30 November 2014

Rock

Turn the clock back eight or nine years, maybe ten. I am a senior teacher in a tough urban secondary school and Head of the English Department but a buzzword that has begun to creep into our vocabulary is "leadership". We are no longer educators but warriors in the battle for educational progress. There must be leaders, strategists who can direct the troops and win the endless war on ignorance or more accurately improve the school's alarming GCSE results.

No longer do we have fortnightly Heads of Department Meetings, now we have weekly Leadership Team Meetings. There's a new broom in the building - a headteacher with coiffured hair, sunken eyes and manic laughter. The waxy skin of her hands is paper thin and you can see the blue veins beneath like back roads on a county map . They throb as her blood returns to what is undoubtedly a wooden heart.

Along with the other Heads of Department - sorry - Leaders - I raise my eyebrows when Her Royal Majesty sets us a task for next week. We must bring in an object that somehow represents us - something we can speak to. Of course, we leaders must know each other better and then the school will be better led and our exam results will rise magically like mighty oaks from the council estate we can see through a ten foot high security fence. Was there really any need for the razor wire on top?

Days go by. What the hell shall I bring to the party? My Hull City shirt signed by Ken Wagstaff? My guitar? A framed family photograph? I really didn't want to make it too personal and yet I was obliged to play the stupid game. Somehow. And then I had a bright idea.

I recall that we were all a bit puzzled and disappointed by the object that She Who Must Be Obeyed brought in to kick off proceedings. It was a wooden roller with little blunt spikes on it. Such instruments may be used in massage and her husband had brought it back as a present from Thailand where he had enjoyed several "holidays". By the way, a year or two later we learnt that some of these "holidays" involved seedy romps with underprivileged young Thai women. 

We went around the room. There was a tin whistle, an old copy of "Tom Sawyer", some framed family photos and a miniature painting of a white dog called Arthur. The accompanying chat taught me a great deal about my fellow leaders. I now saw them as rounded human beings and appreciated a little more of where they were coming from. Didn't I? Actually no.

But now it was my turn! Gulp! I delved into my trusty canvas school bag and pulled out...
...this rock!

I had picked it up a few years earlier from the base of Flamborough Head - when the North Sea tide was out and I had crept under the overhanging cliff - into a shallow sea cave. The rock is composed of two materials that geologically speaking will often sit side by side - chalk and flint. They are melded together in that stone as they have been for about a hundred million years.

To the flabbergasted Leadership Team, I spoke of the spine of Yorkshire and of Yorkshire values - the softness of the chalk and the hardness of the flint. I told of my East Yorkshire upbringing, embraced by the same chalky wolds that meet the sea at Flamborough and I referred to the importance of knowing what lies beneath the surface - what is true and lasting. It would have been possible to get a lot more words and ideas from that humble rock. Perhaps metaphors for life and education. Perhaps idle bullshit. It depends how you prefer to look at things.

Anyway, I look back and feel rather proud of my choice of revelatory object for that Leadership Team meeting. Pleased too that I didn't bring in a wooden massage roller. I wonder what the latest buzzwords are  in education now that most state schools have been bullied into becoming self-governing "academies" - an idea which deserves to be crushed with  fist-sized rocks.

16 comments:

  1. Well Yorky, I had a good laugh as I read this but also hope that nothing you said would come back to bite you on the proverbial arse so to speak. I like your rock. I have a huge lump of petrified wood that was my Grandfather's. I will have to work on an analogy for it, in case I ever have to take a Show & Tell to work.

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    1. I recall that as I waited for my turn I was wishing I had brought in an object that had less gravity! Something lighter like "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" which I read to my daughter a thousand times when she was little but all that I had was my rock. Show and Tell? Yes that is what it was like.

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  2. Excellent.

    I hope she thought you were taking the piss.

    I know you weren't.

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    1. The non-verbal reactions I received suggested puzzlement. For once Boadicea was lost for words. But yes I meant it.

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  3. I think your choice was very clever. I wonder though did the others and your boss really "get" it? Probably too deep for them especially after the massage roller !
    Sooo glad I'm out of Education ! ( have I said that before ?)

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    1. So glad you are out of Education Helen? I am truly shocked as I know that your devotion to the profession was like that of a nun who has pledged herself to Christ (I hope Tony doesn't get ideas above his station!)

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  4. I was never a teacher. My job in education for almost 20 years was to produce training materials for leadership workshops and conferences. Other people wrote this stuff, I was the graphics and computer person. In the training manuals, about every third page had an "activity" similar to the one you talked about. There was a lot of time spent on designing activities that had absolutely nothing to do with teaching kids anything. I wasn't popular at production meetings when I suggested little games were a waste of time. "Oh, the teachers love them!" I was told. But they had to call attendance after the lunch break, to make sure the teachers didn't sneak away to avoid the second half of the mandatory training session. Coming from a printing background, our production meetings had to do with machine capacity, deadlines, and other practical things. I could never manage the silliness that was called "production" in the Edbiz. If I walked into a meeting and there was an easel at the front of the room (so everyone could make suggestions that the "facilitator" would record), or paper and crayons on the table, or any other such garbage, I'd grab an agenda and walk back to my office. I truly loved working with the teachers in our department. They were enthusiastic and really wanted to come up with a magic way to be sure No Child was Left Behind. But every day was like being in the third grade, with cuteness overload, and gold star incentives, and donuts. Lots of donuts. Most all of us who worked there sought alternative educational solutions for our own kids to avoid the drivel. By the way, YP, I would have given you a standing ovation (can a single person ovate, or does that require multiple people?) for your rock speech.

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    1. I don't know if a single person can "ovate" Jan but she can certainly "ovulate". When I was a teacher I was like a farm dog because I could smell bullshit from a mile away. Thank you for your interesting response.

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  5. I really, really, really dislike buzzwords!!!! I really, really, really do! The only creatures allowed to buzz are blow-flies...and they, too, really, really, really annoy me! ;)

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    1. Incentivise, let's touch base, low hanging fruit, pre-planning, plenaries, paradigm shifts, cascading down. drill down, blue sky thinking. Happier now Lee?

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    2. I'm with you all the way , Lee !

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  6. I like your choice of object and the explanation you gave. Trying to come up with what would have been my object of choice is difficult. Really difficult!

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    1. You understand the dilemma I was in Meike. Perhaps you could have taken in a fashion item from your extensive wardrobe. Or would that have been too shallow?

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    2. If my choice had been a fashion item, I would have of course made a good story around it, one that would not portray me as shallow but as full of leadership qualities! Ever heard of "power dressing"? :-D

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  7. I'd have probably taken in the kettle which stands in the shadow of your Rock. Nothing like a good cuppa...

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    1. Well spotted Brian. The fact that I like a nice cup of tea would speak volumes about the kind of person I am and it would have won me new respect in The Leadership Team.

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