For Too Many Years School Leaders Have Been Trying to ‘Reinvent the Wheel’…

…School leaders should spend their time ‘rediscovering the wheel’.

Emperor's New Clothes

School leaders should spend their time grappling with the ‘big ideas’ and they should be reading about and discussing the things that matter. They should lead their staff in great conversations about the things that matter. Unfortunately too many school leaders are using the slogans and ideas that originate in the business world to try to ape global enterprises. They get their staff suited and booted, and bring in the latest graphs to represent the biggest data they can find. They follow the latest ‘research’ uncritically and get their staff to do inset on anything that seems to be working. There is a problem following business and that is most companies don’t last long.  The average US company in the 1920’s lasted 67 years, in 2012 this was down to 15 years. In the UK we have some of the oldest schools in the world, we shouldn’t be following the business world, if anything the business world should be following our education institutions.

Intriguingly some thoughtful people in the corporate world are onto the problem and, just as schools are being influenced more and more by business practices, they are looking elsewhere. Whilst some head teachers are picking up the latest neuro-bollocks-books with jazzy covers and getting their middle leaders to go on courses with titles like: ‘How to Squeeze the Last Drop of blood C-Grade Success From a Free School Meal Urchin’; some ‘CEO’s’ are turning away from short-term solutions. These leaders are putting away their tired business manuals and no longer hiring consultants who peddle this year’s big new idea based on ‘pop psychology’ or barely understood ‘shallow science’ and are turning to the great books and thinkers of the past. They take a moment to pause and to realise that: “The only way to become a real thought leader is to ignore all this noise and listen to a few great thinkers. You will learn far more about leadership from reading Thucydides’s hymn to Pericles than you will from a thousand leadership experts.”

Head teachers, school leadership teams and teachers should be rediscovering the core beliefs that enabled western education to thrive throughout the centuries. The danger signs that many are ignoring the great intellectual inheritance are all around us. Has the theory of ‘Mindset’, the idea of ‘Assessment for Learning’, the ofsted-inspired-over-marking of every book in a variety of different coloured pens, the mind-mapped, brain gymed, thinking hatted, two stars and a wish, wilt, walt, managed to divert your school from the central purpose of educating children in the pursuit of wisdom to help them flourish in their lives?

The oldest company in the world is said to be Nissiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a Japanese hotel founded in 705. In Japan they have a word for long-lived companies: Shinise. “Professor Makoto Kanda, who has studied shinise for decades, says that Japanese companies can survive for so long because they are small… and because they focus on a central belief or credo that is not tied solely to making a profit.” This is what great schools do, they focus on a central belief or credo and are not tied solely to shoving more and more kids into getting ever higher exam results in ever more subjects. A great school will communicate its central credo well. A school that chops and changes without a central core to keep it steady will chase results, ofsted rumours, and the latest fad at its peril. A central credo can be represented by an eloquent school motto but some schools have even cheapened this with ugly business speak. Who would want their child to attend a school whose ethos is summed up by unfortunate corporate cliches like ‘reach for the sky’ or ‘team workers for citizenship’? These are empty aphorisms that show the school wears its Emperor’s New Clothes without a sense of shame, an inarticulate central credo is of no use to anyone.

A school with a strong central belief has a great core or spine around which somewhat paradoxically it can innovate. Great institutions change with the times but don’t change their mission. A great tradition is the backdrop for great innovation. Too many schools are so focused on the next big idea that they lose sight of the great ideas on which education is based. This is why the sub title of my book Trivium 21c is: ‘Preparing Young People for the Future With Lessons From the Past.’ If you always look to reinvent the wheel there comes a point when the wheel no longer works, it might no longer roll down a hill but it’s squareness is a huge disadvantage going up the hill!

It is time for great school leaders to take note and stop trying to ape the here today gone tomorrow businesses, instead of management speak and the corporate lingo of targets and objectives get your staff talking about the great stories, philosophers and educationalists of the past and rediscover the core purpose of education.

Instead of trying to emulate TESCO find out about a bit of PLATO, Aristotle, Hume, Oakeshott, Peirce, Aquinas, Augustine et al… Oh and read my book and get me to come into your school to help you with some ‘inward-bound’ courses to start the great conversation with your staff. (Paradox?)

3 thoughts on “For Too Many Years School Leaders Have Been Trying to ‘Reinvent the Wheel’…

  1. o.a robinson

    Again a good item, speaking sound common sense. We are being manipulated into the process of regarding education as a business. At all levels education is being “marketised”. This is nonsense. It is also dangerous. We are a profession that is slowly being changed to suit government only requirements. We should be proud of past battles won which have endeavoured to bring true education to our young. Let us not lose this one, which is insidious and manipulative. Let us think creatively and educationally again and do something about it.

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