Thursday, 30 January 2014

So close my eyes, and start again, anew....

Many people recently have been subjected to my theory on cultures.  I don’t mean the fungus growing in a cup on a window ledge, or the stuff they now spend millions on in order to make yoghurts more interesting. Sadly, nor am I talking about the review pages in the Saturday Telegraph.   I’m talking about social cultures, group habits and expectations, shared practises or established methods – those cultures.

My theory is simple: you can either change a culture, challenge a culture or establish an entirely new one.  Changing a culture needs subtlety, patience and time.  Lots of time.  Challenging a culture means difficult conversations and lines in the sand, having to stand and act as a barrier to the reluctant tides.  And it takes time.  Establishing a culture takes unshakable faith in a good idea, and energy.  But very little time.
It strikes me that – through a happenstance combination of design and weird science – that is what we are currently trying to do on several fronts.  Our success rate, the true markers, won’t be known for some time to come.  But the green shoots, if you’ll excuse me an early Spring metaphor, look promising.

Take social media.  Over the last three years we have taken a massive hit on Facebook and the like.  I have personally become a referee for fights between parents whose issue started on social media.  We have had to deal with children’s misuse of it, despite our frequent term 1 esafety curriculum.  Staff have been harangued, my decisions have been questioned and the school has been negatively portrayed.  So why on earth (or Cyberspace) should we enter into this fray?  The answer is simple: we could never reverse the damage done, nor challenge the negative press without resorting to similar tactics, possibly becoming embroiled in an e-argument that, as with so many arguments, never really has a victor.  Instead, we could create our own version of how to use social media, our own model of how to use this tool for good, our own code of conduct, and our own culture.  Now, our children can share with their parents what they have learned and achieved each day; many social media savvy parents know before they even collect their little darlings.  Teachers can use it as part of a topic or to get parents involved, and you can break new exciting ground at will: last night, we tweeted the results of our staff meeting.  You can’t always challenge, but you can always start anew.

We’re also trying to rebrand our pedagogy, our teaching and learning.  With the children’s centre at the start of its journey, and the school some considerable way into its own, reconciling the two may not be the easiest thing.  However, you know me – if someone says something is impossible, I generally peel a Satsuma, follow it up with a bag of crisps, maybe some chocolate then an apple, and consider the possibilities.  Far from sitting at the SIP writing table last summer and balking at the potential challenge, I lapped it up.  This was time to create a brand new culture, not try and challenge long standing notions or reshape tired efforts. 
Over many coffees and biscuits last summer the leadership team came up with our “phase planning”; an approach to key stage 1 and 2 pedagogy which really got me excited. It’s about  moving proudly away from the teacher-at-the-front model towards a class in perpetual learning model, it’s about learners taking responsibility, it’s about  building stamina, resilience, independence, and about having fun.  Above all, for me, it’s about teachers knowing their class well enough to design exciting activities to make our children think “Wow! I’m having some of that!”.  Okay, perhaps they don’t talk like me at a food market, but you know what I mean.

It doesn't stop there.  In discussion with the people who know me well enough, and those who can just about tolerate me, I knew I had to radically rethink my philosophy on early years to reconcile the good and outstanding practice within the school with that within the children’s centre, but I had to make one offer.  We had to start a brand new culture.

I had to go right back and recall what I had demanded not as a teacher but as a father, sending his young children to nursery and then to reception.  I had to examine my own feelings before I could consider how to articulate my desired pedagogy.  There was much car-thinking (that is very serious thinking, my second highest level).  It came to me in a flash – what do we want every child to have every day?  I want them to have what I demanded for my children every day: 1000 opportunities.  I wanted my own children to walk into a facility full of learning, excitement, vibrancy and (above all) the opportunity and the freedom to design it in their own ideal. What I wanted the practitioners to do was to follow the path, from a safe distance, and help reshape the learning with every new direction they took.  That’s what we’re now pushing across our 0-5 age group; that, in essence, is our new culture.

Regardless of what it is, we have to say one thing: this culture building is really exciting! It is also infectious – no negative comments on twitter; loads of followers for the school and individual classes; loads of school-to-school and teacher-to-teacher collaboration (and lots of children talking to children in a safe and productive way).  Our pedagogy has provoked masses of discussion, some wonderful planning, a real buzz of creativity and excitement and some of the most interesting staff meetings I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of.

Therefore, I feel I am justified in my standpoint on cultures.  If in doubt, or if you’re short of time, start a new one, and see it flourish.  As the end of January approaches, I hope 2014 has started for you all very well.

With the exception of a little self-indulgence below, that is all.

PS See you Uncle Bill.  Thanks for all the laughs, for ever x