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Principals, principles and decisions.

It’s sadly true that, when I was a very young and rambunctious adult growing up in Frankston, my friends and I could get up to some mischief.

The mischief could take many forms. From giving each other a 3am ride home in a shopping trolley, to potato cake eating competitions and through to turning street signs upside down there was not a shred of maturity amongst us.

The next day, we’d laugh about our escapades and it was usually justified with a cheeky grin and a “It really did seem like a good idea at the time.”

“The two most powerful
warriors are patience and
— Leo Tolstoy

The good news is that I’ve grown up now and, on the odd occasion of an evening out, an uneventful Uber ride home before midnight is as wild as it gets. But the temptation to be lured by a seemingly good idea is one that I continue to grapple with.

You see, good ideas have a habit of appearing to be flawless. It’s only when we’re living with the consequences of that decision do we realise the mismatch between the idea and our purpose or our principles. To this day, I wonder about the poor Frankston council worker who had to right the street signs we’d
meaninglessly defaced.

I thought about propensity to seduction by seemingly clever ideas again just this week when I saw a well-supported and posted picture on social media. Take a look below.

On first inspection, this seems like a highly creative and effective way to motivate students to do their homework. The end of year swordfight sounds like buckets of fun to me, especially if you’ve got an Excalibur sized sword at your disposal.

But who’s likely to have that biggest sword come the great gladiatorial bun fight? I’d suggest it’s the kid who has the most support at home, who probably finds homework easy, is already excelling at school and who needs to dedicate the least time to the task. With that in mind, is this approach starting to feel a little unfair?

And who’d be stuck with a sword the size of a Christmas bon-bon prize? Well, wouldn’t that be the kids with the least support at home, who needs the most encouragement, who’d labour over even the most basic blackline master or spelling list and who is most likely struggling through the day’s learning at school.

Hmm, this isn’t adding up so well now.

If, as most School Leaders do, you believe in equity as a fundamental good within the broader educative offer are you really going to pit the most advantage students, brandishing their enormous swords, against your most disadvantaged students, armed with little more than a toothpick?

And then, would you really make this match public, allowing the victor to gloat and be showered with cheers for her/his pre-existing head start? I don’t think you would. I also don’t think Principal Mason had the intention of doing harm either. It just “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

The mission of the truly effective contemporary School Leader is to look deeper than the marketing and the online appeal of apparent quick fixes and good ideas.

In this depth of analysis we start to select programs and approaches that genuinely reflect and enable our values.

Adam Voigt

Adam Voigt is the Founder & Director of Real Schools. Built upon years of experience as a successful Principal, Real Schools helps schools to build and sustain strong, relational School Cultures. A speaker of local and international renown, Adam has delivered a TED Talk and is the schools/education expert for The Project”.

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