Stephen Cavadino is a maths teacher (and fanatic) from Leeds. He is a member of the Labour party. You can read of his musings on maths, teaching and life at cavmaths.wordpress.com . When he isn’t teaching; writing about, or doing maths he spends the majority of his time with his family, watching rugby (both codes) and playing guitar.
The other day I was out with a friend of mine and he was regaling us with stories of when he spent some time in Finland as a teenager. He was there as part of an exchange programme and said his experience meant he was not even the slightest bit surprised when a few years later the world media were hailing the Finnish as the world leaders in all things education.
It was a different part of his story on the Finnish that really got me thinking though, one not explicitly linked to education, but one which may tells us some things about the culture and certainly one which has applications within the education sector.
“I nearly got fined for Jay-walking” he said. “There were no cars visible so we just crossed the road, to the horror of our Finnish hosts.”
“Bit keen on it over there are they?” I asked.
“Yeah, but they explained why and it makes perfect sense. They look at it this way, all it takes is one car to slow down and that can lead to a traffic jam. Most cars slow down because some has run across the road when they shouldn’t have, so if nobody does then the whole system works much better.”
He was right, it does make perfect sense, and the fact that apparently the whole nation buy into it perhaps gives an insight into why they seem to get other things right, or certainty did in the past.
It made me think about the systems in place within schools – and how they are limited by their weakest link. If you have a strict policy on no headphones in the classroom, but some teachers allow them, this leads to other teachers losing lesson time because students argue that “Mr Jones in IT let’s me.”
If you have a system that escalates from a warning to being send to a removal room for a lesson, to spending the rest of the day in isolation if you either refuse or mess about in the removal room, but then the behaviour manager who you call out when someone refuses to go to the removal room doesn’t place them in isolation it undermines the system and gives those students a perceived free pass.
If you are lenient to a student because they have a tenancy to kick off when challenged the other students will pick up and this and it will cause issues when you aren’t as lenient on them.
If established teachers don’t get on board with a new stricter behaviour system because they feel the old system suits them it causes all sorts of problems for newly qualified teachers who are trying to implement a system. Students pick up on this and argue that “Miss Thornley doesn’t give me a warning for that.”
Systems can work very well, but if they aren’t used properly they won’t work at all. A badly designed system that is used well and consistently will have more impact than a perfect system that is used haphazardly and only by half of the staff.
Perhaps the Finnish faith in their transport system is indicative of a culture that is build on everyone following structures that are aimed to benefit the whole, even at the expense of a short term gain for the individual. And perhaps that shows us a glimpse as to one of the reasons why historically their education system has been successful.
Even if this isn’t the case, and there is no link between their road awareness and their educational prowess, that doesn’t mean we can’t take these lessons and apply them in our schools. We should be working together to follow the policies and ensure that we implement them as a team.
If you don’t agree with the policy discuss that with those in charge of putting them in place and express your feelings, try to get them changed. Don’t undermine them as that will hurt your less experienced colleagues, and your students, the most. If you are working somewhere with a policy you feel strongly about and can’t get it changed, then the sensible option is to look for alternative employment, as it’s likely to be an ideological difference between yourself and the senior management and you are never going to happy with the way they run the school.