Kerbstones, laminators, and staple guns

In preparation for our recent CIS and WASC (joint) preparatory evaluation visitors, I felt our school adopted a “just right” Goldilocks approach to proceedings – a lot of hard work, paced calmly and thoughtfully by a core team who distributed much of the preparatory work in a meaningful and purposeful way with a high degree of trust.

Isn’t it always like that? Experience would suggest not.

Other than war, one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve ever witnessed was watching Junior soldiers painting kerbstones in anticipation of a visiting senior officer to our barracks. And whilst I am sold on the virtues of making a good impression on visitors, and in learning the discipline of excellence, I will never be convinced that spending several days painting perfectly fine kerb stones in different colours (even if they are regimental colours) is time well spent. To be fair, I am almost certain that the visiting officer would wholeheartedly agreed with me – this is meaningless work.

In the 20 years since I first witnessed the art of kerb stone painting, I have been involved in many other acts of inane and frenetic last-minute preparation for “important” visitors. Working in schools l’m now a ninja with a staple gun and laminator, a master of the pop-up wall display, and I’m still atoning for a fair amount of deforestation caused by the filling up of hundreds of ring binders of “evidence”…which on most occasions (would you believe it) was not even looked at.

Hindsight has not been kind – I’ve also been part of leadership teams that have directed teachers to engage in tasks as equally pointless as kerb stone painting in the vain expectation that it would make all the difference. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. Either way, I can’t see how those tasks made teachers feel in any way inspired or motivated about their work. They say that people don’t leave bad jobs…

There will always be a need to prepare well for visitors. But it must always be proportionate. Too little preparation never goes well; too much and we find ourselves straying into pointless and meaningless work.

Like Goldilocks, we need to get it just right. And without a staple gun or laminator in sight, I think we did it right this time…come what may!

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