Don’t panic; sweep.

While researching my previous post, I came across another Michael Ende quote that encapsulates much of how I feel leadership has gone wrong in UK Education to make it all go so frantic.

I haven’t even read the book it’s from yet, though I now feel I need to.

Here it is:

“…it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop–and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.

You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.

That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.

Michael Ende, Momo, 1973

School leaders have the responsibility to ensure their teachers are great, because great teachers make an amazing difference to children’s lives.

But many of our school leaders no longer inspire greatness. Instead, they measure how much sweeping* has been done, encouraging teachers to focus on how much sweeping* they have failed to do, rather than enjoying the act of sweeping*.

Since changing jobs in September, I’ve been able to enjoy teaching again. Of course, this may be because I’ve moved to the independent sector, I’m not sure, but this I do know:

  • there are less formal lesson observations.
  • there is more reporting to parents
  • pupil progress meetings do not exist.
  • there are more parents evenings and generally I have 100% attendance at each one.
  • There is one yearly, formal assessment.
  • There are no SATs or Year 1 phonics screening tests.

In short I am being measured less and the bottom line is that if parents are happy, the school gets paid and can continue functioning. The outcome of this is that I enjoy my job. Every day.

*of course, in this instance sweeping is a metaphor for teaching.

The Servant of the Nothing

The Nothing from the Neverending Story
The Nothing, actually looking a bit like a something

On Tuesday, I quoted Gmork, the evil servant of the Nothing from the Neverending story.

Of course, when the film-makers tried to depict author Michael Ende’s ‘Nothing’ they had to choose ‘something’ to show it. So they chose stormy clouds. It looked quite effective. In 1984.

In Michael Ende’s original story, the Nothing was more sinister than storm clouds. It was an emptiness that signified the death of ideas and dreams. It was madness to look at it. It was a hole in the soul, best described by one of Michael Ende’s fantasy creatures, a bark troll:

“You don’t feel a thing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something more is missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.”

And here’s the thing: I was once a servant of the Nothing. I think I might have done school leadership well at one point. But then someone pointed out that my action plans needed more measurable targets. And so I chose the easy things to measure – the half termly progress numbers that are actually meaningless. Then I heard that someone else was using non-negotiables in the school, and instead of saying “well that’s a doomed approach,” I decided I could set even more non-negotiables.

My actions plans were SMART. There was no room for original thought. My teachers could all look forward to being compliant. I had contributed to the death of ideas and dreams, replacing them with, well, nothing much.

As a person that depends on creativity for my own motivation, I had actually caused more more damage to myself than anyone else, but for all those teachers who remember the staff meetings with me standing up and sharing another new document, probably packed full of non-negotiables – I’m sorry.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure there are leadership teams out there who’ve replaced inspiration for measurement, contributing to taking dreams away rather than building them up.

The Empress of Fantasia has the last grain of sand in her hand and is about to hand it over to Bastien.
The Empress hands over the last grain of Fantasia

But there’s still time to come back. After all, Fantasia was rebuilt with only a grain of sand and some imagination. We can surely do the same with the UK education system and bring it back from the Nothing.