Listening and Learning

I held the second Listen and Learn meeting of the session this week.  They are now scheduled on a weekly basis for the rest of the year.

My colleague Richard Parker told me today that he’d like to be a fly on the wall to see if I could keep to my side of the bargain, i.e. listen!! – I don’t know what he was getting at?

My guests today were five P1 teachers. Last week I’d met with six primary school depute headteachers.

If the last two weeks are anything to go by the sessions are going to prove incredibly valuable in providing me with an insight into some of the challenges and problems facing my colleagues in schools. It’s also a pleasure to sit down with people who obviously love their work – even if there are frustrations and obstacles which sometimes conspire against them.

Concerns have ranged from ICT support – especially in terms of quick repairs to equipment; to questions about how schools are funded; pressures on non-teaching time; buraucracy; support for learning; class sizes; and curriculum for excellence.

Despite my attempting to keep the focus on their concerns they were were uncomfortable with the hour simply becoming a “moaning session” and we explored a range of other educational issues.

I was particularly interested today in how the teachers felt invigorated by the changes which have taken place in early years education in terms of the shift to active learning and how it has had such a positive effect on boys’ learning and engagement in particular.  I even managed to bounce the idea of parent buddies off them and was pleasantly suprised by their response to the idea.

I’m genuinely looking forward to these sessions as we progress through the year and getting the chance to meet colleagues who really do live up to the sobriquet “professional”.

Next week I’m meeting six secondary maths teachers.

6 thoughts on “Listening and Learning

  1. I know I’ve said it before, but your approach is so refreshing Don. How can you have more influence on Directors of Education in other Authorities?

    Would you, for example, herd droves of Primary and Secondary colleagues from a cluster into a school hall at the end of a long school day, and tell them that a “very good” from HMIe is not good enough and only “excellent” will do?
    Would your response to questions about the educational benefits of cuts in posts and services be “If you don’t like it, you come up with something else.”?

    Im not convinced about your “Education as a business” thoughts, but I do like and admire your sustained efforts to maintain personal contact with people who are doing the job doing the job at all levels. I look forward to reading the conclusions you draw from your conversations.

  2. Dorothy

    I’m very wary of commenting upon anything which happens in other authorities. I have immense respect for my colleagues who are all having to deal with challenges which are probably more serious now than at any time over the last thirty years. I believe we have a responsibility to learn from each other and much of my own practice has been derived from learning from other Directors of Education.

    I do know from experience that I have gone down like a “lead ballon” with teachers when what I thought I was doing or saying – is not what is interpreted or understood by my audience. It’s so easy to get this mismatch – that’s why I enjoy having the chance to clarify myself through this learning log.

    I think the key to developing this mutual understanding is to be as transparent and honest as possible about the challanges we face.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever said that “education is a business” – however, I do feel we need to run education in a business-like manner, i.e. effectively. Can you point me to a particular post which has concerned you?

  3. I agree with you entirely about transparency and that’s what I like about your blog and your approach.

    Of course I didn’t expect you to comment on the actions of any other Authorities, especially ones close to home. But my question was a serious one…your approach is one which I can see has the potential to rebuild currently shaky bridges between policy makers and policy carry-outers, where I think there is an alarming chasm at the moment. So, I hope there are opportunities for you to exchange ideas with colleagues at that level, and that they might listen and learn from what they hear.

    I apologise if I have misrepresented your views about education AS a business. I think it was your posts about school based management systems and school systems that brought to mind images of business approaches. I know you don’t think Education >is< a business, but some of what you write (no time to find a quote here, sorry) sounds as if you might think some business principles could be applied to it and that’s what I have reservations about.

  4. Dorothy

    I probably do think that some business principles should be applied in education. However, these principles must be underpinned by a set of values which place the education process at its core.

    I think it’s dangerous to characterise anyone in business as an unprincipled, money grabbing, self-interested people. The current financial crisis does seem to reinforce this perception but it ain’t necessarily so.

    I think I would rather have someone running an authority education service who adhered to business principles and kept the system afloat (albeit by making tough decisions), than one who talked about education but let it crash and burn through poor management. Hopefully the two are not mutually exclusive.

  5. Of course principles such as effectiveness and strategic thinking are good to have in Education.

    However “best value” can be judged with a budget hat on or an educational one, but quite often not both. Sometimes the high quality that is demanded by some managers is not achievable with the resources they propose to supply, and sometimes the exceptional quality of what >is< provided can be at the cost of the health and wellbeing of those who still try to provide it regardless.

    My husband runs a business and so I have some insight into the soul-searching that sometimes precedes tough decisions. His business is creative and financial (he’s an architect) and so balancing quality with cost is often an issue, just as it is in Education.

    In my opinion, tThe best decisions in both cases are made when those with expertise are listened to carefully.

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