Saturday, 9 January 2016

Why ‘no’ is a swearword in teaching and Twitter teaching?


On Twitter there has been a furore over two opposing ideas in teaching. There has, to be honest, been a lot of disagreements. Like the typical coward that I am, I hid in tub of Pringles, leftover from Christmas. At the same time, I found a box of uneaten chocolates to hide in and a little bit of space in the cracker box. I was ‘thinking inside the box’ rather than ‘thinking outside the box’ and the one thing I was thinking was: no. No. NO.

A long time ago, I read a book called ‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart. I didn’t enjoy it and it hasn’t made me want to read the sequels. It was too dark and unpleasant for my liking, but it did have an interesting premise: what if you made all the choices in your life according to roll of a dice? Each number represented a choice. I often use the approach for getting dressed in the morning. It gives people more choice in their decision making and it stops them just using a simple yes or no. In fact, there seems to be a fad of books out there about decisions. There are books about people who say yes to everything. There are books about people who say no to everything. Personally, I prefer books about people who say yes and no at different points in their life. You might call them novels.

Anyway, lots of people have been talking about opposing ideas, like phonics or traditionalism. There have been lots of yeses and a lots of noes (nos or noes is acceptable- I’ve checked). And, I am sad to say, that things got personal, nasty and, in some cases, aggressive. I believe one person spilt their coffee on purpose. Allegedly.  The yeses and the noes became so powerful that people became teams and started pointing fingers at others for not being on their team. I comfortably sat getting splinters on a fence. Then, I hid in a box of chocolates, again.

Disagreeing has become a bit of a problem in teaching, I think. For the most, teachers are positive, and optimistic people. You have to be with the current situation in education. And, this positivity can have a negative effect. Because we are positive, we agree a lot. We say yes. We do things. We carry on.  This ends up with us doing lots of things that maybe we don’t need to do. New idea. Yes. New idea. Yes. New idea. Yes. I think you can see the problem!

I love a good meeting, because I love a good natter. But, what I love is a person who says ‘no’. As a leader, that no voice is just as important as the yes voice. They are both important for me making a decision and acting. The problem with me, as a leader, is that I have a lot of ideas, passion and enthusiasm - I have an aged Blue Peter presenter air about me. Without the no people, we’d be getting students to write on slate in all lessons, because that would give students an authentic understanding of Victorian education and this would help them understand and cope stave two of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Err, Chris, do you think that might cause us a problem with marking? A bit heavy carrying thirty sheets of slate. The no voices ground me. They aren’t the whinging, moaning, disagreeable enemies of reason; they are the helpful, intuitive, pragmatic voices of reason. The yeses and the noes both want the same thing: to teach students the best way. As life didn’t provide us with the rule book on teaching (I’m sure David Didau will get there one day), teachers, heads of departments and leaders need to tiptoe between two or more contrasting ideas and make a judgement and decide what is best.   

There are two teachers I can recall from a previous school I worked in who I thought were brilliant in a meeting. They taught very differently and in different areas, but they were happy to disagree. While a discussion was going on, I’d be there happily nodding my head, as I agreed to working on a Saturday and triple marking work. Nods head again. These two teachers would look stern and challenge the idea. They were the height of professionalism, but they disagreed and explained their reasons and ideas. We, thankfully, didn’t work on a Saturday and we, thankfully, didn’t triple mark.



I am lucky because in my department I have people who say yes, people who say no, people who say yes first and then no, people who say no first and then say yes. Not everybody is a yes person and that is important. I suppose, if I am honest, when employing staff in the future, I will be thinking about the person’s capacity to say no. All the yeses and noes make me, I hope, a better leader. They give me balance. So we have meetings like this: new idea. No, but….new and even better idea.  

There are so many ideas out there and I add to the collective dirge. There is probably more out there than there ever has been. There are more and more voices. The problem comes when people don’t filter these out or explore the reasoning behind them. There are just so many ideas. Perfect teaching might include some of these ideas, but they don’t include all of them.

Also, we must always make sure that we don’t always focus on agreeing all the time. There has to be some disagreement. Maybe, we should call it reasoning instead. That is what I see people doing most of the time on Twitter, reasoning. They aren’t disagreeing. They are reasoning with it. They might agree or disagree with it later but for the most that is what they are doing, reasoning. Do I have to fully commit to an idea or philosophy? Maybe I will in a minute, a day, a year, a lifetime, but not right now.

Going back to ‘The Dice Man’. Next new idea you have in a meeting, on Twitter or on your own. Roll a dice…

1: I agree.

2: I agree with most of it.  

3: I agree with only a tiny bit.

4: I neither agree nor disagree.

5: I disagree with a bit of it.

6: I disagree wholeheartedly I want to destroy it before it destroys.



Let’s have more disagreements in schools and more noes. But maybe we shouldn’t be so hung-up with the word ‘no’ and we should call it for what it is, ‘reasoning’. By saying no, I am not saying your views on teaching are worthless and pointless, but I am reasoning whether the idea is good or not in my context. Schools are, and should, be like chocolate boxes. Everybody has their compartment and room. Everybody is different. However, they are all have the same chocolate recipe. If we all had the same centre, it would be boring. You need to have a Turkish delight or coffee centre, even if the majority dislike it. But they have a place.   



My mother always told me, life was like a box of chocolates, but steer clear from the strawberry ones- they are mine!     

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