Problem-solving at the source

There is an old didactic story, which exists in many different forms and has many disputed origins, which goes like this:

~ Two people are picnicking by a river on a beautiful day. Suddenly, one of them sees a child being carried down the river and crying out for help. They jump in to rescue the child and pull them to safety. Barely a minute later, they spot another child in the same distress, being pulled down the river. Soon, dozens of children are struggling against the water and our two protagonists are working flat out to rescue them all, and call in reinforcements. After a while, one of the original two is spotted by their friend leaving the river and walking away, causing the remaining helper to cry, "Where are you going? We still need your help to save these children!” The friend is heard to reply, "I’m going up the river to stop whatever is causing the children to fall in.”~

It is a story which, involving children as it does, is particularly potent for educators. One striking element of this narrative is that both responses are needed - when children are struggling, we need the people who rescue them, yes, but we also need the people whose job it is to go back to the start and figure out how to stop the problem occurring in the first place. We need both. 

It’s very easy in the hubbub of schools, and even more so now in the hubbub of home learning and remote management, to focus merely on the fire-fighting. It is not acceptable to let a child fall through the net whilst we indulge in blue-sky thinking. But this story reminds us that we need people who do both. We need the intervention for struggling year 11s (and will need it more than ever now that the attainment and progress gaps are widening every day that traditional lessons are on hold). We also need the expertise of our early years colleagues, who know better than anyone where under-achievement starts rearing its head and why. Seeing the bigger picture will be more crucial than ever after this time of home-learning. 

So how can we get ahead of the curve and problem-solve at the source? Right now, we need to be reflecting on what we’ve learned from this unprecedented time of crisis and upheaval. If we’ve learned that not all pupils have access to suitable technology for home-learning, what can we do to negate that problem before the school buildings reopen for lessons? If we’ve learned that we need a ready database of activities to help parents and carers engage with their children, who could be putting that in place over the coming weeks and months so that it is ready to go when parents and carers ask? If we’ve learned that there will be children in desperate need of grief counselling before they can even think about returning to school, who will we put in charge of doing some online training, research and reading so that they are ready to support those children when they next walk through the door?

Of course, these suggestions are all for those at some kind of management level. For those whose responsibility is largely their class or classes for now, consider this: it is possible to guess at the majority of barriers to learning your pupils may encounter when they are finally back in your classroom, whenever that may be. What would you do to stop that barrier being built if you could? 

As ever, we reiterate that school leaders, teachers, managers, cooks, site staff, TAs, cleaners, administrators and anyone else we may have inadvertently forgotten are doing an outstanding job. We’re with you all the way. 

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