The Mill Stones Of Education

Mill Stones - Old Education

No teacher should ever be allowed to go back to the school that he or she attended as a student! No, seriously, they shouldn’t be allowed even into an interview. You’re just asking for problems.

This is one of the weirdest workplace situations possible, yet it’s been accepted and encouraged by so many hopeless schools which believe they cannot survive without the shackles of the past.

Think about it. With what other business or organisation can you get a job where you’ve had such an involved relationship as a child? None! That’s right, none! You can’t be in the military as a child and then go back and become a general. You can’t spend six to twelve years of your life in hospital to go back and be a doctor there. You can’t spend the same amount of time in any other sort of workplace and then end up back there as an employee. So why is this something that’s ok in schools?

In my opinion it’s not ok. It’s weird. It’s unnatural and anyone who wants to go back to the school in which they were educated has some serious mental health issues which they need to work through. Even if you enjoyed your time at a school, going back there as a teacher is a completely different role and experience. Schools who are employing former students as teachers, could be setting themselves up for failure.

Over the years, I’ve come across some highly talentless teachers who, by virtue of the fact they went to the school, got a job back at the school. Perhaps because they were too afraid of the real world, they stayed there long enough to get promoted even further beyond their talents. No further can this problem be highlighted than when a former student ends up in charge of a school. This is quite insane!

Education should be about progress, challenging the status quo and pushing the limits of what’s possible. Taking people back into a school with no other real world experience than that of the same sheltered school environment as the sum total of their life experiences, is only asking to possibly perpetuate poor educational practice and culture.

To be effective in today’s educational environment, teachers need to have diverse life experiences so they can impart not only knowledge, which is becoming less and less important as we speak, but to educate others from their own life experience to help prepare students for the real-life challenge outside of school. If teachers have never stepped outside of school, let alone the school they went to, then this could be a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Hence, if there’s a teacher whose only life experience has been the school which they went to as a child, either don’t hire them, be skeptical about their ability to teach in any meaningful way and if they’re already at your school, perhaps it’s time they broadened their horizons and went out and got some real life experience.

The days of the ‘old school’ mentality that perpetuated rotten cultures and practices, needs to be one more ghost of the past never to make its way back into education. Empowering former students to realise this and help them to get a job that will let them grow in themselves, is the kindest thing you can do for them and for your school. At the end of the day, going back to teach where you were a student is just insanely weird and something everyone can and should live without.

The Slow Burn Into Decline

Slow Burn - Education

There’s a phenomenon in Education that’s a strange thing to see and experience but when you look at it in more detail, it makes perfect sense. Often schools are quite dysfunctional places from a managerial point of view and you have people who are promoted into management positions who are often inexperienced and totally unsuited for the positions.

A good teacher doesn't necessarily make a good administrator. As a result, if the wrong people get promoted into positions of influence, you risk ending up with what can be a toxic culture. When this happens, you find incompetent managers surrounding themselves with more incompetent managers to try and hide the fact that they’re useless. This is common practice in any organisation, which results in higher staff turnover and lowers productivity.

If this is the case, why do schools keep functioning for longer when a comparable business or organisation would be falling apart at the seams? Why do schools keep rolling along and producing reasonable outcomes? Unfortunately, it comes down to the ability of a school to blackmail its teachers. This might seem to be an extreme statement. However, it's quite an apt analysis of a dysfunctional school.

Despite layers of incompetent managers in a toxic school, you still have genuinely hard-working teachers who want the best for their students. They want good educational outcomes and they want the students to be learning now, despite what the other workplace pressures could be.

Unfortunately, this results in a very strange situation. On the one hand managers are driving a completely different agenda to what the school needs from an educational point of view. On the other hand, you have teachers doing their best for the students, which could be quite out of touch with what the school management sees as valuable. This odd situation can be sustained for a long period of time because the teachers on the frontline do the best they can for their students.

If you have a reliable core group of teachers, despite the incompetent management, often schools just keep rolling along without much of a noticeable problem. As long as nobody in management molests any children or runs the school into bankruptcy, incompetent managers seem to stay for years and years, because their incompetence is often covered up by the hard work and desire of other teachers to provide the best opportunities for students.

However, any sort of hardworking individual no matter how motivated, will end up being worn down by this situation. Despite the desire to help students, the longer poor management remains, the greater the decline of the school. It might be a much slower burn than in private enterprise, but once you have disengaged teachers then the entire school becomes toxic, staff turnover increases and good educational outcomes for students becomes a distant memory.

How do you address this? Firstly, you need better managerial oversight. You need better schools’ boards that actually understand the business of education, not just business. They need to look carefully at the connectivity between what teaching staff are doing and what senior management is doing.

Forget the grand strategic building plans. What are the actual educational outcomes for the students? How are they being achieved? Why not get feedback from the students on the entire organization, not just the classroom teacher? This could provide a fascinating insight into how a school is going.

Performance review should be an ongoing process initiated by senior management to ensure continuous improvement for the school. Teachers and students should be able to provide feedback for senior management on a regular basis.

This can provide a much better overview of how well the organisation is going. Is the direction being set by management translating into proactive, positive and effective educational outcomes for students? Or is there a toxic disconnect that’s eating away at the school from within? Unfortunately, due to the slow burning nature of decline within a school, it might take many years to notice the dysfunction. By then, it's too late and all your good staff will have given up and left.

However, by carefully selecting those to manage versus those who should remain in the classroom, this can help to alleviate this concern. Seeking feedback from staff and students and approaching the organisation with a view of continuous improvement, is vital in developing a positive and transparent culture.

You want to avoid the slow burn into decline and instead set a clear vision of what the school stands for and everything the school does should be focused on achieving this ultimate educational goal. As a result, you will increase staff retention and provide the best educational experience possible for your students.

Self-Reflection

Self-reflection.jpeg

Now that we’re coming into another school holiday period in Australia, it’s time to hand out some homework! Ergh! I hear you groan.

Bear with me! This is more of a post to question and reflect on oneself, rather than anything else and what better time to do it than in the holidays. The aim of this is to try to get you thinking about what you’re really passionate about! For example, even though my main area of teaching is outdoor education, I’ve taught English before and it bored me senseless. I dreaded going in to class because I was so disinterested with the subject. As a result, what possible quality of lesson was I delivering? If I didn’t really care about the content, why would the students? I had to leave this role as soon as I could and get out of the classroom and into the outdoors where my passion lay! However, many teachers never do this and their students pick up on it so easily.

Being passionate about something yourself makes it easy to then share this passion with others, especially in your teaching. As a result, it can make you the most awesome teacher around and you don’t really have to do anything special, other than do what you love. The other week I decided to try something different and run through some basic martial arts with my Year 9 group for PT. I love martial arts. It helps build focus, discipline and fitness. I’ve missed doing it because I ended up getting so wrapped up in work, I’d almost forgotten one of my passions. So after warming up, I ran through some kicks, blocks and strikes. I had so much fun! Even though the activity wasn’t about my having fun, the fact that I was enjoying what I was doing, helped me teach the lesson in such a passionate way that the kids responded and got right into it.

So what’s the point? Well the point is, if you’ve had a frantic term that’s exhausted you and drained your passion (just teach a Year 8 class and you’ll know what I mean), then take some time now to reflect on what you love about life and about teaching. Let’s be clear on this. Teaching is never just a job. You became a teacher for a reason! Let’s find out why?!

Why did you become a teacher rather than doing something else?

Was it for the long holidays? (I really hope not).

What did you feel when you stepped into your first class?

What do you feel when you step into your classes today?

Is there one class that you’re more engaged in than the others? Why is this?

What is it that you’ve most looked forward to this year?

What’s something new you’d love to learn?

What’s something you’d love your students to know and understand?

Where do you find you do your best thinking?

What refreshes you and strengthens your passion?

Try answering each of these questions honestly and use the holidays to maybe try something new, explore something you’ve always wanted to and relax and enjoy the time away from the frantic pace, so you come back refreshed with your passion ready to teach the next awesome lesson!

The Expert Blind Spot

‘Be a student as long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life!’ — Henry Doherty