The end of the year is in. Final exams across vocational areas are being taken or have been taken; there’s some final brush-up work but most of the folders have been submitted; there have been some fond farewells (and also sighs of relief); and, for the first time in what seems the longest time, there actually is some time.
It doesn’t last long. The perpetual college cycle will gear-up again soon and the hugely busy enrolment period will have everyone sending everyone else to one of an infinite number of desks, but for now, it’s a period of relative quiet.
I see it as a well-deserved fast-paced walk after the all-out sprint of the rest of the year. You’re still doing the job, but the manic intensity of it all is lessened to the extent that you can actually think about what you have done, what you’re doing and what you’re going to do. Time to reflect being somewhat of a luxury is an unfortunate state of affairs, but there you go. Sometimes (whisper it) I even sit down when I do it.
I know that this can make folk uncomfortable. We’re all so used to the all-consuming rush that anything else seems unnatural. From management who assume that comparative inactivity means that nothing of worth is taking place, to staff who struggle with the drop-off in intensity and start to exhibit withdrawal symptoms (over-excessive sorting of pens, displays that wouldn’t seem out of place in an art gallery).
I understand it. Everyone wants to be useful, but, the thing is, motion doesn’t have to be the only indicator of that usefulness. I’m of the belief that to really improve something – whether that be student experience, results, working conditions or the myriad factors that we have some influence in – there has to be a period of honest, sometimes brutal, reflection.
It’s a process that involves observation, analysis and discussion but, at its heart, it is a process of thought. This time of year (however brief) can bring about an environment that is conducive to that thought, offering an alternative to the unthinking, reactive change that occurs on the hoof and rarely results in any improvement.
But that period of thought must be cultivated. In a system where busyness and activity are the norm, there has to be an understanding that there is also scope for productivity and improvement to take place in the quieter times. This can (and should) be structured, but only to make sure that it’s the most effective process it can be, not just so it can be used as evidence that work is taking place.
Quiet times are rare in FE. So rare, in fact, that they should be cherished for the opportunity they represent – an opportunity for thought. Thought that leads to reflection and reflection that can lead to positive change.
Instead of being afraid of the quiet and viewing it as some kind of deficit of something, we should start seeing the inherent value of having time to stop and think.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England. He tweets @tstarkey1212