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.
Furthemore, 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.