For those of us of a certain age, cult nineties TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer provokes fond memories. For seven glorious seasons, our eponymous (if bizarrely named) heroine back-flipped her way through graveyards and took out demons galore, with specialisms in vampire-staking and pithy comebacks.
Buffy was the Chosen One and upon her slender shoulders, the fate of the world permanently rested. Her unique skillset was gifted to her by birth, honed through practice and the fact that no one else did what she did. Unequivocally the centre of the action, Buffy’s problems mattered most: her actions and reactions would drive the plot, deciding what would happen next.
Buffy’s back-up crew was exactly that, a group of characters, all interesting and clever in their own right, who nevertheless tamped down their own plans, opinions and local knowledge to follow along behind the charismatic Chosen One and her latest quest.
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How much of this is true in teaching? How often do we, by accident or design, follow in the wake of those chosen for leadership, policymaking or innovation?
Bandwagons are aplenty in education and as a profession, we seem only too happy to jump on the latest one to roll into town and head off on in pursuit of The Next Big Thing. The people driving these bandwagons are almost always Chosen Ones. Gifted with a magnetic personality, confidence and the seed of a good idea, they forge new and exciting paths and they beckon to us all to follow. “Here is a quest that really matters,” they whisper. “Come and follow. Get in first.”
But no matter how appealing or honourable it might seem, hitching your school to the latest bandwagon without due care and attention is an extremely bad idea.
A school that is forever on the move goes nowhere. Flitting off to follow someone else’s idea of what makes a school great means not having to work it out for yourself.
And there’s the rub. Following a Chosen One can be easier because it absolves us of the responsibility of driving change. But it also means we don’t get to choose where we end up.
Over the course of the show, Buffy comes to realise that her true strength doesn’t lie in her killer left hook or her latest plan for dodging the apocalypse. Instead, she comes to appreciate the team she has around her. Her friends provide emotional support and insight and together they start to plan out a way forward that works for them. The varying strengths and abilities of others begin to flourish; it becomes less and less about the Chosen One and more and more about weathering the storm together, holding on to what matters most.
The truth is that no one can go it alone forever. And no one knows your school like you do. You don’t need to follow a Chosen One. And you certainly don’t need to rip up the roots of good practice your school community has tended with such care to suddenly change direction. Start from where you are. Plan the route together and stay the course, even when the glitzy bandwagons roll toward you over the horizon.
Ultimately, Buffy comes to a game-changing final epiphany: her greatest gift is to build the capacity of others. Sharing what makes her special, she uses it to kindle the spark in those around her. She shrugs off her Chosen One status and karate chops the pedestal she perched on for so long into a million tiny pieces.
And after years of heroic punching, solo slaying and questing, simple acts of collaboration are what makes the difference.
Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30