Grass Roots

grassrootsI wanted to start the post today with this poignant image because it is my shared belief that change is most effective when it is developed at grass roots level. This has always been my personal mantra and philosophy which has permeated to all aspects of my life. In a professional context, I have always endeavoured to cultivate a whole team perspective. My leadership style is reflective of this and I strongly believe that people are more motivated by a shared understanding and ownership of initiatives as opposed to a dictator style top down approach.

In my advisory capacity I have had experiences where I have gone it to consult on various initiatives, be it whole school or working with individuals and I have initially encountered a sense of ‘You are so young, I have more teaching experience than you have of being alive so what can you teach me?’. Admittedly, it was not always easy to combat this attitude but I never took it personally or took offense to it in any way, shape or form. I embraced it as an opportunity to build a new relationship and challenge myself a little further and do you want to know the one common denominator that has always helped me to achieve this? … The fact that I can still relate to the teachers or ‘front line troops’ as I call them. When I start to build the foundations of our working relationship, I stress the fact that I have no intention of bombarding them with theoretical jargon that I have read about in a book or an article. Yes, academic literature is fantastic and really helps us move forward but in my opinion, it is the ability to blend the theory with the practice that helps me earn my stripes and gain their trust and respect. I can advise on these areas because I have real life experience of going through the same trials and tribulations. I can empathise with the very immense pressures they face and most importantly I understand that behind data and statistics you find real faces, real children. So when I sit there and scrutinise data, I am ever mindful of the fact that there is a story behind that peak or trough and I make it my personal mission to further understand why. This is why I am fiercely protective of my time in the classroom and although I have extremely high ambitions and dreams for my professional future, I am adamant that I don’t want to lose sight or experience of where all the real work happens, in the classrooms.

So, it is with this backdrop that I would like you to consider the following thoughts. Since I have been here in Hawai’i I have had extensive conversations centred around the theme of policy being put into practice. It echoes the same themes as many of their counterparts in the United Kingdom. In many different contexts there are very real tensions and pressures experienced by teachers that they do not feel are valued. Teacher moral can be driven considerably low because they feel decision makers and people with influence over educational policy do not fully appreciate and comprehend their role. I am sure there are countless teachers who would like to say ‘walk a mile in my shoes before you expect me to jump through yet another hoop’. My observation is that one of the reasons this divide occurs is because some not all people in these positions of power and influence either have no real experience of classroom practice or are so out of touch that they can no longer relate to the role of the teacher. I am completely and fully aware that there are lots of exceptions to this rule and I myself have had the privilege of working with such individuals. So I certainly don’t want to tarnish everyone with the same brush but just to raise the point that this is a real concern felt on ground zero.  I am also appreciative of the fact that many of these initiatives start out as well intended ideas but somehow through the rigmarole of the ‘process’ they lose their true sentiment and become just another tick box exercise to burden teachers even further.

It was whilst I was contemplating this issue that I realised this is one of the fausxpas the P4C team of Hawai’i have been so successful in combatting. They have not fallen into the trap of becoming a team of academics who preach what teachers should and should not do in a P4C context. They have a robust, well thought out process which includes the role of Philosopher in residence that essentially aligns itself to working with and alongside teachers. I am sure this is one of the main contributing factors to the success they have had in appealing to teachers and reaping a receptive target audience. Through the academy I have already had the pleasure of extending my network and meeting lots of individuals who share the same thoughts and opinions as me. I am sure I have already agreed to participate in a vast number of international research projects just in the small amount of time I have been here. It has inspired me to propose an annual or biannual international conference for P4C practitioners who work at grass roots level to get together and share their thoughts, experiences and proposals. I know this is a very ambitious project but in typical Afsheen style it is yet another adventure I look forward to. So watch this space …

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