Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations, Ambitions, Fantasies, Nightmares and Regret

Hope is a funny thing.

I was chatting to a colleague a few months ago about my #purposedu post of 1st May, where I pronounced that the purpose of education is Hope. While I see my role as bringing hope to children, he saw hope as a more negative thing. For him, hopes were things he once had, that he could now no longer achieve. Hopes for a different kind of family, hopes for a different kind of career. Hopes that were now unattainable. Hopes that were now regrets.

I’ve been listening to people since then and have noticed that whenever people mention a ‘hope’ word, they mention it in pairs. Each hope word has a partner to help explain it together.

I think people say words in pairs when they don’t really understand what they mean. For example you hear people say: “teaching and learning”; “monitoring and assessment”; “morals and ethics”… It is when you’re not completely sure of a word’s definition that you have to pair it with another word.

Hope words are the same.

Think about this – how different is it to say “dreams and aspirations” from “dreams and nightmares”, and indeed “dreams and fantasies.” Each one has entirely different connotations.

A hope is something that you wish would happen, a fantasy is likewise, but has more negative connotations and for most people achieving your ‘fantasies’ is contrary to achieving success. An aspiration is something you would like to become, but so is an ambition – but the former has more positive connotations about achieving within an ethical framework, whereas ambition speaks of drivenness.

Regrets too can drive you onto succeed – that is certainly true for my colleague I mentioned above. While he has seen his ‘hopes dashed’, he has used his regrets to drive him on to become a quite marvellous headteacher.

Hope for me is important. Bringing hopes into families where there is none, is important to me. But I recognise that the words around the subject can both be used synonymously and can have radically different meanings to different people. Funny really.

Moral Purpose

What is the new fad in school leadership? What is the phrase that will be top dollar in jargon bingo? Will it be ‘whole school A4L’ or ‘Personalised learning‘? Will school leaders be asking their staff to ‘think outside of the box’ or engage in ‘blue sky thinking’?

Nope. None of the above. The phrase that I can guarantee you hearing from your school leaders over the next few months is ‘moral purpose‘.

I remember many years ago being in a school where we had significant staff training about assemblies. One of the phrases that came up over and over again was ‘awe and wonder’. It seemed that somebody from up on high, maybe even the government, had decided that schools were the best place for children to experience awe and wonder. Therefore a mandate had been issued to headteachers who were to engender this experience within their schools. Assemblies were the target. A week or so after our training, I remember the headteacher starting an assembly by lighting a candle. He had never done this before. He then told the children that they were experiencing awe and wonder. I could immediately see his logic. If the children knew they were experiencing awe and wonder they could tell the imminent Ofsted inspectors all about it. Hmmm.

Now it seems that moral purpose is the thing we will all be working towards. It seems that many people in education are concerned that school leaders have being sucked into something called game theory. A bit like those badminton players at the Olympics who played within the rules, yet against the spirit of the game, to achieve what they thought would be the best outcome… So school leaders, it is thought, may be ‘playing the game’ of education.

It’s as though getting your school higher up the league table is more important than the outcomes for individual children. It’s almost as if achieving the top grade in Ofsted is more important than children being able to independently achieve the top grade possible for each of them in each subject they study. Of course many people would argue that these things are synonymous. A high league table position means that all children achieve their full potential. Or does it show that the leaders within those schools are merely good at ‘playing the game’? Some people have even suggested that there may be cheating going on.

The new teacher standards demand more. Honesty and integrity are explicitly referred to. High standards of behaviour both in and outside of school are implied in the preamble. For teachers to achieve this, leaders need a sense of ‘moral purpose’.

Now I’ve got a whole load of mixed feelings about the word ‘purpose’ and even more about the word ‘moral’. There are lot of assumptions blithely made about shared morals that I’m not entirely sure are true. I’ll need a few more posts and conversations with folk to crystallise my own thoughts on the subject.

However I am sure that it will become an important phrase, having heard the likes of Mick Waters, Tim Brighouse, John West-Burnham and Steve Munby all mention ‘Moral Purpose’ in separate addresses in recent weeks. Perhaps all those ‘keynoters’ are using the phrase because Michael Gove used it back in April.

Does anyone have any school leaders who are quick off the mark and have already begun a new mantra of ‘moral leadership’? Does anyone think it’s important? What morals should we subsribe to anyway?