‘Be Nice’ Friday (Or, When Someone Has A Pot of Gold, Remember: It’s Still Gold.)

In Charles Payne’s book So Much Reform, So Little Change he tells the story of a stranger arriving into a school. The stranger gathers all the staff together, stands on a chair and holds above them a giant pot of gold. He says: “This gold is yours, I bring it as a gift.” First, there is silence. Then the complaining begins: Why has he brought the gold? What must they do in return? Is the school next door getting a bigger pot of gold? And anyway, what good will the gold do in a school like this?

At first I laughed when I read this. Then I cringed. I worry I’ve become one of those teachers.

Recently my writing has been a little negative and it’s a shame, because it doesn’t really reflect how I feel about education. My Pollyana-esque worldviews about school have been fairly unshakeable so far in life but the recent build-up of really important really problematic things has been difficult to overcome: The Ofqual scandals, a lack of joined-up thinking on Free Schools & academies, messy curriculum reforms, cuts in funding. Eugh. It all starts to get so much. When you teach in a school these things really drag you down. It’s a tough enough job when the expectations on you are clear but when you’re suddenly inundated with confused ideas at every level – admissions, curriculum, assessment – the cognitive load becomes unbearable.  Though I stopped teaching a few months ago my sympathy still lies with those dealing with the changes and hence every thing I’ve written since has become a not-so-sexy fifty-shades of incredibly dark grey.

BUT, among the darkness, there are also bits of light and I really really don’t want to overlook them. So seeing as it’s Friday, and it’s my blog, I thought I’d look to the good things I’ve noticed this week

Today, for example, I was thrilled to read about the launch of Josh Macalister’s report recommending ‘Frontline’ a TeachFirst-esque programme for social work. Not only is Josh a fantastic teacher, but this is something he has cared about from the first time I met him during his teacher training. He has worked tirelessly sharing his idea, applying for funds to develop it into a proposition (all while still working as a full-time teacher).  A second group riding high this week are The Brilliant Club, run by Si Coyle and Jonny Sobczyk, who have launched their second year of this great program. TBC places PhD students in school working with highly able students to develop their writing and group tutorial skills. This not only inspires and informs the students, but also provides important teaching skills to the PhDs too.

But even the smaller things of this week have made me smile.  For example, yesterday on Twitter I called out Toby Young over the writing of an article when I said he wrote it to annoy people.  He subsequently tweeted saying he actually wrote it to get advertising for a new Headteacher and in return he’s doing some free work for the Guardian (no link; he tweets behind closed doors). Some have argued he is unfairly getting free advertising but personally I think it’s a fair and sensible trade; after all, anyone who writes on Teacher Network is essentially advertising something (even if it’s just their idea). And while I maintain that his tone in the article is somewhat inciteful I was genuinely pleased he took the time to explain. Sure, the reply is a few sentences, I’m not suggesting it makes him the epitome of a perfect person, but it’s a nod to honest exchange and it made me smile.

In fact, Toby Young’s little tweet managed to remind me that part of the reason for all the current darkness is that we work in a field where it is possible to have different views on what we do and, if we choose to take part in proper debate –  if we listen and try to understand both sides – there is potential for things to be better in the future. Our job isn’t already solved – no-one has created a machine that can most perfectly create student learning – and while that is still open to debate, our job is still innovative and exciting and cool. And by ‘proper debate’ I don’t just mean that everyone agrees with our own views (as nice as it would be if that would happen); it also doesn’t mean that @samfr is going to scamper off and implement our every word as some people think he should; what it does mean is that we engage with one another and ask questions, and we take to task people with different viewpoints and listen when they do it to us. So when Toby says he has another reason for his article; I try really hard to believe him. This morning when I was pulled up – quite correctly – by @geogphil over my use of evidence in a blog about geography in the EBacc I listened and challenged him back and listened so more, and even though I’m not going to change my post (or my feelings on Geography) I probably will be more careful in future in the way I present my argument.

So this is a little shout-out to the people that I am sometimes harsh on – the Gove’s and Glenys Stacey’s – who nevertheless push me to think harder and work towards designing an education system that is better than the one before; and also a thank-you to those who challenge *my* worldviews and who I hope I am less harsh to – like @oldandrewuk, @samfr, @jamespdcroft, @danielcrem, @leedonaghy and many many others.  Because, as Abraham Maslow rightly once said: “We may be up against a stone wall but we don’t have to bloody our heads against it unless we choose to” and like the teachers in the story above, we can either choose to see the stranger with a pot of gold as a suspicious threat or simply as a man with a pot of gold.  Make your choice wisely; and enjoy your weekend.