It would be fair to say that, in a perfect storm of writer’s block and overthinking, I’ve known that I want to write and, to some extent need to write, but I haven’t known what to write about. I talked this through with my wife who suggested everything I had already thought of and more and I countered with all the reasons why others have done it better and why people may not want to read about those things. I’ve second guessed the posts I’ve made this year as self-indulgent and overly reflective and tweeted that I should really get back to writing about teaching and learning: things that “matter” more.
And tonight the epiphany arrives. This is the manifesto for the final term and more perhaps.
I am a shameless fan of Aaron Sorkin (if you don’t know – google!), screenwriter for The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (to my dismay – cancelled after one spectacular season), The Newsroom and films like The Social Network, The American President and A Few Good Men (he also wrote the play). There’s an idealism about Sorkin’s work that always attracts me. You could criticise him as being overly keen on schmaltz or idealising America and definitely American Liberalism. I see it differently. I think he sees where the problems are and writes what we want to see in our leaders, those we see on television and our journalists. That’s what appeals. He writes about what we need, not what we have and in doing so makes us (me) want to be better. To be like the idealised versions of ourselves that he creates.
In the final episode of Season one of The Newsroom, “The Greater Fool”, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), host of a cable news show, “Newsnight” is pilloried by tabloids for the stance he and his staff have taken on the news. Pushing for answers and truth and, in doing so, upsetting politicians and those in power who wish to have their activity left “out of the limelight” so to speak. As with Sorkin’s work, the metaphor is suitably highbrow and explicitly “Quixotic”, in that McAvoy is referred to as Don Quixote, “tilting at windmills”. He is driven almost to the point of giving up the show and his job until spurred on by events. What appealed to me was the definition of the title of the episode and also the article in which his reputation is attacked: The Greater Fool. It is explained to him in the show what this phrase means. Grounded in economics, it means the idealist, but not the sky staring fool, the brave believer, who values something more than others. I’ve included the quote from the show here.
So, given my previous posts from this year, and their potential for being self-indulgent, it’s perhaps time to become unapologetic. Unapologetic about what I love to do. The restructure and maelstrom of work has forced some of us to take stock about our future. When colleagues confide in me that they plan to exit teaching. To do something where weekends and evenings are their own and I find myself telling them that I can’t do that because I love schools and I love teaching. My spare time is taken up with reading about teaching and education, research and more. I love it. You could say I’m a teaching geek. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So, as I move forward, I begin to balance what I’m learning about in terms of leadership with what I know about in terms of learning and teaching and I know that I can be unapologetic about high standards. High standards in all areas of our professional practice. In our professionalism in particular, how we treat each other and what our view of our job is. Not the day to day management of tasks, but what our job really is. I need to be unapologetic about demanding those high standards, first of all from myself but also from others. I need to be unapologetically enthusiastic about my love for professional learning, for the big box of books that will go straight to the CPD library when term resumes. I need to have no worry about the opinions of those who feel that this is a waste of time or resources. The crux of this moment is the time that it has taken to get to where I am as I write this. I have wrangled over what to write and how to express it. I do this in my job and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I do have the courage of my convictions but I often feel that it is better to weigh evidence and consider possible outcomes before delivering myself forward as a soothsayer. Certainty is, in some ways, enviable, but it often does not consider that slight movements in different directions, when considering a weight of evidence or of research may be better than the certainty gathered by remaining stationary for a substantial period of time. Often certainty is expressed through condescension, a position of authority of ownership as possession. I can be unapologetic about my challenging of this attitude in order to secure the ethos, vision and progress that I would love to work towards.
A day or two ago I stumbled upon Grace Hopper as the source of the quote: “The most dangerous phrase in the language is: ‘we’ve always done it this way'”. I found out some more about this incredible woman and merrily shared on Facebook etc. to have my bubble burst by a shrewd comment which countered that tradition is often better, e.g. bricklaying, in particular the design of the arch. I couldn’t disagree but I have thought on it long and hard that the premise of the Hopper quote is true. There are, undeniably, aspects of life that are “foundational”, I’ve written about it myself. What we can never be sure of, however, is that sticking with what we “know” ad infinitum is a savvy or useful way forward, particularly if aspects of the status quo, be it personnel or processes and systems are flawed and haven’t sustained improvement. Things have to change in this case and maybe it’s the greater fool who we need to look to in these moments.
Work is difficult. Everyone’s job is difficult and the grass is certainly always greener. My obstacles are just that and only that. They will be overcome through vision, planning and sheer tenacity if necessary. What I can’t do, and won’t do as summer descends in terms of time but also attitude is lower any standards. It’s time for the greater fool I think.