“When you find the places where a culture splits from a natural truth you have found a key, a way inside the dis-eases of the culture.”[1]

I read this quotation recently whilst relaxed, in the sunshine during the summer holidays and yet it’s effect on me was that experience when a painful truth hits. Ouch. It took me straight to the innumerable situations I have experienced in schools where a natural truth – usually around aspects of decent humanity– is suppressed, ignored and trampled on in order for our data-driven, economy focused British education system to reign supreme.

Some memories:

  • A High Ability year 8 student (with no formal exams that year) disclosing to me their anxiety disorders – caused by feeling like a failure at school and repeatedly receiving ‘Even Better If’ feedback.  The outstanding pupil had never been told she was good enough, and she didn’t know that as teachers at that particular school we were obliged to give a pupil an ‘EBI’ for every piece of work we ever saw, whether verbal or written. Her body and psyche were suffering: she wasn’t eating or sleeping sufficiently.

  • Not being able to get the same pastoral support for two pupils with similar pastoral needs during their GCSEs – because they were in different houses whose thresholds for support were different.

  • Being instructed, in front of the pupils, to take students’ work down from my classroom as it was ‘too messy’ for an interview day.

  • Being told that the question “How does this help the children?” was not relevant in department meetings; repeatedly.

  • Being told by a Headteacher that I was spending too much time supporting students pastorally.

  • Helping a colleague with Mental Health difficulties. They had broken down completely, could hardly move for crying and shaking – and finding myself supporting them by preparing them for their next lesson – rather than feeling allowed to suggest they go home.

“The place where culture splits from a natural truth” in these examples and many more create effects: overworked teachers, increasing amounts of students with Mental Health difficulties, female teachers who stop menstruating, teachers having breakdowns and taking long term sickness, and of course the drones of professional, experienced, talented teachers who step out of our British Education system each year.

I spend much of my time at the moment asking questions around this topic: How can we ease this Education Dis-ease?

I am an idealist – I would love to cure this Education Dis-ease with some sort of Edu-Superpower (on Elastigirl from The Incredibles’ motorbike, obviously) but I tried this from within the system and that’s when I got my first grey hairs. I listened to my own body and emotion’s response to fighting – lack of sleep, unstable appetite, inability to switch off, anxiety, stress, lack of energy, constant irritation, feeling of being not good enough and being on the edge most days (all exceedingly common place symptoms for full-time teachers) – I was going to lose.

Having experienced that I now know, much like our own bodies, we can chop off a bit, laser a bad bit, or numb the pain, but these are only temporary solutions. In a dis-ease there is an imbalance; we need bacteria in our systems, bacteria are not the problem- until there’s an imbalance. We can’t cure diseases by fighting them. They have to be healed. Listened to, accepted, nourished, nurtured, understood, soothed. It’s not a quick process – A new GCSE structure plaster, one inspiring INSET day a year bandage or a teacher pay increase pill will not bring the lasting change so desperately needed.

A great coach of mine, Darren Abrahams, once talked with me about the difference between revolution and evolution. In a revolution there is a necessary rebellion away from the existing system. If the revolutionaries are successful they then create a new system that is often an anti-system to the previous one. What this misses is the good bits. If we revolt we turn away from, overthrow and refuse or feel disgust: we are not willing to believe that the thing from which we turn had any merit whatsoever. The result is that often a new set of revolutionaries then fight to revolt against the original ones. In an evolution we evolve – we gradually develop something, we have the time to reflect on what is working already, how we might alter parts and keep others.  To begin with, in education there are so many wonderful people teaching our young people. Teachers and other staff who, despite the system, the budgets and restrictions, have genuine time and passion for their students and their subjects.

My next questions then are: what is currently in the way of these brilliant people doing the work they are so passionate to do? In what way can we evolve the education system in a way that would support, rather than restrict them?

One of the answers that has been returning to me so far is Educational hierarchy. The hierarchical system that means a classroom teacher must spend hours in pointless meetings, permission slip filling in, and producing evidence for endless book scrutinises, observations and inspections. Part of my current research is investigating alternative management structures, mainly with the theories of Holacracy that I will be writing on in the future. Another area that I believe we desperately need to re-evaluate is the exam focus and hierarchy within subjects that prevents our students being well-rounded, inquisitive, creative young people. I write about this further in my blog As Subjects We Stand Together.

As I slowly work out my own part in this evolution I am meeting many others who feel the same. So many people who can see the split from the ‘natural truth’ – we have found the key, it’s time to start trying some doors…

References

 [1] Her Blood is Gold Lara Owen, Archive Publishing 2008

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