“It’s all about relationships”


Every now and then I come across the argument that the success or failure of a teacher is due to the quality of their relationships with students. Poor behaviour? Ineffective lessons? "It's all about relationships."* Most people are incapable of maintaining much more than 50 relationships and the number of people we actively care about tends to be far fewer. Most of the people we encounter we know slightly if at all. How then do we contend with the Hobbesian idea that the natural human condition is a "war of all against all"? Why don't we just take what we want from [...]

“It’s all about relationships”2018-11-11T19:02:35+00:00

An argument for order


The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy within a system will always increase over time. What starts off as order descends, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always inexorably into chaos. In simple words: everything deteriorates over time. Fending off chaos and bolstering order always requires continual effort and careful maintenance. Whatever else it is, a school is a system. The orderly running of schools is something most people take completely for granted, but the balance between order and chaos, especially in secondary schools, is precarious. As they become teenagers, children begin to desire great independence and autonomy. They believe [...]

An argument for order2018-10-24T21:14:18+00:00

The problem with ‘unconditional positive regard’


If you're a parent and your child misbehaves in public, what do you do? If you're not a parent, and someone else's child misbehaves in public, what would you like the parents to do? Adults are predisposed to like children, and it comes as something of a surprise when they’re unaccountably brattish and unpleasant. When children behave badly in public, people dislike them. We know it's unreasonable, but most of us find public tantrums and rudeness irritating. If a child that's behaved badly goes unpunished or ignored, we reserve our indignation for their parents; why don't they do something? We finish [...]

The problem with ‘unconditional positive regard’2018-11-11T08:00:28+00:00

12 Rules for Schools – Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them


Welcome to the fifth installment in a series of posts adapting Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules of Life to the context of eduction. All the posts in this series are collected here. This is not intended to be an accurate summary of Peterson’s views, it is merely what I reckon. Navigating the world is tough enough when people like you. It's nigh on impossible if everyone dislikes you. Peterson explains that not teaching children how to make friends and avoid irritating others is the cardinal sin of parenting. No one will love your children like you do, so, if you struggle with some of [...]

12 Rules for Schools – Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them2018-02-27T10:07:54+00:00

Getting culture right Part 2: Understanding group psychology


This is the second post on getting cultures right in schools. You can find Part 1, on social norms and using normative messages, here. We are essentially social animals and have evolved to thrive in groups. Although we tend to be disposed to share resources and cooperate with those we perceive as belonging to our group, we are worryingly ready to discriminate against anyone we see as an outsider. Creating a community with a sense of belonging is the ambition of all schools. In part, this involves creating a sense that students are part of an in-group – whether in a local [...]

Getting culture right Part 2: Understanding group psychology2018-01-12T15:20:49+00:00

Getting culture right Part 1: Normative messages


If you want to change anything within a school, culture is crucial. As Tom Bennett argues in Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour, culture is "the way we do things round here". His advice to school leaders is to purposely design the culture you want in your school and then work hard to communicate your vision so that it becomes something that lives in the minds of everyone within the school community. Easy to say, hard to do. Any attempt to change culture has to start with acknowledging and then shifting what's considered socially normal. If the social norm [...]

Getting culture right Part 1: Normative messages2017-08-02T15:25:28+00:00

Should teachers do what children want?


Every weekday morning, my daughters both moan about having to get up for school. They moan about their teachers and they moan about homework. Given free rein, they would spend all day every day watching BuzzFeed video channels, making Spotify playlists, watching Netflix and taking online quizzes. It's not that they're lazy, it's just that they'd really rather not have to learn maths, science and geography. They're both moderately conscientious, reasonably hardworking girls who never put a foot wrong in school. On parents' evenings, we're regaled with tales of how good their attitude to school is and how much progress they're [...]

Should teachers do what children want?2018-01-05T23:32:17+00:00

Why parents should support schools


Like all parents, I want the best for my children. When they're unhappy, I'm unhappy. When they suffer injustice, I'm incensed. When their school makes a decision I disagree with, my first reaction is to get in touch and point out where they've gone wrong and what they should do about it. When she was in primary school, my eldest daughter had a teacher who believed in the power of collective punishment, and, as a well-behaved, hard-working pupil she was made to suffer for the poor behaviour of some of the other children in her class. This struck both her and me [...]

Why parents should support schools2017-05-14T12:10:29+00:00

Easy is easy, hard is hard


Recently, I had the ill luck to be present for a friend's five-year-old daughter's birthday party. To add to the naturally generated mayhem of putting 30 small children in a space with fizzy drinks and sweets, my friend had shelled out on a children's entertainer called Johnny G - or something along those lines. Johnny has nailed down a repertoire certain to appeal to the unsophisticated palettes of the very young; he has an impressive array of fart and burp gags and makes very creative use of the word 'poo'. The kids loved him and their delighted shrieks echoed his every flatulent [...]

Easy is easy, hard is hard2017-05-09T10:16:34+00:00

The consequences of freedom Part 2


Last month I wrote about RD Laing and how his conception of freedom has had a lasting and negative impact on education as well as wider society. In this post I want to consider the role of Isiah Berlin in shaping how we have come to think about freedom. Berlin was a Russian born, British educated philosopher and political theorist. At the heart of his thinking was a concern with how to protect individual freedom. He wanted human beings to be free to make their own mistakes without well-meaning, paternalistic institutions making decisions about what is best for us. He saw this nannying attitude [...]

The consequences of freedom Part 22017-04-12T12:08:33+00:00

The consequences of freedom


Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM! Mel Gibson Freedom is one of the most popular tropes in modern thinking. We yearn for it and yet feel constantly thwarted. Like Macbeth we are "cabin'd, cribbed, confin'd, bound in to saucy doubts and fears." Wouldn't it be [...]

The consequences of freedom2017-03-26T21:38:23+00:00

Bottom sets and the scourge of low-level disruption


In many English schools, low-level disruption is the norm. Children talking when expected to be silent, fiddling with equipment and each other, calling out, and generally not being 'on task' are all routinely accepted as just something with which teachers have to contend. In 2014, Ofsted published this report on low-level disruption in schools. It it, "around two-fifths of the 723 teachers in the survey who believed that disruptive ‘talking and chatting’ was a key problem said it occurred in almost every lesson." The entire concept of 'behaviour management' is predicated on the idea that teachers must manage students' inevitable disruptive [...]

Bottom sets and the scourge of low-level disruption2016-11-14T21:10:57+00:00