Speak your mind is may be comforting to do when distressed or worried, but it remains a delicate thing. There are a lot of “what if’s..”, when uttered in the social arena – because it then becomes political. Saying out loud what you think might be considered as an indication of a possible mishap or wrongdoing. And that is a matter of sharing of opinions. When you point to an “Emperor’s New Clothes” your voice needs to be heard, at least that is the point of expressing it. Tricky it becomes when your voice would not be recognized, considered inappropriate, or thought to be out of bound. What do you do? Persist? Give in? The social arena is very powerful in silencing voices (1). It often are newcomers to a field, individual persons not yet encapsulated by a ‘system’, angry, young daring (wo)men who courageously step forward and say “ Why do you do … the way you do”. To no avail?
An Australian study followed young beginning teachers after their recruitment to gauge how they got embedded in the policy ruled educational renewal programs at their school and collected their opinions and reactions relative to what these young teachers aspired and had been taught during their teacher education. “I had better shut up” could be the concise summary of their experiences. It was not appreciated what they brought forward or commented upon.
Now, these newly arrived teachers to the profession were not ‘whistleblowers’ or critics of the ins and outs of the school’s functioning. They asked probing, relevant questions which were put aside with disdain or neglect. Admitted, these were individual voices, not concerted opinions of dislikes. What lacked was that there were no spokesmen to afford their argument (2). So, who can stand in for these non-silent voices? It is and remains: responsive school management. Comments from newly arrived constitute a strongbox of valuable learning assets that deserve much more than to be handled as insults.
Misty Adoniou (2015) ‘It’s very much taken as an insult if I say anything’: do new educators have a right to speak their mind?, Cambridge Journal of Education, 45:4,401-414, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2014.987645
“The education we provide reflects the society in which it arises” – is an interesting quote (1). Almost a truism. Taking it seriously would mean to look at the mission statements of schools to see how they define and justify themselves both to themselves as relative to their customers. What contribution is said to be made, what value is added and whose needs are served, how are actions warranted and visions actualized? These questions are no small feat although seldom posited. We take schools and what they do almost for granted. Could explicating a mission reveal underlying conflicting rationales? Or, may be, disclose particular characteristics of school life that shape education for those who need it? Addressing these questions was popular in the eighties of the last century when curriculum theory studies were conducted (1) but since then it has been relatively quiet. Recognizing that different students are offered different ways of learning, and that curriculum coverage for one may be more extended than for others depending on the stated mission of a school is a pressing matter. Imagine: similar trajectories are mobilized in very dissimilar ways, is that permissible?
A study in Canada and the US tried to make sense of mission statements and looked in particular at the domain of arts education. For one thing it made clear that mission statements create a clearer picture of what drives a school and that it may inform a necessary debate between stakeholders about what value is created by a school. For the other part it made clear that justifications in mission statements do not touch the ground, i.e, do not seriously address real concerns on how to ensure that the right questions are discussed on access to education.
Bringing mission statements down to earth and have them enacted as guides to resolve contradictions and concerns about what constitutes school life would be the ultimate goal. It sounds great but as long as a mission remains a document constructed aside (2), not rooted in the school life itself, and not being negotiated between the stakeholders they certainly will not shape the work of teachers and structure the course of student learning. A mission statement is not so much a statement as more a beacon of school renewal.
Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández, Rachael Nicholls & Alexandra Arráiz-Matute (2016) For what purpose the arts? An analysis of the mission statements of urban arts highschools in Canada and the United States, Arts Education Policy Review, 117:1, 29-42
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2014.966287
When you have no idea where to go, you end up places where you do not want to be. Any car driver knows that. It may result in an interesting drive but normally, not on vacation or anything, it would be a foolish thing to do. Ideas, visions, convictions help us to identify and label what we want; thus helping us to formulate and attain objectives to go for (1). So, having a vision makes a (wo)man and gets you where you want. This may be true from a life-orientation perspective but pragmatically it is not easy to forward a vision or idea you have, especially when you have to share them with, or convince other people. Imagine a meeting with colleagues or a get-together with friends, and try to sway them behind a position you take. Then you experience the poverty of sharing ideas in an interactive arena. The things you cherish can be altered by others, captured by another position, or refurbished completely without any reluctance. Ideas or visions beyond the personal realm are shaky elements. Nevertheless, we need them to set up a (shared) route or to point out a (common) direction. And it takes a (wo)man to hold and stick to a vision.
Will it work pragmatically? For instance, take a school principal with strong convictions and a clear vision on the direction and position of his/her school. A positive answer comes from an Israeli study. A small set of high achieving schools were monitored. Talks with school leaders on their orientation on managing the school and with teachers about their satisfaction to work at the school showed that a strong vision by principals was favored highly. Of course, there were other factors that came into play, like: enhancing students’ choice, developing a student-oriented class schedule, organizing an exam system, and mapping each student, but exertion of a strong vison by the principal was paramount.
This is not to question the frequently found conclusion from leadership studies that clarity of vision promotes activity, i.e., get things done (2). It is more about how we attribute having a vision, i.e., how the gap between dedication and decision is resolved. Is it by having a strong person in charge, The Man, or is it essentially The Process of establishing a common language? Any reform at the school is most likely to succeed when all involved adhere to a shared conceptual framework. Not ‘having’ a vision by someone may be the crux but far more mounting a vision that will be recognized. In that respect principals have a great invitational responsibility.
School Success as a Process of Structuration, by Dorit Tubin
Educational Administration Quarterly 2015, Vol. 51(4) 640–674, 2015
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