Wolf in sheep’s clothing

We visited a gallery this morning and came across this sculpture entitled “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” by Susan MacInnes. 

We’d been keen on the piece before and when we saw it again this morning made a decision to purchase.  We used the Scottish Arts Council “own art” scheme which allows you to pay it off in ten interest free monthly payments.

 I love it!

“Scary” – me??

 Someone said to me today that some people found me scary. 

I laughed it off but it’s set me to wondering.

I really don’t like the idea that anyone would be put off coming to speak to me because they were scared. 

As ever Gill put it into context – “it depends what people mean by scary?”

“The Vision Thing”

It was George H.W. Bush (the father of George W. Bush) who in 1987 responded to the suggestion that he turn his attention from short-term campaign objectives and look to the longer term by saying, “Oh, the vision thing”. I wonder sometimes if many of us in Scottish education suffer from Bush’s same discomfort with the “vision thing”?

At risk of stereotyping the Scottish psyche we are often more comfortable when faced with practical problems, which require “fixing”. Over the last twenty years this “fixing” mentality has been at the core of school development planning, i.e. identify what’s not working; work out a solution; implement solution; check if it’s fixed the problem. What happened in such an environment was that we ended up with lots of discrete tasks that “fixed” individual things but did not necessarily combine to move the system forwards.

Yet such an approach has much to commend it:

  1. Change can be represented as a technical enterprise, which can be controlled and managed.
  2. It gives the impression of productive activity (a prerequisite for the Scottish educator); and
  3.  It often results in a concrete product, which can be admired and shared – often to the credit of the person responsible for the action.

Perhaps our proud engineering and scientific heritage has positively reinforced our belief that the solution to a problem can be found through reliance upon technical mastery and hard work? The technical model has much to commend it for many discrete tasks that suit a linear, logical and controlled environment. Such an approach is sometimes referred to a “waterfall model” of development that maintains that one should move to a phase only when its preceding phase is completed and perfected. Phases of development in the waterfall model are discrete, and there is no jumping back and forth or overlap between them. In many ways educational change strategies in Scotland have depended upon this “waterfall” approach  which have been bureaucratic, slow and inflexible.

Yet there exists an alternative strategy that exists in practice in many Scottish educational contexts which promotes a more flexible, creative and effective approach to change, which can be used in conjunction with the waterfall model. As the waterfall approach takes its example from the scientific world, so the alternative takes its example from the artistic world. The model I have in mind is that of the sculptor. A sculptor will often start with a vision in mind about the final outcome. But as they commence their work and interact with the media with which they are working they begin to modify and change the original vision they had in mind.

This form of thinking is sometimes known as an “iterative” process where progress towards the eventual vision takes place over a series of versions where the creator reflects upon the original purpose but takes account of the shifting perception of what is actually required – which might be quite different from what was originally envisaged. This contrasts significantly from the dominant approach in education we often remain locked into “plan-driven” model where no allowance can be made for any change in the environment, or the needs that originally informed the need for change.

So where does the “vision thing” sit between two such contrasting approaches to change? As I suggested earlier many educational leaders are more comfortable when focusing upon technical problems that lend themselves to a linear and sequential problem solving approach. The very complexity of education sometimes means that it can only be conceptualised by breaking it down into manageable chunks – each of which can be managed, considered and improved in isolation, in the belief that they can then reconstituted into a “better” whole.

In many ways I agree that many of the elements of education can be considered and effectively changed in such an isolated manner. However, I would argue that the overview, or gestalt perspective, should be seen through the eyes of the sculptor as opposed to the eyes of the technician. For the educational leader must have a vision of what it is they are seeking to create in partnership with their colleagues. That vision should be clear but it should not be so “locked in” that it shuts out the emerging reality of the situation. It has been my privilege to work with a number of educational leaders who have adopted such a creative perspective – the results have to be seen to be believed!

Lifting the barrier

During our weekend in Paris we sat at a corner cafe and watched the Paris police close off the streets to allow a protest march to take place.

There was no warning just a policeman who walked into the middle of the street and stopped all traffic from entering the area.  Chaos ensued as cars and buses had to try to change their route.  The police eventually stretched a ribbon across the street to reinforce the closure.  As we watched transfixed the policeman was constantly challenged by drivers who claimed they had to get through – probably because they were residents. The policeman started to let some through and others he refused – whilst many didn’t bother to ask. The situation was compounded by passing pedestrians who took it upon themselves to lift the ribbon to allow some drivers to get through whilst the policeman’s back was turned.

As ever my mind shifted into metaphor mode as it struck me that this is often how leaders can get things wrong.

  1. There was no explanation for the action being taken.
  2. No warning was given to allow people to change their route beforehand.
  3. The leader allowed some people to break the rules – but they were not invited to make that request – so it only benefitted some.
  4. The leader appeared to arbitrarily choose who could get through – this caused immense frustration for those who were not allowed.
  5. Observers – unaware of the reason for the rule (it might have been a bomb for all they knew) interfered and made their own decisons about how could get through.
  6. The leaders job became more and more difficult.

In leadership situations there often occasions when rules must be imposed for very good reasons – but the leaders fail to properly explain them; don’t explain any appeal process; have no consistency in application; and don’t publicise/explain the rules to those outwith the organisation.

I must try to remember this lesson!!!

Oz Bound

Douglas, our eldest son, set off yesterday for Australia.  He’s going to be playing rugby in Nelson Bay, which is a couple of hours North of Sydney.

Douglas is on the right with his Granny and his brother Lewis.

We saw him off with mixed emotions – we won’t see him again for nearly five months but the opportunity is one that I would have given anything for at his age.