Monday, 18 June 2012

Culture in Education… A house divided against itself cannot stand

A tale of Two Cities - A Cultural Divide that puts people worlds apart

Once upon a time (let's call it the 1960’s/70s) two people were looking to get a building contractor in to work on their house, both got quotes from the same two companies “Elite Construction” and “Every House Matters” they were very impressed with both, but Elite Construction was expensive and were selective about buildings they choose to work on. Both appeared to do work that was every bit as good as the other, one client chose "Elite" and the other "Every House Matters" Both were assigned a project manager and got to work. 

When the EHM client was doing the snagging they found there were a number of faults. When discussing the problem, the client became concerned about the nature of the discussion – the project manager started to blame the foreman, who blamed the architect and/or the tradesmen (or both). The negativity of the discussion made constructive discussion about what happened difficult.

The client is shocked to hear the Project manager and architect say “why can you not be more like the guys over at Elite?” Not being a fan of this kind of work environment some oblige to this request… and leave EHM to join Elite!! Losing these tradesmen sees the project suffer further
The client realises, a little too late, that there has been an issue with communication and discovers that there was some minor structural damage, which would have been easily sorted if spotted and treated early enough, but was not addressed.

When the client discusses the issue with the project manager he says he wasn’t in post when the structural damage was missed, so can’t comment in any detail as to the specifics of how and why this was missed.

The building planners sign the project off saying "it's good enough" as the building is not in any danger of falling down. The EHM team continue to work together and move on to their next project, where the same issues come up from time to time. 

When a building is eventually deemed as “failing,” the building inspectors highlight where improvements are needed to prevent the building from collapsing. After much discussion and debate (and finger pointing) the project managers, architects and civil engineers are unwilling to accept that any of their work contributed to the faulty construction. The only people who are subject to inspection are the tradesmen, so they get most of the blame. All stakeholders are actually right, no one is to blame – the issues are due to interactions across the group, not the result of any one individual’s workmanship.

Having customers unhappy with the quality of work and not identifying the source of the problem causes frustration and creates a negative work environment, threats of strike action looms in the air until things are sorted.

Regardless of where the responsibility lays the client is left with poor quality work as well as a negative experience and opinion of all the tradesmen involved. They tell others in the neighbourhood to be wary of them.

These tradesman are tied into long term contracts and, each time the quality of work is questioned the debate become gradually more heated – views become more & more polarised and each group of tradesman become more vocal about why it’s always someone else’s fault.

This causes a breakdown of communications, collaboration and of trust, which result in an inability for each group to listen to one another’s views or perspective without being defensive. Mistrust and resentment build up as high as the walls they are constructing.

This is almost the polar opposite of the culture over at Elite.

Elite Construction - Culture

The EHM clients who are not happy with their buildings can’t help but notice the majestic buildings that Elite Construction is working on - the huge mansions and grand skyscrapers.

It is not what the tradesmen are doing as individuals in their work that is making the most is the culture that they have established across and among all stakeholders.

From start to finish there is cohesion, collaboration, autonomy, consistency, trust & commitment - an entire community working with an intent focus on the shared goal of creating a fantastic building. All stakeholders work as a single unit with the mastery of a world class orchestra and a sense of purpose to create a masterpiece.

Everyone involved is proud of their association with Elite Construction because the foreman makes concerted efforts to celebrate success, and to provide a strong sense of belonging, shared values & identity.  Elite also encourages everyone to come up with and explore new building methods, they praise innovation and initiative and put any infrequent errors down to experience.

Elite Construction – Not Comparing “like for like”

While it most certainly would be  worthwhile for EHM to take a closer look at Elite’s company culture (the autonomy, consistency, sense of community, cohesion, trust, shared plans & vision etc), but it is ridiculous to make too many comparisons between the two companies, their clients or their buildings.

Indeed some EHM employees may see comparisons as extremely unfair as Elite’s selection process means they do not have to contend with as many challenges – whether poor project management, structurally damaged buildings, apathetic clients, limited budgets, or not having an influential board of advisors to call on, for example consider;

The Architect – Only works on one project at a time, to ensure that they realise the clients’ vision of a grand building. EHM have over 30,000 projects to juggle.

The Foreman – There is no project manager so the foreman has complete autonomy and, like the architect, only works on one project and stays with it from start to finish.

Client – The very fact that the client is willing to pay a lot more money for their building suggests that they place a great deal of value on building work in the first place. Perhaps because they know that the initial costs will be worth far more in the future.

Any time issues do arise, if the client was not happy with progress they will remind the foreman how much they are paying… and expects construction to progress ASAP!

On occasion the client may not like how smart the building looks compared with the other buildings, so may get another specialist in or they may even rip a bit out of the building!!

The client is also constantly researching the latest building methods and can even be seen in their holidays working on the building and pitching in.

Board of advisors – Elite have an impressive list of senior advisors from Fortune 500 & FTSE 100 companies who are just a phone call away.

Exclusive & Selective - Elite Construction is expensive and relies on its reputation to get commissioned for new projects, so can’t afford to have any unhappy clients. Therefore they are very selective with the buildings they work on.

If Elite don't think the building will look smart, or are concerned about any structural damage (no matter how small), they will refuse to work with buildings that fail their surveys (also unlike EHM they will also abandon the project if there is any sign of the client running out of money).

EHM Project Manager – Some EHM project managers use Elite’s services instead of their own company which, understandably, raises eyebrows amongst EHM colleagues and their clients.

While EHM project managers may have a lot of time for Elite, this is not always reciprocated as they tend to be too committed with their own projects to attend any of EHM’s construction conferences or offer any input.

Given that Elite work with the wealthiest clients, choose the best buildings and able to reject any they don't like, how can any of Elite’s buildings fail? They don't! Tenants will pay a high price to rent these grand, much sought after buildings.

Elite Vs EHM – Similarities & Different Results

While there are differences in culture what about the differences between Elite’s Tradesman who are often praised and EHM’s who are regularly criticised? Nothing, none, zero, 0%! They were trained in the same way and at the same trade schools. They both care a great deal about their buildings and worry how it will fit into their surroundings when complete.

On a daily basis they consider ways to do the best work with buildings that have structural damage; the bricklayers will do the best he can but is limited in what they can do if they are building on faulty foundations. They worry about how the building will fit in amongst the mansions and skyscrapers, and how durable it will be when exposed to the elements.

Equally concerning is what will become of the grand building that finds itself in an area that’s rapidly becoming run down, or that the client has limited budget to help the building reach its full potential.

The tradesman imagines how grand it could look, but he knows that it may lose much of its shine & uniqueness as it may well become run down as a result of its life in the ghetto, but at least it no longer gets any unwanted attention for being unusual, different…and smart.

As these buildings go up for sale/lease there is little demand for buildings that have had structural damage left untreated for 16 years, the dry rot and subsidence has set in so the building remains empty.

Property developers, urban planners and policy makers seem surprised when a neglected empty 2 bedroom house doesn’t have the capacity to become a hospital, bank or court building! They lament this and pull up complex, expensive plans (ironically which EHM project Manager pays for) to ask “How can we turn this house into a hospital,” would it not be better to extenuate the buildings best features and develop them – develop some unique features that celebrate the flair and style of the building.

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid" Albert Einstein 

Equally a skyscraper may be great for business but a 100 floor building wouldn’t be affordable or practical as flats, which highlights that buildings can be too smart for their intended purpose that they look stupid. Global cities thrive because of the diversity and fantastically eclectic mix of old and new sitting side by side.

Tenants will pay good prices for both grand skyscrapers and unique buildings - they will not, however, be interested in a rundown building in what has now become known as a “bad neighbourhood” that everyone except the most vulnerable have long since deserted.

The “Big Sort”

"The real tragedy is that, broadly speaking, the areas of deprivation in the UK have not shifted a great deal since Dickens Day, and any talk of a new approach of the kind I fervently believe would work has led to nothing but lots of strategizing, meetings, papers, conferences, seminars, websites...and when the money runs out, there is nothing left to show, no tangible results and so, of course, the show moves on." Andrew Mawson

More houses in EHM become unoccupied – becoming more derelict, un-kept gardens, some windows are broken and doors boarded up... Elite Construction residents start to complain about the state of their less well off neighbours.
Every now and then an EHM client will ask about having a grand 5* Hotel in a rundown area? Most people are dismissive of this saying "Are you kidding? In this area? Don't be silly!” Eventually the client starts to believe it and lower their sights accordingly.

"The environments we live, work and play in profoundly affect how we are as human beings and how we relate to each other. I learned this from Bromley in Bow. It was such a dump down there when I first arrived. We were determined to create a really nice space. As I began to deliver this, I realised that people took it as a sign of respect for themselves and their children - they felt they were being taken seriously. When we are careful about the way we create a physical environment, when we pay attention to every detail of it, people start to think about themselves and each other differently. What was becoming clear was how value judgements about Bromley in Bow had been keeping it down all those years: when we later wrote to a government body, outlining our plans to build a top quality restaurant with granite work surfaces and limestone flooring on our site, we received a response telling us that this was far too high quality for such a rundown area. It demonstrated an extremely skewed logic and a total lack of even a fundamental understanding of the human spirit. I was treating people as people; they were treating people like statistics. If you give people quality, if you treat them with respect, they will respond in kind. A cafe that offers people instant coffee in a foam cup give a different message from a cafe that offers them a range of coffee in elegant cups which are nice to drink from, literally and metaphorically. It was all they were worthy of." Andrew Mawson.

Therefore a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy follows - Elite Constructions' neighbourhood looks nicer with each building that goes up... EHM’s areas become more and more run down due to neglect… the gap grows, accentuating the “difference” amongst the 2 groups.

Some who can ill afford Elites prices, but don’t want to see their beloved house get any more neglected or see their building become worthless, so make a tough and expensive choice; pay elite’s prices, the last exodus takes place leaving the most vulnerable and most socially immobile well and truly stuck!

Homogenous Differences

In the first year Elite clients say “don't play with those kids down the road”, but soon develops to "don't go down to that neighbourhood they're all on drugs," followed by fear of crime so the big gates go up to complete the "Big sort." Elite neighbours now demonise everyone from the EHM buildings with the same assumptions and biases “they don’t want to work…they are a bunch of scroungers…it’s their own fault... they should have stuck in at school…we should just demolish the lot.” But how many of these captains of industry can see past the postcode, if these same people were to apply to work at their company?

And it’s not just Elite that are unsettled as something that started out as the odd “eyesore” has now affected the whole neighbourhood. EHM’s clients are up in arms insisting the company do something to fix things before things get any worse, morale and trust are at an all-time low amongst all the EHM stakeholders.

EHM’s negative culture has spread out to affect its clients’ and their affluent neighbours. We have anger, frustration, suspicion, mistrust and bias from both camps… Never has a solution been more urgent; never has a solution been a more difficult challenge.

If there was no difference between the skill and commitment of the individual tradesmen at both organisations but the differing fortunes can be traced all the way back to very different cultures, should EHM now focus more on this area? Do the building inspectors ever report on areas of cross-collaboration & cohesion amongst everyone involved with the building? Do the project managers, architects ever get inspected? Or is it just the tradesmen?

Cultural difference have also impacted on the adoption to tenants needs and the considerable changes that have taken place in the industry innovators and early adopters at EHM may not get as much praise as they could for using their initiative and exploring new tools that have been introduced. Instead the culture has played a role in diminishing curiosity and experimentation arguing that "this technology has no place in our buildings...none of our clients or tenants will be interested in this stuff." While they may not praise any evolving good practice...they may be critical when any exploration in new processes don't work out.  

So when any EHM tradesman could actually be doing better, is it any wonder? How can they be expected to excel at using new materials that client & tenants now expect to feature in the building as standard, if they have not been encouraged to explore the new processes that now exist in the property market, or to embrace uncertainty regarding tenants future needs.

By not being as robust in exploring new practices EHM buildings are not as high-tech or as networked; whereas Elite have both the resources and culture to explore these areas... it’s no wonder Elite’s buildings look so impressive, given this level of social inequality.

Built Environment or Building Education

To urban planners this scenario is not news as Jane Jacobs accurately forewarned of situations like the one described above back in the 1960's in “The Life and Death of Great American Cities”- she was even good enough to offer examples for how some neighbourhoods have managed to get "unslummed" – which involved similar attributes & DNA to “Elite Construction” culture and practices.

However if we replace the roles above "client" with parent, building with "students", "project managers" with government, "architect" with policies, "foreman" with head teacher/principal, "tradesmen" with teachers, (schools, college, universities for each trade) "structural damage" with problems with literacy, discipline, aspirations, desire to learn, behavioural problems etc, "tenant" with employer, and we can perhaps see that education has tacked the urban development.
Whether looking at educational or the urban/class divide it explains why our towns and cities have derelict minds and run down areas.
It is very difficult to assess the full picture regarding the challenges or to find solutions when the various stakeholders are either shouting about why the poor quality work is not their fault… or are not talking at all. Any time they come together there may be a high level of suspicion and mistrust that has built up over the years.

Solutions - Teachers

Where to start looking for answers? How about where there is commonality? Teachers - what a caring and committed group!! If any teacher went into the profession to make it onto The Times Rich List more than their desire to inspire our kids and make a difference...then boy will they have gotten a real shock!!
There are kids and families that everyone in society has abandoned, when we hear that kids are eating rats and living in cars, and which group is still there doing what they can to help their kids get through it? Talk about going above and beyond!!

It’s great to see that Jacobs’s ideas about "Unslumming" and re-establishing community cohesion are (finally) being explored, it’s intriguing to note who is key in helping rebuild these communities? Yep, teachers are the best guys for the job!! $150m experiment in urban renewal –village for teachers

To me this demonstrates that we don’t need to rebuild our schools… certainly do more to make teaching more attractive so that you get the best calibre of people entering the profession, but this again is a cultural issue, and is certainly not done by questioning the commitment or ability of current teachers.

Teachers today are as committed as any other time – just look at #cpchat or  #ukedchat when teachers come together at 9pm every Thursday night to discuss topical issues, to share resources & ideas (9pm! …and on a school night!!) There were so many teachers on a recent session that it was “trending” all over the world on Twitter (and when the football was on!!)

Teachers are connecting with and debating with other teachers to get advice and yes, occasionally there is the odd rant, to vent their frustrations about the barriers they face in trying to do good work… or send out a #sos distress signal from time to time.

Depending on which education group you represent you may not agree with the views and opinions expressed by our teachers, or the specifics of a particular complaint. But look at the nature of the complaints – it’s distress at not being able to do as good a job at educating our kids as they would like… surely this is no bad thing?!

Let’s discuss this from a different angle… how many education stakeholders do you think want to see education fail? How many stakeholders want to see our kids fail?

Is Commitment Enough - Open Communication & Trust

The commitment is there from all groups – (most) kids are curious and want to learn, parents want their kids to have a good education & career options, head teachers & principals want to establish a good culture & work environment, politicians want to find solutions to some of the complex social issues and employers are keen to offer input and advice regarding the skills needed in an ever changing environment.

This commitment has never left the teaching – if anything its increased given the challenges that anyone coming into the profession. We all want to build the best education system possible, all are doing good work – any problems then must surly relate to the culture and communications between the different groups.

Testing is a good example of this as they appear to have become a battleground – they seem to have become more of a tool for appointing blame than testing if kids are learning anything! And if we are testing as young as 5 years old who are we testing parents or teachers?  

Given the pace of change, even if we are demonstrating that kids are learning, this doesn't even seem to be the 
most important thing today anyway. What seems to be more vital is that our kids enjoy learning enough so they become lifelong learners, able to adequately cope and adapt to new industries and work models that we cannot even predict today.

In order to communicate better maybe people need to knock a few walls down to make it a bit more open plan and make the system structurally sound again.

If we were all kids in the playground we’d be told to stop arguing, shake hands and play nice… but for some reason, this seems to be more complicated to do when we are all grown up.

Although, it has to be said that it is good to know that some grown-ups have kept some of the more endearing childlike qualities, they are able to pretend… pretend that we are doing all we can for our teachers and our kids. Some have extremely vivid imaginations indeed!!

I worry that these commentators next idea will be to suggest that we leave our kids out at night for the cobblers’ elves to mend for us…cobblers indeed!! Or maybe that the pied Piper will take the “bad kids” away along with the rats – their fate can’t be any worse than having to eat them!!

History Repeating Itself – Committed Isolation

While issues of social mobility are a hot topic at the moment with various proposals including the possibility of forming closer collaboration with private education who, given the reaction to the governments’ recent invite, don't seem too interested. Lots of other stakeholders have different proposals and solutions.

But it does look like the same pattern is emerging… lots of people are doing good work but perhaps with not much discussion or collaboration. A controversial statement? Since the economic downturn there has been a plethora of Enterprise schemes springing up, but I wonder how many have spoken to The Hunter Foundation, Richard Florida or Andrew Mawson?

The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship was set up in 1998, recently Tom Hunter was brave enough to tell people that 
The Hunter Centre scheme has had little impact...surely we need to hear about this 14 year study to find out what the challenges were, before developing other programs further.

Tom Hunter set up an Entrepreneurship program in a university, but the urban planner Richard Florida argues that (…teachers, you may want to skip this sentence...) education makes little difference in the economic impact of knowledge clusters.

Commitment in the Village & Absent Villagers

Tom Hunter and Richard Florida’s findings highlight a fundamental need for collaboration – the enterprise schemes that are being established may not be enough on their own, committed teachers are not enough on their own, any new scheme may not enough without communication and support from all stakeholders...especially teachers.

Private education does well because they can call on an army of supporters marching together to the same beat, a march that goes beyond the classroom walls – between 40-70% of private education students will work for an employer that their parents have also worked for…This starts to look like a lot less like education and a lot more like the fact that it takes a [wealthy, gated] village (or a militant army of “pushy parents”) to raise a child.

Back in the slum the villagers that once made up the community has been deserted by all but the most disadvantaged. The only support they have is from our “good old dependable & committed teachers” do we reward them for this almighty battle against the odds? Pay them huge banker type bonuses? Give them free rent like in Newark? No WE BLAME THEM FOR FAILING! And insist that they “MUST DO BETTER?!”

Wanted: Empty Village... Needs Mad Visionaries?

If we were to trace the origins of Richard Florida's successful knowledge clusters I am sure that we will find that, at some point, there was a visionary leader who was the catalyst establishing growth.

This visionary would have had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, he would then make the relevant links within the community, developed a plan, hired the right people who are also determined to realise this vision, establish the right culture... and then get out the way to let the team work in their respective specialist areas!! (Exactly like private education, Jane Jacobs, Andrew Mawson, Kipp Schools…anyone starting to see a trend? Still not convinced? How about one of the companies regularly identified as one of the best workplaces in the world? The word “culture” is mentioned 20 times in this 12 page document; compare this with OFSTEDs 78 page Common Inspection Framework where “Culture” is mentioned 3 times.

What about the visionaries in other areas? There will be hundreds of examples to choose from but as I live in Glasgow and am passionate about Education and Technology will use these examples, but the pattern is the same – they all started out with passion, vision and a culture of success…(and an astounding level of deafness to the doubters & critics)

Robert Napier – The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding
Professor Terman  - Father of Silicon Valley

And of course there is Steve Jobs who understood both the value of a great teacher and how vital culture was in order to get things done…his philosophy?

“One of the keys to Apple, is that Apple is an incredibly collaborative company…you know how many committees we have at Apple have? Zero. We have no committees…we all meet for 3 hours once a week and discuss everything we’re doing…the whole business.”

“There’s tremendous teamwork at the top of the company, which filters down to tremendous teamwork within the company. And teamwork is dependent on the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time. But trusting that their gonna come through with their parts… and that’s what we do really well.”

“We’re great at finding ways of dividing things up into these great teams that we have, and all work on the same thing, touch base frequently and bring it all together, into a product…we do that really well. And so what I do all day is meet with teams of people, and work on ideas and solve problems.”

Question: “And are your people willing to tell you your wrong?
Answer:    “Oh yeah, we have wonderful arguments”

Question:  “And you win them all?”
Answer:    “Oh no. I wish I did but you can’t! If you want to hire great people and keep them working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by idea not hierarchy, the best ideas have to win! Otherwise good people don’t stay!”

How much does this reflect private education? How much does it reflect state education?

Visionary Leader in Education…Then

In 1964 there was a leader who had a vision which motivated a generation of teachers and students but his vision did not mention education, schools, divisions, social mobility or anything like that (but maybe because these things were not so prominent – or even invented yet – back then).

What was the vision? It was one of those wacky out of this world ideas… “To put a man on the moon" …A plan that everyone got behind and supported.

However... this vision caught on before the arguments, disharmony, suspicion and mistrust crept in, before the strikes due to feeling undervalued, before the physical and social divisions – it was a time before the walls, gates and other barriers went up.

It appears that every example where exceptional work has been done has the same cultural framework & DNA, but seems to be a far cry from education today.

…And Now

The psychologist John Gottman can tell with 90% accuracy whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy by listening to a 15 minute chat. What does he look for in these discussions? The ratio of positive to negative emotion needs to be at least five to one.

Some might suggest that the ratio of positivity in the 1960s across and within every group that allowed "Mankind’s’ giant leap" was more similar to the culture of private education than it is today. Of the teachers who tweet and blog about education, I wonder if it is only 20% of the content that is negative toward working conditions or education policy. How would this content compare with private educator’s blogs etc?

Is there further evidence of this? Perhaps. Maybe “The Big Society” was a bold vision? But perhaps we are just too fragmented a society for it to work?  Today the suspicion, mistrust and cynicism has set as hard as the concrete that we have walled ourselves in with the “people like us.” We then moan to our like-minded neighbours “Why should we help “them”…"they" deserve it…they should have stuck in at school”

A great man once said that “A house divided against itself cannot stand” this same wise leader also said “Don’t criticise them [Confederates] they are just what we would be under similar circumstances” And this is from a leader who knew a thing or two about division and differences of opinion. 

To the critics of private education - who doesn’t want the best for their kids and the best learning environment that they can find and afford? I can think of worse things to be spending money on.

To those who just see the “feral youth” & “NEETs” and have a hundred reasons why it’s such a disgrace, go listen to their story and ask if you’d be any different. Samuel Johnson reminds us that “God, Himself, Sir does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?

And what of those left behind? What evidence do they have that any new scheme will make a difference? None of the others seem to have made much difference to them…but I bet they just might trust a scheme that their teacher was to get behind.

The apathy towards an attempt at community cohesion means the critics come out and have a go at the ridiculous idea…it would seem that asking anyone, except for our teachers, to care today is a bigger leap of faith than putting a man on the moon was in the 1960s
To accept an out of this world wacky idea like community cohesion today we might need to start by accepting that mistakes have been made before coming together to make a concerted effort to establish a positive culture. To achieve this we may need less experts… not more

"I do not recall anyone who thought that the internal combustion engine could ever have more than a limited use. All the wise people demonstrated conclusively that the engine could not compete with steam. They never thought it might carve out a career for itself. That is the way of wise people - they are so wise and practical that they always know to a dot just why something cannot be done; they always know the limitations. That is why I never employ an expert in full bloom. If ever I wanted to kill opposition by unfair means I would endow the opposition with experts. They would have so much good advice that I could be sure they would do little work...

“It can’t be done”, said the manufacturer positively, “no machine built will do that – it is out of the question”
“Out of the question!” exclaimed the engineer, “if you will come down to the main floor you will see one doing it; we built one to see if it could be done and now we want more like it.”
The factory keeps no record of experiments …a record of failures – particularly if it is a dignified and well authenticated record – deters a young man from trying. We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Henry Ford

Something that an intrepid young man, who had no fear to look at education, may find that any sound and intelligent plan that a think tank would come up with will have a poor success rate under the current environment…

“The young fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread” may suggest that the first thing that is needed is a big sledgehammer and TNT... to knock the walls down and to clear the way for an explosive revolution in culture (you know the same as private education, Kipp, Jane Jacobs, Andrew Mawson, Robert Napier, Professor Terman, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs).

What started out as a friendly neighbourly fence has grown to become castles in our minds, every bit as real as Wall Street/London Stock Exchange is impenetrable to some of the groups in the slums and those who held it under siege during the occupy movement.

There is a daily onslaught and war of words on blogs, twitter, Facebook, Linkedin...But they only seem to be talking about each other within their own camps about things in the past that no-one can do anything about! Either we keep building the way we are, despite the knowledge that there is serious and fundamental structural damage…or we knock it down and start again.

How much more could be done if everyone talked TO one another and focused on some solutions? How much different is the tone and content of teachers over at Elite Vs EHM?

To stop the war of words and collaborate would involve an olive branch and an act of trust. Allow me to make an attempt at this…

I do not keep up with US politics and I know from the tweets that he has his critics, I do not know who is right or wrong in this running battle of wits and here's the thing… I don't care.

What I do know is that at one point, Arne Duncan, took some brave action when he worked in Chicago, which was designed to assist teachers who were doing good work, and protect students from becoming demoralised.

I am sure there will be critics of this statement - people who will debate the specifics and the minutia, or highlight some questionable judgements since then…but this is perhaps not the time of the sceptics or the doubting Thomas's, we need the builders …or the right kind of wrecking crew.

Industry advising education on certain aspects is perhaps no bad thing, but its easy to see how this may cause resentment “Oh another scheme because “they” don’t trust us teachers.” The idea is hopefully not to take over or interfere, but to do something that private education has been doing for years, but is unseen because in private education the business leaders happen to also be the parents.

If this is construed as a slight on teachers ability, then maybe this is again an issue of culture, and that teachers should be setting the boundaries of how and where these advisors offer input, not the project manager and architects.
So what’s needed? Maybe we need a visionary who’s willing to experience what most seem to go through when they are trying to achieve something great… to be a “Lone Nut"

Dream Make Over – The Big Clean Up

We’ve had the Big Sort, we’ve had the Big Society maybe we need someone to suggest that we need The Big Clean Up before we have any more plans. We also know that people will get behind this because they already have done during the London Riots.

Also when we watch programs like DIY SOS and Dream Makeover an army of volunteers always come from nowhere when a neighbour has fallen on hard times, and needs some help...all that is needed is for someone like Ty Pennington to act as the catalyst, to lead and co-ordinate the construction.

Our kids and their education is certainly a house that needs and deserves to be put in order, so I would be surprised if there was not the largest army of volunteers standing by to pitch in - whether young enthusiastic new recruits, battle weary veterans, or unskilled but well-meaning militia keen to help make a difference. And you never know, if the “good for nothing NEET” & lost generation see people turning the slum back into a village, they may even join in the clean up. I don’t think it would be long before the "lone nut" would be recognised as a visionary leader.

War on the Status Quo

As for our generals who would advise on a battle plan to scale the walls of inequality? I would always recommend listening to the kids, I find they can be insightful & profound - it also happens to be one guaranteed weak spot where teachers are always sure to lower their defences

With Pixar’s’ Brave out soon I am tempted to scream… FREEDOM!
However like the heroine in Brave, Merida, this is a battle cry for a societal freedom... Merida defies one of the kingdom's traditions and inadvertently causes controversy and chaos throughout the kingdom.

I hope someone is able to shake up educations’ tradition of shouting and blame, and to cause whatever chaos will come from releasing our kids’ minds from the shackles we have consigned them to in the dungeons of the lonely, run down inner cities and slums. You never know …the kind of chaos this causes might be that we unleash some Dragons that could help the guys over at the Elite neighbourhoods by breathing some fire into the economy and their stock exchange…in which case we might even “occupy” the same space again. 

“It is not the rich man’s son that the young struggler for advancement has to fear in the race for life, nor his nephew, nor his cousin. Let him look for the “dark horse” in the boy who begins by sweeping out the office" Andrew Carnegie

These are sentiments that Dickens and Lincoln would testify to, when Dickens was reflecting on his early life in the factory he wondered how he “Could have been so easily cast away at such a [young] age”

Community Investment

And if its money that’s need to achieve this, lets invest it in the right people and in the right way, let's put money into programmes and people like Kipp and Bromley in Bow... people with vision and passion – people with these qualities are the most likely to succeed in establishing what is needed… the right culture!! – autonomy, consistency, trust, community, cohesion, positivity, networking, experimentation, trial and error all working towards the same shared goal...friendly and welcoming villages in which to raise our kids. This might also mean that the teachers who have been battling alone for a while, might get some welcome company and support in the villages that everyone else has fled from.

Maybe we should establish a crowd source project where a fund would go to the school that establishes the best culture and innovative solutions to these challenges...I would be very surprised if the winner did not exemplify all of the attributes above.

If you are a senior policy maker in education, whatever the challenges are or the barrier that prevent affecting real and lasting change... please find a solution no matter how wacky the idea - even if the wacky idea involves a brave statement like "I don't know".

The status quo is not working. It’s not an issue of commitment. The Hunter Centre tells us it’s not necessarily enterprise. Gottman tells us what an unhealthy relationship consists of… it would seem pointless to explore any new ideas until any unhealthy relationships are in better shape? 

Private Education and companies like Apple & Google tell us their rock solid foundation is a positive culture, Jane Jacobs, Kipp and Andrew Mawson tell us its visionaries, idealists, trust, passion & commitment ... all of which our teachers have. 

I think there is a whole army standing by waiting to be called up, to pitch in and help. How many are there?

If this is post is an irrelevant ramble it will not get read much…but you have read this far and if there is any merit in this idea let’s see what we can do…maybe anyone who is in the mood for a bit of a #bigcleanup can start discussing some solutions, starting with what they think a good culture would look like?

I’m more than happy to get out there and help so…Kipp if you ever come to the UK...get in touch!, anyone looking to replicate Kipp in the UK...get in touch! Sutton Trust happy to chat over coffee…I’d be happy to help organisations like this in any way that I can.

As a parent I want my kids to be taught by teachers like Mrs Hill …she can still be found in the classroom teaching today – it’s just that all the education tradesmen are making so much noise shouting at one another that she can’t be heard.

We have fantastic teachers and some exceptionally bright kids…but the wrong culture to provide either with the support that they need to build the education they would like to create. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Kipps book is called “Work Hard. Be Nice”

Bob can fix it, so can Kipp… Maria wants us to – do you? Can we? To quote The Little Blue Engine "I think we can… I think we can…I think we can…"

I am finalising a report that looks at some practical ideas that might help with establishing a better culture, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to receive a copy of this.

As I would like to hear more about what the teachers and students have to say, it seems only fitting that I leave the last word here to Miss Patterson, Mr Singer and Maria on this discussion;

"Maita [student at Bonx KIPP school – school day = 7.30am-7pm and Saturday mornings] doesn’t  need a brand new school with acres of playing fields and gleaming facilities. She doesn’t need a laptop, a smaller class, a teacher with a PHD, or a bigger apartment. She doesn’t need a higher IQ...All those things would be nice of course. But they miss the point. Marita just needed a chance." Quoted in Malcom Gladwell