I recently read Ray Dalio’s Principles. It’s a heavy book with real wisdom at its core and I would recommend it to everyone but particularly those who find themselves in leadership positions. One of its core principles is the idea of radical open mindedness. About leadership actively surrounding themselves with people who disagree, question and pose alternatives. However it also states that the people who argue these points need to be equally intelligent, confident with the information they put forward and be informed.
I’ve spent a lot of my life in leadership meetings and wonder if this exists in education.
If you yourself want to test how open minded the leadership team in your school are try a hot potato question. Such as:
- Why do we have homework?
- Why do we have uniform?
- What’s the point of detention?
- Or something else the school holds dear.
And then watch whether a discussion ensues or one person shuts down the question.
Of course this is not the case if you have been discussing one of these questions quite recently and invested a lot of time into it and therefore the leadership team look at you like you have lost your marbles and got amnesia. But you get the gist. How much can your leadership team entertain alternative thoughts?
Research in education is relatively new in terms of teachers researching what does and doesn’t work in classrooms etc.. and we have a wealth of information coming our way as education continues to be an area with growing research. The best researchers tell you nothing is conclusive, particularly this early on. I had the pleasure of listening to David Didau at a ResearchEd conference and was amazed at how candidly he embraced this. Stating he had interviewed thousands of children (in this case he was questioning them about marking) finding the evidence was inconclusive, we have some threads we can pull at but we have to ensure we remain open minded, he suggested. This was music to my ears. Everything about the way we teach is up for question. What an exciting field to be in!
All the more reason to adopt radical open mindedness. We have never seen this landscape before. Trusts and their structures, OFSTEDs focus on curriculum, Data collection, life without levels, it’s all new and I challenge anyone to say they have it all figured out. Therefore we have to keep having the radical conversations, questioning our practices and being radically open minded especially when we hear something we don’t like.
The second reason I love this is because in my experience the biggest frustration for staff and leaders alike is that not everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet. Many schools have no end of policies and practices but consistency is where it goes tumbling down. I believe you can’t have consistency without debate. You want all your leadership staff and then teaching staff to push forward with an initiative? Debate it regularly, in front of them, so that they can buy into the rationale. Far too often however leadership teams try and cram in 5 agenda items into a 90 minute meeting and the room for debate goes out the window. People leave without buy in and to no ones surprise things go a bit pear shaped and are implemented inconsistently.
I speak from experience when I say this. Just a few months ago I questioned the value of homework. The conversation was very nearly shut down by the head stating that we didn’t have time to go off piste. Yet the issue we were dealing with was about why homework isn’t being set in line with a policy that all staff had agreed to and what should be next steps. So as far as I’m concerned this is exactly the time to have this debate. It in fact led to a great discussion which showcased how much we valued homework but the barriers to some students completing it and what we can do about that.
So how do you encourage radical open mindedness in your school? Be the debate maker, be the questioner, ask people to explain, generate buy in from all around the table, encourage the quiet members to speak up. Speak and encourage others to speak. Because we are all better off for it.