You’re asking me how the watch is made. For now just keep an eye on the time.
Alejandro Gillick [Sicario – 2015]
Leading a school is like taking a dog for a walk in the rain. You know the dog needs exercise so you vow to commit to the walk no matter what the conditions are like outside. You prepare, in advance, for every eventuality you can think of to safeguard both yourself and the pooch along the way. During the walk, you try to remain in control of the lumbering beast that is pulling away at every opportunity whilst getting distracted by everything around it. At some point during walkies you let the dog off the lead, assuming it can be trusted, and, before you know it, it has let you down in some unbelievably stupid manner that is going to take a lot of explaining when you get home. Finally, you return from the walk (which has taken far longer than you anticipated), wet, muddy, totally exhausted and your pockets full of excrement.
If you’re wondering what the dog represents in this metaphor, take your pick. Either way, it’s messy.
I suppose, where the metaphor falls down is that neither before nor during a dog walk do you have a variety of stakeholders scrutinising every step you make. No one is interested in how you take the dog for a walk; all anybody will care about is whether the dog a) eats; b) treads on; c) tries to have sex with, anything of theirs that they hold dear. The same cannot be said for running a school.
There are a plethora of folk whose sole desire is to check whether a school is doing their job. They concern themselves with what schools and their leaders are up to. They come in, look around, see what’s going on, ask a few questions…all in the hope that you won’t be left standing with any more poo in your pocket than is reasonably necessary. Knowledgeable, helpful, and always offering a considered word to the wise. These people know when to stand back and wait for the chips to fall. They recognise that outcomes, although not the be all and end all, are still vital signs.
For others, however, the end result seems to be the last thing on their mind. Some checkers seem to have an obsession with the how you’re doing it rather than what good it has done. The outcomes are almost irrelevant, as in, good outcomes can be ignored and written off as an accident or not worth exploring, whilst bad outcomes merely support their overwhelming sense of entitlement to get stuck in.
And by getting ‘stuck in’ I mean they have a desire to not only understand, but to be involved in and therefore (in their minds) improve, every minute detail of school operations. Every system is in danger of being dissected, analysed, advised upon, added to and stitched back together so that it resembles a Frankenstein’s monster of what went before it. A mishmash of people’s opinions, biases, past glories and, worst of all, easy to evidence ideas that they can check up on later.
These critical friends/challenge partners/ball breakers/accountability gibbons needlessly delve into elements of school business that they genuinely need not concern themselves with and, in a desperate bid to grasp the big picture, end up looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The concept that the school, having been successful in some areas, could therefore be successful in others, is alien. Areas to develop are proof that the school has not yet done enough and so why shouldn’t schools be treated as though they have done nothing at all. Trust, acknowledgement, respect, professional courtesy are not terms these people are comfortable with, plus, it’s easier to ‘challenge’ by being destructive. And too often that all important ‘c’ word is misunderstood by those that bandy it around the most.
And this is where the pace of school life is a real detriment. For these people are often not actually based in schools so they have a distorted, time-lapsed view of school progress. They are concerned that whilst they were away the school moved things on – but that wasn’t part of the plan – although they are equally alarmed when things take time. These people are pro-actively reactive. Over-fixating on grappling with how the school is meant to work and panicking when things don’t go smoothly; at times, blaming schools for life getting in the way of their best laid plans, or judging decisions that they weren’t part of too harshly. They are ultimately ignorant of schools’ complexities, for, in a land of grey, they are only armed with a black or white brush. For them, schools will never be able to do enough but they will expect the earth.
They are the blind watchmakers, fumbling around the inside mechanism and yet unable to tell the time.