There are some sorts of answers we like more than others even when the other answers are better.
A while back a Head of Department (I’ve forgotten who so please let me know so I can credit you) wrote a brilliant blog post on this. The central plank of it was his memory of being asked at interview what he’d done as a Head of Department that had most improved results. His answer was that he’d adjusted the time allocated to different parts of the course so the component in which children traditionally scored worst got more time.
This was not the answer his interviewees were looking for.
They wanted something buzzy about CPD he’d done on questioning, or dual-coding or tier two vocabulary or something else cool.
There is nothing wrong with any of these things but I wonder if too often in schools we overlook simple, logistical and mechanical fixes because they don’t sit neatly within the mental contexts and frames of references in which we are located.
Too often we forget there actually isn’t a very clear line between what is operational and what is strategic and so miss powerful instrumental and technical fixes.
I’m thinking about this today because it is getting hot and I am remembering the many, many very hot classrooms I have taught five period days in. I am remembering steadily rising temperatures that peak after lunch when it feels almost unbearable. I am remember sweating all day and the constant smell of teenage deodorant. I am remembering paper fans and the almost shocked exclamations of “oh it’s hot in here” from every adult ducking in to pass on a message or collect a child. I am remembering headaches on the way home and a sort of intellectual curiosity about how awful the day was likely to be on the drive in.
As I’m remembering I’m wondering how many hours were lost to this temperature – how much learning didn’t happen because although we did our best it was really just too hot to remember anything much at all. I’m also wondering how many thousands and thousands of hours this would add up to if we totted up all the time lost in English classroom every summer and how much more we would all learn if we just got bloody air conditioning, or built classrooms that weren’t the sort of glass boxes that look great in an architects drawing but are a nightmare to be in.
What a superb spend of any extra money this could be. Almost certainly more impactful than an interactive whiteboard in every room or funding for tutoring for a handful of kids who probably don’t need it. Something that would last forever, continuing to have a positive impact for years and years to come.
But we won’t will we? Yes partially because it would be expensive but also because it isn’t the sort of answer we like. It’s too simply. Too logistical. Not the sort of answer we want.