Sunday 1 June 2014

It's the process, stupid

I came across the following quote, linked from a link from a link. It's a quote from Saracens Rugby chief executive, Edward Griffiths: 

I think this can apply to Schools, at least in some ways. Appointing clever, hardworking people, who have a broad range of interests themselves and are able to communicate with the pupils they teach is the most important part of my job. If you get it right, your School will develop organically into an effective institution without very much tinkering from the top.

Treating people well is important, but it is perhaps more complex in a School than in a rugby club. The players in a premiership rugby club are all men, and will be aged between about 20 and 35. The Oktoberfest (and similar) trips might be the stuff of dreams to lads in their 20s, but the thought of transposing my common room to Bavaria in the autumn doesn't sound like a very good, or realistic idea. People certainly need to feel valued, but being thanked at the end of a lesson by the pupils you have just taught is enough for me. I want management to give me a decent space for teaching, a reasonable timetable, a variety of classes and a sensible extra curricular load. I also want to feel supported in the sense that if I need help, I know who to ask. They should be able to help me, and won't judge me for asking. Beyond that, the rewards of the role are obvious: when pupils understand something that they didn't understand before, when they enjoy a book you have introduced them to, when they ask a question that makes you think about a topic in a whole new way. These are the daily rewards, and they have nothing to do with finding note-cards in your pigeon hole thanking you for something that was part of your job anyway. Small gestures, such as buying a colleague a drink at the end of a long day, are likely to be more appreciated than financial rewards, or timetable allowances, which lack the personal touch.

Perhaps where the Saracens approach most closely mirrors that of Schools is in the need to build a community. It is perhaps easier at a Boarding School, but if the majority of your common room treat the School as an office (enter at 9, leave at 5 - and yes, I know everyone marks and plans at home), it's hard to build that community. Helping pupils before or after School, having a drink with your colleagues at the end of the day, speaking with parents at Saturday sports fixtures, these all help to build a community where pupils, teachers and parents feel welcome. Never ask what your community can do for you. Communication can be effective over email or social media, but your community is easier to build if it has firm foundations - it must be centered.

The other point I think is worth emphasising is results being seen as outcomes of process. If you get the process right, you don't really need to worry about results. Again this is different for Saracens and Schools. Saracens play a lot of one-off 'winner takes all' ties, certainly in the cup competitions. In the latter stages of these competitions, all of the teams are good, and any team can beat any other team on any given day. One of the joys of sport is its unpredictability: the bounce of the ball, the Schoolboy error, the moment of genius that can decide games at the highest level, and Griffiths is right when he says that judgement on results alone is futile. The concept of 'deserving' in sport is often mentioned, with managers bemoaning the negative result when they had the majority of the possession and chances. You certainly don't always get what you deserve in top-level sport, but when it comes to examination results (at least from a whole-School perspective), you do get what you deserve. You are not competing against anyone else; one moment of genius from another pupil in the exam hall does not take away your grade, nor does another pupil not reading the question boost you to a higher level. You are in control of the situation, more like a snooker player in the balls than a rugby player scrapping to secure possession.

Schools need to be brave enough to ignore the quick fix. Don't start with the results and ask 'how can we improve?' Start with your process of education, start with your philosophy of education - and then question this. Exams are simply a celebration of knowledge gained up until that point. You might have two years with this set of pupils. How are you going to create the best set of chemists/geographers/mathematicians/linguists that they can be? A few weeks before the two years are up, you can then prepare them assiduously for an examination, but don't let the examination drive you. If you want to create pupils with a serious interest in literature, introduce them to everything you think is worth reading, don't simply plough through the ponderous Of Mice and Men (sorry, couldn't resist) because it represents the quickest and easiest route from A to B. You are not really doing the best for your pupils.

In summary: concentrate on process and results will be the glorious byproduct; look to build a community that includes everyone connected with the School; small daily rewards provide all the job satisfaction that most people need; working with talented and committed individuals day in, day out is something we should all be grateful for.

And if you do decide on Oktoberfest, remember to pace yourself and don't go for your first wee too soon.

Written for @edutronic_net #blogsync June 2014

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