During one of our meetings today we explored our aspirations for education in East Lothian.
The challenge was – if there were three things we would like to be excellent at in education in East lothian what would they be?
The answer? learning and teaching; self-evaluation; and leadership. Arguably, if we got these three things operating at an excellent level then everything else would fall into place.
However, it was pointed out to me that such aspirations might actually scare people – “Are you saying that ‘very good’ isn’t good enough?” I don’t think I was but what we’re keen to do is to lift the lid off our aspirations and really extend our current practice. Hopefully it won’t be too scary along the way.
There’s an interesting thing with “good enough”. If we are a real learning organisation – and this is something we sometimes tell the kids – then there is no such thing as ‘good enough’ since there will always be something connected which can be learnt, in which we are not yet experts. We might be good, very good or excellent at something, but we’ll never be at the end point where we can stop learning, hang up our reading glasses and say that “we’re there”.
I wonder if the “good enough” idea is systematic of the attitudes we develop when we learn and teach for examinations where, on the contrary, you can always be “good enough” because an artificial barrier is put up at which point you can, in theory, stop learning.
For aspirations in any walk of life, “good enough” isn’t good enough. If you don’t aim high, you have little chance of getting anywhere near the top. As our children have been growing up, I have often been surprised by the low aspirations of other children and their parents. There have been occasions when I’ve wanted to shout “Why are you leaving school? You could be a brain surgeon if you wanted?” Maybe for many parents who left school themselves as soon as allowed, they can’t imagine their own children doing anything different. I’ve often wondered, as we get nearer to that stage, how the aspirations of their peers will influence our two and which is more powerful – peers or parents.
WIth any job, not just teaching, if you lose the aspiration to be excellent and be the best, you lose the passion and maybe it’s time to go & do something different.
Passion, idealism, striving, continuous learning are essential, I agree – but taking risks IS scarey so a nurturing, accepting climate if/when aims are not realised – yet – is equally important.
We need to continue to enable ourselves and our colleagues (and naturally our students) to temper our desire for the apparently unattainable with a collegiate, supportive approach.
You’ll find the attitude to making mistakes in Silicon Valley is exactly what we might be seeking here. I can recommend having a listen to Steve O’Hear on his new film at this podcast:
(Link for the show on January 23rd – it might change over time)
There is one danger, I believe, in railing against the ‘good enough’ attitude, and that it is that you might be imposing your own or others’ external standards on those you seek to influence. Not everyone, for instance, would agree that becoming a brain surgeon is necessarily or automatically ‘better’ in some way than becoming something that society might deem to be of a lesser status.
Our personal dreams or ambitions should not lightly be compromised by others’ views of what is good, better and best. Of course, it is part of the task of being an educationist to try to influence young people in particular to strive to make the best they can of their lives. But for too long teachers have sought to impose their own limited, often classist or elitist, views on ‘excellence’ in the choices being made by young people. The individual’s view of what is excellent, or their attitude to ambition and achievement, should always be the authentic starting point for discussion, not an “I know what is best for you’ attitude.
A world full of brain surgeons would be a strange world indeed.
I agree with your words of caution but what I was trying to get at – in my usual clumsy way – was to explore which three elements of our practice would provide the most ‘leverage’ in improving the outcomes for children. We maybe can’t aspire to be excellent at everything but if these provided some focus for our efforts it – perhaps – makes things more manageable and achieveble , as opposed to saying we must be “excellent” at everything.