“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
In a conversation the other day, a teacher asked a rhetorical question, Why are we doing this?
The answer resides in the minds of the people in her school.
One of the advantages of being a careful spectator of patterns in organisations like schools to see the systems at work is that there is the privilege of seeing whether the organisational behaviours are mono-directionally coherent, or if they are, as the Cat would put it, going in a way that “doesn’t matter.”
Patterns are really good teachers.
Years of observations of systems provoke thinking around the question, Why are we doing this?
If there are patterns, we can learn
At the school wide level, a lot of attention is directed toward marketing. Energy and time are spent creating beautiful publications about facilities and acquired resources.
At the departmental level, a lot of attention is spent clarifying what the directives mean. A back and forth dialog, informally and during formal meetings seem to revolve around understanding what is meant by the messages sent to faculty. There is always the question of what action teachers need to take as a result of the directions that they are trying hard to understand.
There are also teachers who don’t get clarifications and must ask other teachers for the information. Energy and time are spent searching for information.
At the classroom level, unclear directions create a here today gone tomorrow sense of information. Students are told one thing and then it is changed. For instance, a class might be canceled because of some pop-up event, the same day the students understood it was to occur because it is a valued part of the school experience. (It says so on the vision statement.)
The story of learning is simple although sometimes the plot tends to be complex. The reason for a complex plot is that school is a human enterprise, an endeavor that is co-created with the intent that children will gain a clear and coherent experience through participation in that designed experience.
It doesn’t matter what the belief systems individuals hold of education: whether school is for values transmission (religious-based schools), cognitive processing (skills), self-actualization (fulfilling potential), technologist (input, throughput, output), academic rationalism (there is a canon), social deconstructionism (think Friere). There is a rich diversity of beliefs that groups of educators hold in each school, and they might all be welcome sources of passion and motivation. That passion and motivation should be a source of energy…to focus on learning.
Coherence helps schools realize missions and visions, what we promise our clients, who incidentally are here because they believe we can help them create their futures.
Lack of coherence takes our attention and time away from intentionally creating the learning that allows for realization.
So, yes, we should ask questions. And I can safely say that if the school’s mission has something that refers to critical thinkers as one of its valued outcomes for that school experience, then asking the question is mission-appropriate.