The BIG elephant in the room (part 2): A response to the responses

I have been watching with interest all the comments on the different forums about the results from the recent vote and the action proposed by NZEI and it has made me really question how we are ever going to get some real go forward for the profession. I have not always been a great fan of NZEI – I want to belong to a professional, self-regulating body, not a union - but I have found myself in the unusual position of feeling concerned for the NZEI executive as some people have slated the work they are doing on our behalf. They don’t deserve that. In fact everyone and every “body” has come in for some social media bashing. Teachers/leaders have turned on teachers/leaders. People who were celebrating the new labour government and the removal of national standards have turned on the labour government. National and the other parties have come in for bashing too. Senior leaders and principals are often slated by teachers in social media. If it is not the fault of the ministry, then it is the fault of SLT. We have a very strong culture of blame, rather than of responsibility-taking.

The problem, as I see it, is that we do not know what it is that we want; and we have no shared vision for education that is guiding us. Further, even if we use the same language, there is no shared understanding of what that language means. And so we are holding onto our own ideas vehemently, and when someone suggests something, rather than seeing that though it may not be the solution, it is worth considering in case it might just possibly contribute something to the solution. And, even if, in the end, it doesn’t contribute to the solution, at least we can be satisfied that we have given it a reasoned consideration and we can dismiss it intelligently. I liked the comment in response to my article in which someone said something like, “ for thought”. That is all I am asking for. I don’t have the solutions either. I am just putting forward ideas that might contribute to the solution. I am certainly open to thoughtful disagreement, especially when that disagreement moves our collective thinking forward.

I noticed a few comments on my Elephant article dipping into the personal, so let me tell you about myself rather than have people make statements or suppositions out of ignorance. Firstly I have absolutely no political affiliations. My views are based solely on my own experiences and explorations. I do read widely, but I am eclectic in what I read. Secondly, I have never done it easy. I have taught in and led schools while raising eight amazing children (with my husband) and completing my doctorate. I currently work 70 – 75 hours every week as a principal and I still feel weighed down by the burden of the uncompleted work that sits on my back everyday; and I still have lots of things in education that I want to create/achieve and have no idea how I will find the time or space to get them done. I know what hard work is! Thirdly, it was as recent as the last two terms of 2016 when I carried a significant teaching load along with my full time principal’s load. I have always ended up in the classroom as a principal, so I remember what teachers’ lives are like. The senior leaders of Amesbury School will tell you that I have been talking about feeling the need to do another stint of teaching later this year. I am not out of touch. I also remember how incredibly engaging teaching is which is why I am always drawn back.

Finally, my articles which can be found at show that I have spoken out strongly in support of teachers and of the industrial action we are taking to improve the working conditions of teachers. However, though I am for teachers, I am also for education and for the children who are at the centre of education and I am for New Zealand. I am searching for the middle ground that will enable all our needs to be met, including the needs of government; and I know that whatever the solutions are, they won’t look the way teachers want them to look, but neither will they look the way government and the ministry want it, because as I said in the Elephant article, the world has changed and expectations have changed and there is no going back for any of us as much as we might like to. Certainly, we cannot continue to be funded and resourced for an education world that no longer exists.

James Boyd Wilson said;

“When we discover in this world no earth or rock to stand or walk upon but only shifting sea and sky and wind, the mature response is not to lament the loss of fixity but to learn to sail.”

Education currently is a “wicked” problem and the solutions are complex and difficult. The answers are not going to be easy to come by or easy to implement. And it will require us all to let go something that we are holding tight to. And we are holding tight! I think it is time for us to step into the middle ground (Biesta, 2017) and give respectful consideration and space to all the ideas contained in it rather than focusing on destroying the ideas that we do not find palatable; because there are difficult things that need to be said – elephants that do need to be made visible. Perhaps with that spirit of collaboration, we will find the solutions that enable all parties to achieve what is important to them.