The cult of expertise that’s flooding across the national schools conversation concerns me. It seems that, these days, anybody who has walked past a school in the last three or four decades is fully qualified to comment on your decisions, your craft, your technical skill and your capability to complete the task of educating.
I often make the joke that should merely using the system, even as a student a looooong time ago, qualify you fully as an educational expert – then surely using a toilet qualifies you as a plumber! Further, this subjective criticism seems to be more pointed and acute for Teachers than for any other profession. You wouldn’t tell your doctor how to fix your injured knee, you wouldn’t tell your lawyer how to build her concluding remarks to a jury and you wouldn’t tell your mechanic the only way you wish your car to be serviced. You trust their expertise. And above the petty squabbles over the minutiae what happens at school, it’s that absence of trust that is at the root of this problem.
So how do we begin the task of winning back the position of trusted advisors so that when a prominent shock jock speaks up on the edu-issue of the week, we don’t come under attack? I’d contend there are four key things that we can do to at least sneak us past the Alan Jones and Steve Prices of the airwaves:
1) Communicate through non-traditional means.
What works for the shock jocks is that they have a captive audience for the school run or the trip home from work. Your school or class newsletter doesn’t achieve that. But what does get their attention is their pride and joy … their children. Could you send home a video of the class work focus of the week starring your students? Could you run a weekday webinar (recorded for those who can’t attend) about how parents can help learning at home? Could you move on from print communication being your default means?
2) Talk about your purpose and your expertise.
Eliminate from your key communicative devices all operational aspects that can be found out in other easy ways (such as TiqBiz). Talk about pedagogy (and use the word!), talk about learning outcomes, talk about contemporary learning approaches, talk about ICT integration and discuss how you are explicitly working with parents to build empathetic and successful citizens out of their children.
3) Get ahead of the game.
Ensure that your parents have heard multiple messages from you about your responses to poor behaviour choices, bullying, instructional style and your intentions for parental involvement … before the you-know-what hits the fan. At crisis point, parents become emotional and we say some outrageous, destructive and unproductive things when under duress if we don’t have a an information already in our heads to refer to. If there are no surprises when the challenges arise, then we’re far more likely to have them on our side.
4) Speak to the future.
As many parents are referencing their questions on a very outdated view of what the educative purpose is, it’s important to make distinctions between what school was for back then and what it’s actually for now. The Institute For The Future (University of Phoenix) recently released it’s Work Skills 2020 Report and the ten skills our kids will need. They include Sense Making, Social Intelligence, Novel & Adaptive Thinking, Cross-Cultural Competency, Computational Thinking, New-Media Literacy, Transdisciplinarity, Design Mindset, Congnitive Load Management and Virtual Collaboration. These are particularly handy hooks and justifications for why a child’s educative experience needs to be very different to the one we all had. They make the differences in your approach to previous approaches far more valid. And they make you sound outrageously clever too – so thanks ITFT!
In a nutshell, our parents are paying more attention to the voice on the wireless than to ours because of the authority with which that voice speaks. That authority doesn’t come from years of expertise, from mountains of research or from synthesising and evaluating contemporary approaches. That authority is a choice – they’ve chosen it for themselves. Your positioning as an authority, as a trusted advisor and as an expert is a choice too. And that choice, that confidence, needs to shine through in your communications to parents more than any mundane, operational task.