Just Great Teaching: Too Many Choices

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Making Choices


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What can we learn about the decision given to close U.K. schools?

Sometimes it’s the circumstances around us at work that drive our poor mental health. This can certainly be the case during a worldwide pandemic…

To close or not to close?

I’ve been thinking more about this during the last week as our UK schools face the difficult challenge of staying open or closing for pupils and parents. Whilst this is an unprecedented decision to make at a national level, the pressure on individual headteachers is a first in a generation. Sometimes having fewer choices, or none at all is the best option to take. As a result, it reduces our anxiety and increases our satisfaction.

In a podcast last week, one headteacher said they wanted more dependable decision-making from the government, better leadership and closer communication with schools; particularly after a decade of mistrust. The difficulty was made worse due to lack of clarity, guidance and expediency. Headteachers were being forced to make life or death decisions for their staff, pupils and parents. For example, here are some of the questions I received during the beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak ~18th March 2020:

  • Should a headteacher close the school?
  • Who are critical workers?
  • Should I send pregnant teachers home?
  • What should special schools do if all pupils are vulnerable and teaching staff are self-isolating?
  • What should headteachers now do with their supply teachers?
  • Why are teachers working in challenging circumstances with no safety equipment?

More choice = Dissatisfaction

The more choices we have, the happier we believe we are, but sometimes the opposite is true: the greater the choice, the higher our expectations. The problem with too many choices is that we may feel we make the wrong choice. As psychology professor Barry Schwartz (2005) says, minimise your choices because the more options you juggle with in your mind, the more dissatisfied you will be. This can apply to teaching strategies or possible resources for use in the classroom, as well as your personal life.

If I could offer some quick tips for everyone at this difficult time, it would be this:

  1. Do only the tasks that make a difference; provide and make fewer choices
  2. Plan the core needs, keep to a routine and stick to it
  3. Avoid fake news: Visit official organisations for the latest information
  4. Reach out to someone if you are struggling or need to soundboard for advice
  5. Take what time you have left to log off and reflect.

As schools move closer towards Easter 2020, what we need now from the government and teaching unions, is clarity and a decision to stay open or closed during the Easter period.

One thought on “Just Great Teaching: Too Many Choices

  1. An interesting topic and one that I think should form a core aspect of teaching – helping pupils manage choice and make the right ones. Making a choice is not something on its own, without an effect. Every choice has some form of consequence and it is by understanding those consequences we are able to inform the choice we make. Sometimes the choices we are offered don’t include the one we need to make. Fewer choices may help us make decisions about what we should do, help with the confusion we may face, but only if we start with the choice and not the consequences. Fewer choices limits creativity and creativity helps us rewrite the rules. The consequences we face inform our actions as we seek to mitigate or magnify the impact of the choice we will make . Consequences also help in the decision making process and our ability to ‘stay with’ our decisions until we have new information on which to re-evaluate our choices . Fascinating stuff this ‘choice’ thing!

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