Potlatches, Karma, Responsibility and Trust.

Talk for Teaching results in a very regular sharing of ideas and practice across a school, or more widely, across a larger collaborative structure such as a MAT. What is does is to employ the collective intelligence of the school community to drive forward innovation and improvement. The individual intelligence of teachers and support staff is high; these are well-educated, knowledgeable people, but the collective intelligence of a whole school can be immense. So why not employ it? Using the collective intelligence of your school can save time, money and effort in terms of professional development.

Such an enterprise requires a larger degree of trust on all sorts of levels, than some schools have perhaps been used to in the past. However, Talk for Teaching is a vehicle for generating trust. Once a toe is dipped in the water, it is truly amazing how quickly the whole school follows. As Kim Parnell, headteacher of Balfour Junior School in Chatham, says;

Most colleagues were initially very reluctant to embrace the initiative and were suspicious of what this man in a suit would bring; particularly when they were arranged into groups without their particular friends, TAs being paired with office staff and even members of the leadership team. Prior to meeting Paul there were many anxious question in the staff room and remarks that they didn’t really see how this was going to work and what a waste of money it would be.

Within half an hour of Paul’s arrival he had put most of the dissenters at their ease and as soon as the groups began to move around the school the excitement and the buzz of educational conversation was palpable. By the end of the second day no one could envisage why we had never taken this step before.’ 

With trust, though, comes responsibility. Staff have to assume more responsibility for improving their own practice, if they are to be truly trusted to take control of their professional development. There are so many quotes about trust and responsibility, but here’s a very early one. Luke 12:48;

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ 

And why not? This is about empowerment, but to empower could imply that something must be given away, perhaps from school leaders? I recently saw a documentary on C4HD entitled; ‘The Masters of the Pacific Coast: The Tribes of the American Northwest’ and loved with the idea of a Potlatch.

Potlatch is a Chinook word, from the culture of NW American indigenous tribes and it encompasses one of the most incredible economic systems I’ve ever encountered. In some ways can be compared to Karma, a key concept of many eastern religions and a concept that encourages a generosity of spirit. Instead of trying to acquire wealth, as we do in western society, the potlatch host, always a chieftain, gives away a significant proportion of his wealth to his neighbours (or he ceremonially destroys it, in front of everyone). This takes place at a great ceremony – the potlatch. In effect, it is a challenge to others to return the wealth distributed to them , or to destroy even more goods than at future potlatches. If the guests did not return the equivalent of all the gifts bestowed and more, they would lose face and their power would thus be diminished. The moral is clear, as it is in Karma: the more you give away, the more you will gain in return. School leaders who operate in this way can gain much more than they initially appear to lose.

The outcome is that teachers begin to take control of their Personal Professional Development (PPD), rather than have their personal development delivered to them via the old, often centralised, method of CPD. Talk for Teaching employs the collective intelligence of all staff in a school; a collective intelligence that is often not shared as widely as it should be. Do you really know how other teachers teach in your school, outside of your friendship group, corridor, or department? Often, any sharing of ideas only as a by-product of CPD SLT-organised school CPD. ‘PPD not CPD!’ has become a mantra of mine.

These are snippets from ‘Talk for Teaching’, published 2017 by John Catt Educational.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Talk-Teaching-Rethinking-Professional-Development/dp/1911382098

 

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