It’s been a fortnight in which we have seen real grownups in this school deal with sick on clothes, fox-poo on carpets and children with very runny tummies and relatively uncontrolled sphincters. Too much information, I know, but I write about these things as I have spent the day reflecting on the local, on the messy, on the human and divine in people, on the real and on the things that don’t go away just because you choose to become a teaching school. It is written perhaps in opposition to Mr G’s shiny new vision for schools, his “professional” vision, and once again I have to say, with Wendell Berry,

Professional standards, the standards of ambition and selfishness, are always sliding down towards expense, ostentation and mediocrity. They always tend to narrow the ground of judgment. But amateur standards, the standards of love, are always straining upwards toward the humble and the best. They enlarge the ground of judgment. The context of love is the world.

mcgarrywestwingThe serving of communities to enable human flourishing under the hand of God’s affection, enabling our own affection and ambition for love to flourish, is, I repeat, the heart of schooling. That means unblocking toilets if you happen to be the person to hand, so to speak.

There is a great line from Leo McGarry (John Spencer) in the West Wing (Season 2, Episode 4) in conversation with Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter), which gets to the nub of this:

“The president likes smart people who disagree with him. He wants to hear from you. The president’s asking you to serve, and everything else is crap.”

I didn’t really want to end up talking about bodily effusions, but they seem to get everywhere. McGarry gets to the heart of Ainsley’s motivation here because he puts the job in terms of service. The fact that Ainsley Hayes is a lawyer, and a good one, is secondary to the call to serve which she has felt since a child.

Schools, likewise are less organisations with an organisational “culture” than they are organisms within an organic, communal culture.

I have in the past differentiated between two potential candidates in a school at interview by simply asking the question “which one of these two would be willing to and unabashed by having to clean up children’s vomit on the carpet?” It’s a good starting point. Sir John Jones’ one question at interview is “would I want my children to spend any length of time in the company of this adult?” These are not questions for professionals. They are questions about love, about motivation and about humility, organic, rather than organisational.

So as we come to the end of the third week of school (Third! How did that happen?) we should reflect on the amateur, the affectionate, the human, the communal, BEFORE we think of systems, of efficiencies and of economies.

Got talking to Christine, our amazing bursar, today and tried to work out the difference, as a management strategy, between things we do in school that make for efficiency and things we do that make for real effectiveness. This is a critical difference.

asia-slum2420pxIn the 1980s I read a great book by Viv Grigg called Companion to the Poor – the first of several books he has now written about urban Christian mission in the world’s megalopolises – such as Manila, where he worked. The book stuck with me, mainly because we were tentatively getting involved in mission in Khayelitsha, the largest of Cape Town’s townships. But it also stuck with me because of a comment in the book (I can’t even remember the context) about being efficient and being effective. Being efficient would mean minimising roughness, cutting time off an endeavour, planning a mission or an evangelistic outreach, etc.

True effectiveness in mission, however, often took years. It required the groundwork to be laid, it required trust to be built, credibility to be fostered, consistency to be established, reputations of honesty and love to be built. Effectiveness in mission meant learning the language, speaking to the cultural interests and expectations of a Manila slum. This perhaps is the issue around what effective schooling is – taking time, as a community, in a “village to raise a child” kind of way, cleaning up mess and offering kindness so that those we serve believe us when we say we want the best for their children. If we don’t clean up the sick or unblock the toilet, what price the Year 1 phonics check?


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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