Are school working parties a waste of time?
My old maths teacher once told me that there are three kinds of people in the world:
- those who get stuck in and make things happen,
- those who let things happen
- and those who wonder what the bloody hell has happened.
She was standing over me at the time as I whined pathetically about how no one could be expected to solve her impossible equations, so it was fairly obvious that I belonged in the third category.
Flash forward: the 21st century. A group of teachers are sitting around a staff-room table. Enter ‘Annoying Enthusiastic Teacher’ carrying a pile of handouts.
ANNOYING ENTHUSIASTIC TEACHER: Here you go guys, here’s a draft of the new look report we’ve redesigned for Yr10. Check it out and let us know what you think.
ME: (Picks up draft document and reads it). What’s this crap? What total moron designed this? Do they really expect us to know what curriculum level a student is working at? More bloody work! (Throws document on the table, spilling all the coffee cups).
Now I must admit that I had been given every opportunity to join the ‘Report Committee’ and could at any time have responded to the meeting minutes regularly posted on the school website. The question of course, was why the hell would I want to! Still, there was no reason to be suddenly surprised by the emergence of this new-look document.
In the background I heard an annoying voice: ‘Instead of complaining about it, why not get involved? Why not join the committee and help make things happen?’
‘Why don’t you just bugger off!” I thought, but then I reflected. The answer to the question was obvious: only shameless self-promoters join committees. I would never associate with such people. It didn’t really bother me that I could simultaneously hold this thought whilst sitting through a staff P.D session wondering who had decided to serve up such pointless drivel. Something had to give. In a moment of madness I decided, that I would no longer be that complaining voice in the staff-room. I would get stuck in. I would join a committee!
Now I had been warned, by a cynical earlier version of myself, that the only people who join committees are those who enjoy hearing the sound of their own voice as it reverberates between the buttocks of senior management. I was determined, however, to not let my previous self dissuade me. Over the next couple of years I joined five committees and contributed to two others! Was a lot of hot air blown around in these meetings? Of course. Was it a waste of time? Not completely. I did have to deal with quite a few people who felt that because they had read a research article once their opinion was more important than anyone else’s and a few others who clearly had no listening skills whatsoever. However, I mostly got to work with some genuine people who were just trying to make a difference. I gained a much clearer whole school perspective and came to the realisation that anyone who claims that they genuinely care for the well-being and achievement of students needs to get involved on at least some level. Being a whinging old sod can only get you so far.
The big question, however, is did joining a committee make a difference and did anything actually change? Sadly there were too many times when it felt as if the working party only really existed in order to rubber-stamp SMT plans and on those occasions genuine discussion did not take place and involvement was pointless. However, on those occasions where the working group had a genuine aim and where it was led by the spirit of inquiry rather than the pursuit of a predetermined agenda it was awesome.