Lessons in Feedback 5: The Foundation of this Book Scrutiny is Love

#28Daysofwriting Day 6

Albert Rosenfield: [to Sheriff Truman] (courtesy of imdb.com)

Now you listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method… is love. I love you Sheriff Truman.

is one of my favourite quotes of all time. And I was reminded of it today during a book scrutiny.

Given that feedback is the thing in education and, as I explained previously, many schools have taken that to mean written feedback is the thing, it follows that looking at what teachers have written in books (a book scrutiny) is a very important process. Perhaps the most important process in school improvement known to mankind.

It was so important at my last school that it became the process for identifying the ‘weak’ teachers and culling them. (Please excuse me. I’m currently doing the topic of ‘dinosaurs’ with my Year 1 class and I am perhaps slightly overcome with the brutal world of the Cretaceous just at the moment. It may be affecting my language.)

As a ‘culled’ teacher, it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I approach a book scrutiny at my new school.

But I am learning that not all book scrutinies are the same. At my current school the foundation of the method is love. The boys (for it is a boys’ school) are all well known, their individual foibles and treats discussed with some affection. They are individuals. And whatever tensions exist between the staff, there is a deep abiding respect and a sense of we’re-in-this-together. It’s almost like love.

What it means is that you can talk about the strengths and weaknesses of your own books with a certain confidence that any criticism will be there to make you a better teacher, not to boot you out of the school, or even mauled by a Postosuchus (that’s another dinosaur reference, this time from the late Triassic).

And I’m sure it means that the feedback gets better as a result. We all look at each other’s books. We can see some good things. It makes us think of things we can do better. We go and do them.

It’s quite nice really. A bit like Albert Rosenfield in Twin Peaks, even though he’s an arrogant bastard when you first meet him.

Albert Rosenfield and Compassion in ICT

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Now you listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method… is love.” Albert Rosenfield, Twin Peaks 1990.

 

I’ve been able to quote those words pretty accurately for the past twenty years but have only just made the link today between those words and the increasingly positive ICT environment at my current school. It took the help of a blog from @colport entitled ‘I am the ICT co-ordinator, not the technician‘ to do so.

 

The above blog mentions various twitter comments concerning the rather inept use of ICT by some ICT-illiterate teachers and the consequential effects on over-worked ICT co-ordinators. I too have experienced my fair share of inept ICT use – being urgently called to the other end of the school to rescue an ICT disastor only to find a button hasn’t been pressed or a power lead plugged in. What got me thinking though was that I seem to be experiencing far less of those issues now than I was a few years ago. But why?

 

Well let’s go through Albert’s words carefully:

 

1. Now you listen to me.

 

It has to be said that I am not only ICT co-ordinator, but also a senior leader in the school. That helps with getting things done and changing attitudes. It helps me because I am in the kind of position where people have to listen to me.

 

However I’ve been in less senior positions in the past and got people listening and my way of doing it is presenting irrefutable data about efficiency savings to governors and SLT meetings. For example, walking into a school and discovering that there was no follow up plans to support the £20000 the governors had invested on the new ICT system, I pointed out (using an interactive excel spreadsheet) that all that equipment would be broken or obselete within 5 years. Therefore the minimum maintenance cost would be 20% (i.e. £4000) per year without taking into account inflation or the need to buy newer better technologies in the future. It’s a powrful argument. Especially if you use different colours on Excel. And graphs.

 

While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence.

 

OK it’s not violence I’m talking about now, although I would like to think that in the right context I would be a naysayer and a hatchetman in the fight against violence. I suppose my fight is against ICT apathy. The solution here is actually a range of solutions… Let me explain:

 

If you have always have the same response to each ICT problem then teachers will not develop. Sometimes I respond immediately, dash down and fix the problem. Other times I give them some suggestions and trouble shooting tips. Sometimes I’ll ask their line manager to sort it out (my fellow senior leaders are not as adept as I at ICT, but are refreshingly keen and give it a go). I try to be emotionally intelligent about my response – consider the person, the way they asked, the time of day, the impending nearness of any observed lesson, that sort of thing. However, I do find that I’m not near the top of the emotional intelligence league at my school. This could be something about being a bloke in a female-dominated environment but that’s another post for another day.

 

Following the event if it’s a one-off I may leave it, but if it is happening persistently I’ll sit down with the person and give them some top tips on trouble shooting. Incidently, years ago when I worked for a now-defunct engineering firm I was taught the three rules of fixing things in British engineering and I do find they genearrly work for Microsoft-based things:

  1. Switch it off and switch it on again.
  2. Switch it off go away and have coffee, then switch it on again.
  3. Switch if off, kick it, then switch it on again.

I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King.

 

I have a dream that one day all staff will be aspirational with their ICT use. That PCs will live side by side with Macs and that all staff will use the best tech that suits them to achieve the educational goals they have for their children.

 

No but seriously, the punch is that 2 minute dash to someone else’s room to fix a problem that leaves you that little bit unprepared for your next lesson – it’s that half-drunk cup of coffee at break or the five minutes you get home later that day because of the extra conversation you’ve had about effective ICT use. It’s worth it, because it’s building something bigger.

 

My concerns are global.

 

They are. I really do want the whole school to do well, not just my class. At some times of the year other classes are more important than mine – for example at the moment, teaching Year 6 pretty much solely revolves around the leaver’s production, whereas the Reception class are preparing for that important transition to national curriculum. Their learning is more important to the whole school than year 6’s interesting rendition of ‘Say Goodbye’ (by S Club 7)

 

I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation.

 

I am quite sarcastic as a person, but have found that with fixing stuff I need to curb my sarcasm. People respond better and they learn to do it for themselves. I still have bad days though and need to work on this.

 

The foundation of such a method… is love.

 

Love is quite a contentious word, so I prefer compassion. I must remember that some of my colleagues aren’t geeks. They don’t spend their time nailed to a blog or researching something new. I want the gap between my skills and their skills to narrow and marvellously on the way I can learn stuff from them (like how to be more emotionally intelligent for a start…)

 

Albert Rosenfield himself

 

The technician is crucial.

 

For those of you who don’t know Twin Peaks, Albert Rosenfield was the expert coroner / scientist type chap who supported Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigations. He was first introduced as a rather abrasive and dismissive expert who has no sympathy for the paucity of knowledge of those who live out in the sticks. In fact he says at one point: “Oh yeah, well I’ve had about enough of morons and half wits, dolts, dunces, dullards and dumbbells… and you, you chowder-head yokel, you blithering hayseed. You’ve had enough of me?” That does slightly remind me of some ICT technicians I’ve met (some, mind – I’ve met loads of great ones). Anyway, as the series develops Albert becomes more and more a crucial part of the team, supporting the investigation and even becoming firm friends with the ‘yokel-sherrif’ he had once despised.

 

The parallel with our own ICT technician is very similar. He hs become a crucial part of our team. He is my chief buyer and adviser of the best tech to purchase. He has no fear of talking to the sometimes highly rigid LA ICT people, in fact he has led on the development of our Moodle platform, organising training and suggesting the best way to go forward at a strategic level. And that’s on top of the day-to-day operational stuff he does. We only buy him in for half a day a week too. Even more so than any interactions I have made with the staff over the last few years, it has been the interactions we have had with him that have reduced those annoying time-wasting ICT problems that we used to have. We still have them, but things are getting better, not worse.