Lessons learned from Football League Division Two 1982-83 #1: The dilatory approach

Cambridge United - Panini Football '83

In 1982, Cambridge United went the entire month of December without conceding a goal at home in the league. Hardly remarkable, I know. But then they repeated this feat in January. And again in February. In fact, they continued to keep clean sheets at the Abbey Stadium for the remainder of the league season. So, to celebrate this record-breaking achievement, the club decided to publicly honour their unyielding back five with a special award at their last home game against Oldham Athletic on May 14th.

Cambridge continued their resoluteness on this day and went in at half-time with the score securely at nil-nil. Nobody was going to breach this defence as they readied themselves to be honoured for such am impressive record. So, with all the pomp the club could muster, at the half-time break goalkeeper Malcolm Webster was invited onto the pitch in front of the home crowd to receive the award on behalf of the invincible defensive unit to the appreciation of the Cambridge fans.

You already know what happened in the second half, don’t you? Yep, Cambridge conceded four goals in the space of 8 minutes and, with a consolation penalty for the home team just before the final whistle, ended the game – and the season – at the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline. What a miserable way to celebrate a club record. Maybe if Webster had been in the dressing room at halftime he wouldn’t have missed manager John Docherty’s team talk, which probably went something along the lines of: “Whatever you do, don’t concede four goals in eight minutes lads.”

Now, there’s two ways of looking at that award and the timing of it. You could suggest it was timed perfectly, awarded to Webster at the very last possible window available before the run ended. Impeccable timing. But I think most of us would surmise that it was celebrated too early – why not wait until the end of the run and judge it on what it was? It was still a great achievement which could have been reflected on with pride by the players and fans alike. But by giving the award out when they did, did they alter the course of the run? Did the players lose the concentration and not see through their achievement? Could it have gone on longer, into the following season?

(Incidentally, the following season Cambridge United went on to break more records: they went 31 games – home and away – without recording a single win, finishing the season rock bottom of the league table and securing relegation to Division Three.)

To me, this is a lesson in taking a dilatory approach: delaying the drawing of conclusion until such a time that one can really fully reflect on the outcomes. This term ‘dilatory’ is often used as a pejorative, but I intend here to reclaim it as a positive.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in recent years is the importance of taking time to trial and evaluate the things I do before I draw conclusions – something which I have to admit I haven’t always done, and something which is often stymied by the blustering pace at which schools operate.

I’ve blogged in the past on my ‘successes’ using SOLO taxonomy as well as worked with others in my school in using the model. I now realise (seeing the problems of the taxonomy and its hierarchical nature which places knowledge acquisition firmly in the ‘lower’ levels) how previous I was in doing so.

The Elements of LanguageFurthemore, I very recently tweeted a picture of a work-in-progress Periodic Table of English which I am trialling at the moment. This was a mistake as I had not at that point – and still haven’t – had enough time to appraise its usefulness and effect. However, I was immediately inundated with requests for copies of it, despite the project not being complete. I am very wary of having my name attached to something which may turn out to be a just bit of guff. Taking a dilatory approach to sharing the project would have allowed me to really think it through, develop it and evaluate it fully.

This sort of hasty approach is everywhere in education. I recently saw promotion of the idea of a ‘StudentMeet’ in a recently-published edu-book. This is basically a TeachMeet for pupils, at which they share their approaches to learning. Now, I am not disparaging the idea. However, what interested me was the author’s experience of a StudentMeet. What struck me was that the tense and tone used to talk about them was entirely speculative. There was no sense that the author had actually held one (I am happy to be corrected, though). The author had also ascribed a hashtag to the idea and a search for it shows only one tweet from them on the subject, which was just the hashtag followed by ellipsis. The author is not usually shy in sharing ideas, so I would be surprised if they’d held one and not blogged or tweeted about it.

However, I did see – using this hashtag – that someone in Australia had held one in 2012 and blogged glowingly about it at that time. I contacted them and asked if they’d held any since. They told me that they did indeed hold one in 2012 and that they were “Hoping someone else would follow up”. I  did wonder why something which was considered so useful and blogged about effusively was immediately forgotten about, but I’ll concede that sometimes schools and workload do that to us.

But, as I said, my point is not to disparage the idea, but rather the fact that this idea has barely germinated before it is being printed in a book of advice for teachers. I certainly would advocate a dilatory approach to publishing a book.

I was reminded of the need for not diving hastily into something only recently when the ATL voted for teachers to be trained in using neuroscience in the classroom. Doesn’t that seem brash and ill-advised?

I mean, neuroscientists don’t even know much about neuroscience.

Why on earth do we need to be toying with it? Can’t we wait until we have something solid and meaningful before we dice with it?

There is nothing wrong with taking your time over something. There is nothing wrong with waiting and observing. In fact, I’d say it is of utmost importance, when we are dealing with children’s lives, that we take a dilatory approach to everything that we do.

Patience is a virtue.

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13 thoughts on “Lessons learned from Football League Division Two 1982-83 #1: The dilatory approach”

  1. One of my fave reads today. I agree whole heartedly but the profession encourages gimmicks far too much.

  2. This is very interesting, and relevant to so many areas of work, but education does seem to be often at the mercy of the ‘today’s panicky priority’, so it’s a timely reminder on the importance of holding back. Thank you.
    It also touches on another issue in education, particularly where teachers have little confidence (and little effort is made to help them develop it, thank you politicians and media): that someone else has the answer. So we leap from one thing to the other in the hope that that will work. Whereas success is a slow process of many possible routes, and we have many more answers than we think.

    1. Yes, I think you raise an important point about the prevalence of the idea that someone else has the answer. I hadn’t really thought about that, but I think that might be one of the roots of the problem.

      1. Human optimism? That there is an answer? Or lack of self belief, that someone else’s ideas are likely to be better. It’s the same as liking to go to the doctor when you’re ill and get a pill, rather than to be told to change what you eat. It’s a fix, rather than a slog. I don’t know, but I’m badly prone to it.

  3. Hi James.
    Spotted this blog a while ago, but only now reading re. StudentMeet. The understanding re. not blogging about this was safeguarding images of students from personal twitter/blog.

    In essence, I’ve been applying this concept to school projects where students present their ideas to each other. Works perfectly in Design Technology at many stages of the design process and I’ve been doing this for as long as I’ve been teaching. So, we could say, that the book idea has been germinating for many years; and with the introduction of TMs in 2006, it made sense to apply what we do so well via informal CPD – and I don’t need to tell anyone about the successful impact TeachMeets are having – to what we all do in the classroom i.e. students presenting to each other, as a mode to share ideas in the classroom.

    I admit, I’m a novice to TeachMeets. I only attended my first in 2010, but I was aware of them and read about them post-2008. I can appreciate the idea may appear to be a gimmick without any blog evidence and its title. Fundamentally, students do present ideas to each other all the time in all subjects. So, it made perfect sense to marry this as an idea for the book; for me to join up my experience, my subject knowledge re. how students present to each other and finally, the successful TM concept as a chapter in the book.

    Since the book was published, I have seen *a minority of teachers blog about the idea and tweet me photos – but without the hashtag. They may be saved on my timeline, but I have not ‘yet’ shared my experience or looked them up since …

    Thanks for this blogpost and reading 100 ideas. I know you are not a fan of all the hashtags(in print) too. No worries. All feedback is useful.

    Enjoy the summer. Ross

    p.s. LOVE your periodic table classroom display! and yes, do share it. I can see it in every Science classroom. I’m sure you’ve seen the picnic table version? http://mentalfloss.com/sites/default/legacy/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/550picnictable.jpg

    p.p.s. Next time, please could you share records of DUFC? 🙂
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dundee_United_F.C._records_and_statistics

  4. I’m surprised you haven’t even mentioned it though. I mean, you tweet and blog about everything you do, including lots of stuff in classrooms (which you don’t usually share images of pupils in anyway).

    I understand that you may have used similar approaches in the classroom. I think I’ll still reserve the right to be unconvinced that it has enough basis to be suggested to teachers as an idea for an ‘outstanding lesson’.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply though.

    p.s. the periodic table is for English, not Science.

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