describing quality. Presence, needs, ethics and quality. Four different scales mixed up into one. Hmm, that doesn’t work as a meaningful system does it.

Ok. Let me have one more think. I’m going to have 3 grades and they go like this:

Very effective – Effective – Not Effective Yet

Effective means doing the right thing = fully preparing children for their futures. The grade is simply that. Would that work? Would that be a better way? An internally congruent and criteria-referenced summary?

No. No it won’t work, I tell myself. Not unless we start printing it on banners outside schools, ignoring any other scales out there and agreeing on exactly what ‘effective’ means.

But maybe I’ve got this wrong. Maybe the single word grading is not part of a sliding scale of achievement. Maybe it’s just a ready shorthand telling you all you need to know about a school without having to dig any deeper. Yes. That’ll be it. So it’s like describing a person in a single word. He’s phlegmatic. She’s pusillanimous. They’re sycophantic. And that’s all they are. Hmm, this might just catch on. It’s going to save time and words and lots and lots of thinking.

Or maybe we should do what the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) do. You don’t get a requires improvement nuclear power station. Or an outstanding one for that matter. Teams from different facilities carry out extended onsite visits and engage in deep critical dialogue about improving practice to meet standards. A deep professional dialogue, Yes. I’ll go with that as a new way to grade schools: by the quality of professional dialogue. Does that work?

And this blog? I rate myself blue.

Thinking Stories to Save the World

©Jess Lucas Illustration from The King of Walls, Thinking Stories to Save the World, 2022

I am convinced (some would say over-optimistically) that in one of our classes, right now, today, is the child who will, one day, save the world.

There they are, listening to your input, writing, talking, thinking, looking out the window, messing about. All they need from you is empowerment, education and opportunity. It’s quite some reason for choosing to teach. And for continuing to do so, when the road is rough.

And that’s why the denial of learning is so devastating, so ridiculous, so stupid. Each child in school increases the chance of a better world. Each child is a thriving bundle of intelligence and curiosity, of energy, excitement and potential. Well, each one can be, if we let them.

Religion, poverty, hunger, gender-bias, logistics; the enemies of access.

UNICEF estimates our world tolerates 160 million child workers: some exploited and abused by strangers; some adding neccesary labour to their family’s survival. All denied their right to learning. 129 million girls are out of school, often trapped by tradition and patriarchy; pushed and locked into early roles of service and home-making.

And technically, every child on the planet could learn with a tablet. Satellite coverage, mesh networks, localised energy and an abundance of quality online content, all converge to make this a possibility. But is it a logistical reality? No, no it isn’t. A world that can’t yet coordinate its climate response, hasn’t even managed to put learning in all young hands. Many good folks are trying, I’ve worked with a few, but barriers of finance, politics and geography remain.

So a small part in saving the world, is my third storybook, due (2 years late) early 2022, highlighting issues like those above, presenting themes of vital significance as simple, original thinking narratives.

Thinking Stories to Open Your Mind got children thinking. Surprising Stories to Stimulate Creativity got them creating. Thinking Stories to Save the World has slightly weightier aspirations: contemporary and future challenges presented as quests and journeys, revelations and rebirths, as tragedy, as comedy and through the eyes of monsters and saviours. Tales to signpost the future.

I want all children to have the mindware for grappling with AI, climate change and technology, for thriving in shifting employment and for wrestling with the complex ethics of themes such as data, genetics and geopolitics; gender, equality, migration and wealth.

I want them all to have a chance to save the world and to participate fully in its care. Whether they are fortunate enough to be in school, or not.