We compare teachers to doctors, and education to healthcare. We make comparisons with elite sport (‘what teachers can learn from Olympic athletes’) along with all the marginal gains stuff that might work for the SKY cycling team, but might not help a coastal school struggling with fundamentals, like recruiting a full quota of Maths teachers*.
I wonder if our teachers are more like chefs, and our schools more like restaurants. Here’s why:
- Like schools, everyone’s been to a restaurant, so everyone has an opinion
- The daily pressure of serving meals and teaching kids creates a hectic environment in which it can be difficult to step back to reflect
- There isn’t a clear understanding of what works. Some restaurants have queues around the corner, others pack up after a few weeks. We’re never entirely sure why, as there’s an elusive and wide range of ingredients that go into making a successful restaurant. This lack of shared understanding makes it tough to constantly improve at a system level – we end up imitating success stories without understanding the underlying reasons for that success. Fads and trends prevail – anyone for pulled pork with ‘slaw, and Aperol spritz in a jam jar?
- For the same reason, it’s easy to dismiss successes as context-dependent – “that would never work over here” … “we tried that – didn’t work”. As Dylan William says, “Everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere”
- The success of the most exclusive restaurants is often based on the quality of the ingredients, rather than the input of the chefs. This isn’t always recognised.
- Celebrity chefs and successful chains tend to open new branches in areas where there’s an affluent customer base. Restaurants in disadvantaged areas tend to be more run-of-the-mill.
- We’re at the mercy of over-zealous critics, and we’re only as good as our last rating. These reviews and accolades do not always chime with the daily reality.
‘In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad’ (Friedrich Nietzsche). I’m more optimistic than Nietzsche about the potential for success at scale, but he might have been on to something.
*see an EARLIER POST on why schools are different to the SKY cycling team.