Sunday 27 April 2014

Judgement without action is thinking without doing

Gird up and think

It’s May 2014 and the education world continues to atomise into a bewildering complexity of mini systems, school types and quasi commercial support.  As we begin another, “Yaa boo” run up to a, too close to call, general election we education professionals must gird up for the inevitable hectoring.  The wind tunnel of derision will blizzard the usual stuff about standards, quality and behaviour at us.

Looking back to 2009, there were LEAs, state schools, Regions, Every Child Mattered and it was much simpler then.  Hey, I'm not saying better – I'm saying very different - very different indeed.   Now, there are fewer places of shelter, the paths lead in a spread-shot of directions and the signposts seem less distinct.   But, like all the best treks I've been on - it’s invigorating and a bit frightening at the same time. I am supposing we just have to find our own way, our moral compass in all this, whilst looking for trusty friends to accompany us.

Invigorating and a bit frightening

The judgement of more powerful others

I'm taking one recent issue – the most important ever - how we judge the quality of teaching and learning, to use it as a lite motif, a pristine exemplification of a dangerous recurring syndrome I see all around me.  It's a deadly fixation on judgement, to the detriment of action. It's as though too many seemed stuck in a bog of dependency on the judgement of others.  So, as you read on I want you to ask yourself,  “Who is making judgements about me and my work and what, if anything are they doing about it?”  You see, in my view, there is far too much judgement and walking away going on and not enough repairing.

Stumbling blocks or stepping stones?

I found much of the “grade, or not to grade individual lessons” debate defeatist.  It was assumed, by far too many of my colleagues, that inspectors grade and teachers accept, or challenge  (That teachers mark and students accept – that heads decide performance related pay - that Secretaries of State decide and we all follow - Are you getting the general application here?)  Well I and some trusty friends, think we ought to be travelling in a different direction and promoting a professional development, or capacity building model where the learner (be they student, teacher, head, or governor...  OK I’ll leave you to hammer out these comparisons) where "s/he who wishes to learn" is given the respect to speak first, to self-evaluate, make and justify a judgement about their work and then the “more powerful other” validates this self-evaluation and, goes on to ask, “So, what do we do now?”  Why do I argue for this?  Because as student, teacher, head, adviser and, yes, inspector, I always found that it is through the ensuing dialogues that we really learn about progress.  In the best of these, emotionally intelligent dialogues, we, that is "both sides" come to understand and negotiate the twin stumbling blocks of criteria and evidence. We can then set out across the less secure stepping stones of progress -  in a shared professional endeavour.

Setting out across the stepping stones for progress

This is not easy

I want to add something important here - this is not easy - it's tough being self reliant and even tougher allowing others to be so. Namby-pamby, trendy-lefty and airy fairy it ain't.  I'll tell you what it is - it's good practice – good learning - led by outstanding teaching.  It's also leadership because we learn from great leaders. These professional dialogues build the skills of the individual and the team of learners by underlining their personal responsibility for their own success.  It’s obvious isn't it?  For educationalists to use any other method would be hypocritical wouldn't it?

Our fixation with judgement

So, can we please move on from our Ofsted fuelled (some will claim led) fixation with judgement?  Can more of us take (back) responsibility for success making and challenge the assumption that describing one point in time is all there is to judging learning and school improvement?  Jack Nicholson’s character in the film “About Schmitt” captures the syndrome perfectly,  “Hey I am drowning here and all you’re doing is describing the water!”

I'm drowning here and all you're doing is describing the water...

It's more about verbs than the adjectives.

Good teachers and leaders know that learning, improvement, and progress only start with the easy questions, “Where are we now?” or, “How well are we doing?”.  The most successful are able to move on and answer the crucial crushers, "So, what are we going to n,do....first?" Each of us would do well, more often, to take stock, analyse why things are as they are and then act to maintain, sustain or make progress over time.  It's not the judgement stupid – it’s the action that flows from it that matters.  Actions speak louder than words.  Teaching and learning, School improvement - just a minute - ALL improvement - is more about the verbs than the adjectives.

The Golden Paragraph

So, what is your answer to my question, “Who is making judgements about me and my work and what, if anything, are they doing about it?” My hypothesis is that those of you who answered, "Me and I'm taking action" are professionally strong and likely to be motivated (even if tired and hard-working). Whereas those of you who have veered towards, "Others and I have no idea" are almost certainly professionally depressed, even oppressed. In a later BLOG I will try to describe the important distinction between these two and, in the spirit of this argument, how we might act to move colleagues from professional depression, even opporession, into a more hopeful state. In the meantime my last paragraph is a firm first stone..

Gird up and do

I guess that regular readers will be able to chant chunks of this past paragraph without reading it.  Here it comes – all together now...  The answer?  “It’s about looking at what we do, with a view to doing it better next time, as part of our work”.  It's about becoming and being self reliant, developing a sure confidence and working interdependently. It's about “Keeping it simple because it’s going to get complicated anyway” It's about creating the permitting circumstances for a, "Yes, we can!" culture.  Yes, this BLOG has described why the iAbacus exists.  It’s precisely why we designed the iAbacus the way it is.  It's why we need an improvement process that links judgement, through analysis, to action and collaboration. Why we need professional development that builds the capacity and confidence of colleagues before it's too late.  It's why iAbacus is an action tool and I claim it's software with a moral purpose.

Software with a moral purpose


The iAbacus in action - for Overall School Improvement