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Words


There is no doubting the power of words. They shape our thinking and our conversations, often revealing more than their simple literal meaning, especially when joined together, forming more complicated concepts. Combine those words with our actions and they become even more revealing, especially when the words we use do not match our actions. What do we believe when there is a mismatch between our words and our actions? For me it is our actions that reveal our true self. However, our words, our conversations, and the discourse around these, which inform, shape and colour our actions and our thinking. We do not act in a mindless vacuum. How we think and act is shaped, positively or negatively by words, and how we interpret them and the concepts they create.

The world of words tells us much about our actions, decisions and focus. With this in mind, I have been thinking a bit about the words that exist and are given primacy within our schools and education system, and what these reveal about those systems, as well as our own focus. 

I have created two pictorial representations, using WordArt, of the types of words that currently dominate our actions and our work in education, and have done so for some time now. In my opinion, one representation portrays a much more negative picture of our professional activity and focus than the other. 

I could write lots about each word in each representation, and indeed have during the course of this Blog, and elsewhere. You may have your own words to add to either, and you may think some words have been put in the wrong representation. Some are actually in both, and may be perceived as positive or negative according to your understanding and experience of them. Indeed, you may feel that all of these words are necessary as part of the complexity of any education system, that requires checks and balances so that it is not too skewed one way or another. My own contention would be that one of these representations is a lot more desirable for our focus than the other, and the words, and concepts, therein are much more likely to lead to the development of an education system able to address many of the issues that we understand to exist, giving all learners the best opportunity to thrive and grow as lifelong learners.

Some words, and agendas attached to them, have come to dominate the discourse in many schools and systems, I would argue that this is to their detriment. The prominence given to these words, they dominate so much thinking and practice, has led some to lose sight of all that we are trying to achieve, and how we might do that. Education and learning are complex activities, but ones where people sit at their core. People should be central in our thinking and our actions, not systems, structures and devices designed to manage what is often unmanageable.

I read an article today put on Twitter by Rachel Lofthouse, 'The empty brain' by Robert Epstein @aeon.co, about how it is a nonsense to view the brain like a computer. Epstein argues convincingly that our brains do not operate like computers in that they aren't controlled or programmed by algorithms, they don't store words, memories and information like computers do, for retrieval later. For this to happen each individual cell would need to have these capabilities. In truth, we still understand very little about how our brains do work, but what we are coming to recognise is that every single brain is unique to the individual, and as we seek to understand more we will have to focus more and more on individuals and their particular ways of thinking and being, in relation to their particular context and experiences! That may take a while.

I think that schools and education systems are similar. Every one is unique and different. To my mind this has to be so, because every school, classroom and system is made real by different individuals, with their individual ways of thinking and being. Trying to devise a model or a system that will work in all circumstances is possibly a fruitless waste of our time or energies. In a later tweet today, Rachel suggested that the way forward may lie in '..the need for a little phronesis. Wisdom in and through thoughtful practice' when she responded to a query about dealing with conflicting pieces of 'evidence' and research. I think we discard such suggestions too easily when we still feel we can 'manage' and 'control' complex systems. The best we can seek to do would seem to be to better understand them and their particular characteristics, then seek to grow and develop them organically from within.

If we were to adopt such an approach, then perhaps our focus would return to where it should always be, the learners and the people around them who are trying to support their personal development and growth.

My two pictorial representations are below. I am sure everyone could construct their own. They would all be different in some way, as will your perceptions of this piece.







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