Tony Gurr

Putting Our Own House in Order – as the CEO suggested!

In Our Schools, Our Universities on 27/02/2011 at 5:33 am

The quality of a question is not judged by its complexity but by the complexity of thinking it provokes.

Bir sorunun kalitesi onun ne kadar komplike olması ile ilgili değil, cevaplandırılması için gereken derin düşünceye ne kadar yol açtığı ile ilgilidir.

Joseph O’Connor

In a recent post, I posed a number of questions for CEOs (who might be interested in promoting “learning” across their organisations).

My friend, Bruce, took the post and re-wrote it for Principals. Thanks Bruce and “Kia kaha” to all our friends in NZ!

I had actually originally designed that post for “university deans” – but changed it to CEOs at the last minute (I had made a promise to someone that I would also touch on “business- proper”).

Wish I hadn’t!

I got a very “loud e-mail” from a “CEO” who told me (and I quote) – “you bloody teachers should put your own house in order before you try telling us how to do business”!

Now, I’m not sure if he (it was a “he”, BTW) really got what I was saying! But, to redress the imbalance that I have obviously created in the universe – teachers / lecturers – I have some questions for you:

Hey! Teacher…

Think about a recent class / lecture you had with a group of your students:

  • What was the topic or theme?
  • What did you teach?

That was easy, yes? OK, let’s try a few more:

  • What did the students learn? How do you know?
  • What else did the students “get” from the session? How do you know?

Mmmm, getting tougher, yes?

  • What difference did the session make to the lives of the students? How do you know?
  • In what ways did the session promote “learning that lasts”? How do you know?

Let’s really push the envelope – and take things “wider” than a single class:

  • Who are you as an educator?
  • What are your passions as an educator?
  • What is your purpose as an educator?
  • What “business” are you in as an educator?
  • What do you “do” as an educator? Who are you doing this for?
  • Who does “your shadow” touch most – students, colleagues, parents? In what ways?

  • What do you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do to improve what you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?

  • How do you know all this?

As I prepare to turn these questions into pixels, what strikes me is that this blog is probably the wrong place to be posting these. If you are reading this, you are probably the kind of teacher who has been reflecting on these types of questions for years.

Now, if only I could me get an e-mail address for the “rubber room”!

I’m only doing as I was “told”.

I’d love to hear what you think though – perhaps then we can show “the CEOs” of this world that we are also working to put our houses in order, too.

Hey, perhaps we should do it together…more.

  1. To the CEO who doubted whether the worlds of academe and business cohere, let me tell this little story:

    The Dream it was That Died (with apologies to Tom Stoppard)

    The topic of learning and its relationship to the business and academic communities reminded me of a period in my own life when I used to work for the British Council as a British Studies officer, when I had to try and introduce courses into Turkish universities. Pots of money were put at our disposal to introduce new country studies programs (similar in concept to the American Studies programs, which had been going since the late 1970s) in universities at the under- and postgraduate levels. Our academic contacts welcomed the idea, and, so it seemed, were perfectly willing to accommodate new initiatives: each year we wrote enthusiastic reports about how the educational agenda was gradually moving towards an inter- or cross-cultural focus, with educators and learners alike becoming more willing to reflect on both the target (in this case, British) and their source cultures.

    By the early 2000s however, the entire project had collapsed: grants were withdrawn, I had moved on to pastures new at Baskent University in Ankara, and many of the new programs simply dissipated due to lack of interest from educators and learners alike. Hence the title of this piece: ‘The Dream it was that Died.”

    Why did this happen. In retrospect, the answers are obvious; but it’s worthwhile setting them down, if only to show how notions of effective learning in both the business and educational fields are almost identical:

    •The project was always conceived from the ‘top-down’ rather than the ‘bottomup.’ The Council wanted to show how it was promoting ‘British Culture’ in different ways, even if this meant imposing new projects on to higher education institutions. Little or consideration was given as to whether the universities wanted the programs or not;

    •The Council measured ‘success’ in purely numerical terms; hence they wanted to spend little or no time negotiating with their customers (i.e. the universities) to develop ‘tailor-made’ programs that would benefit learners and educators alike. From my point of view, as a Council officer, it was always ‘us-and-them’; there was no effort to forge a learning community in which everyone – Council staff, educators and learners alike – felt they had an equal voice

    •Everyone – both Council staff and educators alike – was determined to embrace a monolithic view of culture. Hence they were engaged in comparing and contrasting ‘British’ with ‘Turkish’ culture, and thereby trying to achieve an ‘intercultural’ means of learning. No one wanted to acknowledge the presence of cultural difference – either in terms of their own identities, or in terms of the material they were supposed to be studying. An effective learning strategy can only come about if people are prepared to listen to and find about one another – not only assessing their strengths and weaknesses, but also understanding how and why they respond to particular situations in different ways.

    •This last point is extremely important, for the only way to create an effective culture of learning is to acknowledge the importance of pluralism: everyone should have a voice, regardless of status. Would that the Council had acknowledged this;
    •The most important reason for the project’s failure was the one that nobody – particularly the Council’s staff – wanted to acknowledge. Did the universities really want British Studies?? Or did they actually have different aims and objectives? No one actively tried to find out. This startling omission underlines the importance of two-way communication as the basis of learning, irrespective of context; this is as important in the business world as it is in the world of education.

    In truth, the entire British Studies project was neo-colonialist in outlook: the Council wanted to sell ‘British Culture’ abroad as a way of justifying its existence. But it could have formed the basis for the creation of a new, more collaborative approach to inter- and cross-cultural learning, if only it had been thought out better.

    • Excellent post – are you suggesting that “my CEO” was, in fact, from “the BC” 🙂

      Laurence – thank you for sharing (again). Take care!


  2. Hi
    Your post Putting Our Own House in Order – as the CEO suggested! allthingslearning is informative as well as thought provoking, I will come frequently in order to read all your blog posts.

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