When we consider a choice between two options or rewards, we tend to prefer the readily available one. In other words: the current and near future are incredibly powerful.
Busyness is the stuff of school life leading to rapid decisions, but good decisions may need a period of reflection.
With so many interactions taking place within every minute of every lesson, it is hardly surprising if those involved will, occasionally make what to others will seem an error of judgement that is instinctive. These instinctive responses are likely to demonstrate personal bias. We may not be aware of bias until an unguarded utterance demonstrates to another something of our internal monologue and they have the confidence to address this back to us.
Under normal classroom circumstances, in any classroom, it is less likely that the others, the children, will have the temerity to point out inconsistency in a teacher demeanour.
It is, however, possible outside the busyness of the classroom, to seek to create periods of calm that allow for some reflection. From the very beginning of my teaching career, we were encouraged to be reflective, especially after a day’s work, thinking about what had gone well and what needed further thought. Some of this thinking was aided by opportunities to discuss areas with colleagues, often over a cup of tea. It might have been a matter of pedagogy or simply curriculum knowledge, the what, why and how-to of teaching. This can appear to be a luxury, but such reflective time does allow consideration of more strategic aspects which can sometimes be put to one side in a busy classroom, reducing interactions to “call and response”.
Reflection, articulation, consideration, refinement, action, evaluation leading to a further round of reflection, eventually leads to refinement, in any learning situation, at any age.
It is always interesting to interact with a school as a headteacher, external assessor and now as a Governor, talking with staff who spend their days being busy, seeking to explore the strategic aspects. It can be quite enlightening to engage in what becomes a somewhat scaffolded conversation, allowing the staff members to think before responding, moving the everyday into dynamic structures and eventually towards impact evaluation. It can also be very frustrating if the staff member cannot move beyond the descriptive into reflective evaluation.
The majority of school staff will say that their thinking time is often well outside school and often during the holidays, when the distractions are less, especially if they go home from school into the busyness of family life. We always have to be aware that periods of life can feel as if they are little more than reactive. Again, a majority are likely to find that work and home life combine to eat up their time. It is often when an external or unexpected event happens, such as personal or family illness, that a real awareness of time limitations is highlighted.
Schools that are able to create or offer quality time to reflect, to organise themselves strategically, putting in place systems that are easily articulated, well communicated and easily understandable to everyone, are likely to be calmer environments that allow for reflective reactions.
Time-poor schools, always in a phase of reactive behaviour, are likely to encounter a greater proportion of needs for immediate response, some of which will be less than secure and may well create a secondary level of problem. An example might be a behaviour issue, dealt with too rapidly, that then causes the parent(s) to become involved. The secondary layer can, in some cases, become a new level of distraction.
Making time to think can come at a cost, but it eventually has a cost-benefit.
Having a clear strategic agenda for developmental discussions, providing ongoing target dates can be a focus, making better use of time. Awareness of a direction of travel can mean all moving towards a known goal. The alternative is everyone making things up as they go along, reacting in their own way, rather than operating within known boundaries.
As in any organisation, it is a case of pulling together, or possibly pulling apart.