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Accentuate The Positive

I had a couple of experiences with colleagues today that again reminded me how we in education find it so easy to focus on the negatives, even when surrounded by overwhelming positives! We have been using questionnaires to gather parent and pupil views on our schools. This is not something we do too often, every three years or so, but is a key component of our self-evaluation processes and engagement with parents. The parental surveys had started to arrive back in school and teacher angst had begun!

The first teacher I spoke to had received most of her parent responses after only two days. She was upset because two, out of twenty five, were not overwhelmingly positive! She was taking this very personally, even though most of her children, and their parents, had many years of engagement with our school and only one term with her. She showed me the two responses and I discovered that out of twenty questions they had two or three each which the response was not as positive as she, and I, would have liked. She was immediately falling in to the trap, as many of us do, of obsessing about these six or seven responses at the expense of the other five hundred plus positive responses she had received from parents of pupils in her class

As we were talking, a colleague passed, and immediately said she wanted to show us some of her's as well. Again we had the same situation and same reaction. She had two responses, out of twenty four, that were not as positive as expected, and she too was managing to ignore all the very many positive comments these two respondents, and all the others, had made. Both teachers also managed to ignore the very positive written comments about them and the school in the 'Any other comments' box at the end of the survey. We were then joined by our DHT who said she had spoken to another colleague who was upset that some responders had ticked the 'Agree' box, rather than the 'Strongly Agree' one to some of the questions!

What I was trying to point out to all these colleagues was not only were the vast majority of responses positive about them and the school, but that we need to hear from those who feel we could do some things better. After all that is the whole point of the survey!  We should be proud of all the things our parents are telling us we do well, and one of those is our desire and willingness to work with them to do things better.

However, I have seen the same response by teachers and headteachers to very positive HMIe reports, school reviews, lesson observations, national and international surveys, and so on. Consider all the international handwringing going on at present around the latest Pisa findings on education performance in countries around the world. We constantly make a habit of ignoring all the fabulous achievements and developments happening daily in schools and education systems so that we can beat ourselves up over the things we know we can do better. Worse still, those outside of schools and education also fail to recognise or acknowledge all this  fantastic work, as they too focus on the negatives to help them drive forward some of their own political and ideological agendas.

I think I can understand some of the responses and attitudes from those outside of education. (Understand,  but not necessarily agree with!) But why should we be so down on ourselves and our own performance? I believe this is a direct result of the constant deficit model applied to school and individual development that has held sway in education for so many years. Never mind what we are doing well, look at all the things that we should be doing better! This has been applied to individual teachers, schools and whole systems. The extent of this approach has been such that everyone has been constantly focused on negatives, rather than identifying the many positives and building on these. Sound familiar?

Fortunately I think this approach to school and teacher development and improvement is diminishing. Now, I would like to think, we are much more willing and able to identify what we are doing well and to build from this. However, the decades of negative focus will probably take as long to eradicate from the psyche of teachers and systems. We all know we are on a continuous journey of development and improvement. But, come on people, we start from very good levels already. Schools and teachers everywhere are delivering exciting and excellent learning opportunities every day for all their learners. We need to keep recognising this, celebrating what we do, and what we achieve despite everything thrown at us, whilst seeking those ways to get better as we do so.

Let's be loud and proud about what we do, and not so wiling to see only what we don't do, or could do better.

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