Bennett’s blog – #6 Calm down, calm down – can’t we just talk about it?
Carole Bennett, CEO
Last week Lord Adonis threw Twitter into overdrive. His tweet, announcing he had reported schools to OFSTED for not putting enough live lessons together, brought out a range of emotions from teachers – ranging between furious rage to palpable hurt. And whilst I could go into that specific issue, what really struck me was a wider point. Yet again, leaving it too late to raise an issue constructively meant that no-one could discuss it calmly as battle lines were drawn right at the start of a debate, meaning that no positive progress would be made to drive it forward.
As a teacher, school leader and parent, this should no longer surprise me. All too often I have become aware of an issue only when emotion was high and people were already too hurt, angry or frustrated to discuss it productively. And at that point, when it gets raised at the same point of anger or frustration as Twitter saw this week, it is hard to row back to get the calm, measured discussion we need to sort things out.
I have been lucky enough to work with local and national politicians of all persuasions, and work alongside a huge number of leaders and staff from businesses and schools. And my friends who are parents have a range of backgrounds and views. Although they often have very different opinions and approaches, their objectives and motivations are usually pretty aligned. There are, luckily, very few Bond villains who are just interested in pursuing their own glory or points. What we do often have are very different perspectives and life experiences that mean we draw separate conclusions about how we get to the end we want to, and the choices we make along the way.
No-one is perfect – or ever will be. So sometimes we will make mistakes – either in our decisions or the way we communicate them. And equally, like everyone else, in the absence of knowing people I can assume motivations for decisions which were not right, or presume ill intent where there was none. But if we don’t talk or ask before we add on emotion, we reduce any chance of moving forward to a positive – or adapted – outcome.
I am guessing that Lord Adonis had reasons for his concerns. Maybe he heard about some schools not making contact with children. It is possible he feels like he is standing up for vulnerable families. But the first schools heard of this concern was when he had already written to OFSTED complaining about the issue. And all the teachers who were proud of their work and had no idea that anyone was anything other than happy with the work schools were putting in during the pandemic were shell shocked. So instead of schools having a debate with him about online learning and talking through what was happening/taking on feedback about adapting help for families, mud was thrown and no useful progress was made. No-one could find out the root reason for his concerns, or the evidence for them, and he could not hear some of the logistical and technical difficulties facing schools. Consequently, no solutions could be found. Teachers were hurt, Lord Adonis was frustrated – but apart from arguing, nothing changed.
This exact thing can happen in schools. An angry parent writes in with a complaint that the school did not know was coming. Or at work, an employee or employer builds with fury at decisions being made before a row erupts. On Facebook there are loads of posts with photos of someone doing something ‘wrong’ with accusations about their motivations and behaviour. But by this time, presumptions have been made and relationships are heated in a way that actually works against either party finding solutions that work for both of them.
So a plea – if you are a parent at our school who wishes we did something differently; or a teacher in our school who thinks we have done something bizarre in the Trust; or a teacher of my children. Please don’t leave it until you are bubbling over before you write me a ‘Dear Mrs Bennett’ letter. Drop me or your school a line with an early query or concern and let’s have a chat about it. I might have done something stupid that I could do better; I might have something I would rather explain more clearly – or maybe we just will differ. But at least we will know where we both are, and can try to find a way forward that works for both groups, with a clear and sound understanding of the starting position – based on the issues, not emotion.
If we don’t know, we can’t fix it. Let me know when you think I have been mad, so I can talk it through. I may be mad. But bad? I hope not. Not many people are.