In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

This is another reflection on the lessons learnt about education from being a parent. This time it is the importance of trust.


At the swimming centre where my daughters have lessons there are two instructors who walk around while the lessons are on. They serve a number of roles. Whether it be providing suggestions to support the development of the swimmers, coordinating lessons and overseeing the safety of those in the pool.

During a recent lesson, one of the instructors came and spoke with me about my youngest daughter. She said that she wanted to move her up to the next class. Out of interest, I asked her why. She explained that she felt my daughter would benefit from being with older students and no longer needed the shallow pool. She then asked if that was ok with that?

I was a little taken aback by the question. I was fine with my daughter moving up. I was also fine if she stayed in the group she was currently in. The reality is that in this situation, I can only trust those in and out of the pool. Although I may ask where my daughter’s development is at and whether there is anything my wife and I could do to support her, I do not feel there is anything achieved in questioning the decision of the educators at hand.

I feel the same way about the classroom. In today’s age of fear, we worry about the ‘best’ teacher and the effect size associated with the ‘right’ teacher. I remember working in country town a few years ago where parents would move their children to a different school if they got the ‘wrong’ teacher. The problem I have is that sometimes the best teacher is a supported teacher. My daughter’s classroom teacher will often spend more time with her than my wife and I. In my opinion hovering around a teacher or the school creates an situation of stress and anxiety for all involved. I love how Dan Haesler captures this in regards to protecting children from any sort of risk:

Dan Haesler's take on helicopter parenting

I think we need to trust teachers rather than moving students around the market. Maybe this is just me? Maybe in time I may change my mind? As always, thoughts welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Dan Carlin in his investigation of Genghis Khan quotes Lord Acton who once wrote that “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”  This implies that great people often only become supposedly ‘great’ at the expense of others. That is, whether it be Napoleon or Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, they all brought about great chaos and killing that was paramount to achieve their success over time.

This idea of the consequences associated with success got me thinking about teachers, teaching and learning. There are those out there who wish to reduce impact solely down to the work of the individual. This has many flow on effects, but the most problematic one is the birth of the ‘great teacher’.

I have lost count of the times I have been asked to reflect on my past and recall a great teacher. For me, these teachers were those that often pushed against the grain, who stood out in the crowd, maybe broke the rules, seemingly going above and beyond. Maybe these are worthy attributes to have, but at what cost? The question that often goes unasked is what context allows for the creation of such teachers and is it always positive? Who suffers and what is lost in the process? Are great teachers in fact bad teachers?

For so many, the word of the moment is collaboration. Whether it be Alma Harris’ Disciplined Collaboration, Cathy Davidson’s Collaboration by Difference or David Weinberger’s Smart Rooms, they all seem to celebrate the collective power of the group over the individual. The problem though is that it can be hard to break the traditional cycle of leadership and learning for a more distributed model. A focus on the individual has the tendency to produce an environment of competition, which sacrifices collaboration, in the hunt for greatness.

To re-imagine this situation, I want you to stop and think for a moment about a teacher who for whatever reason was not the greatest? Rather than dwelling on those individual attributes which made them stand out for all the wrong reasons, think about what teams they were a part of. Was there anyone else teaching that subject? Were they visibly linked with others or left alienated? How were they supported? Maybe these are more pertinent questions and help highlight the real problem.

In the end, I am left wondering, can greatness ever be good? What would schools look like if we had great teams which focus on building capacity, with no one teacher standing out above any other? Would this focus on community allow for more of a focus on learning? To be honest, I am really not sure. More than ever, I would love to know your thoughts on this matter, for in the end, it takes a village.


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