Education and the hunt for golden eggs.

Having just read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” I could not help but be struck by the concept of the goose and the golden egg.

For those that are unfamiliar, the fable goes that a poor farmer wakes one day to find that one of his geese has laid a golden egg.  At first, he dismisses it but later brings it inside and to his amazement finds out it is solid, pure gold.  Day after day, the farmer returns to find yet another golden egg, which over time leads to the farmer becoming increasingly wealthy.

Over time, the wealth, fame and greed overcame the farmer who decided he wanted all the golden eggs at once and so killed the goose.  Upon killing the goose, the farmer found no golden eggs at all and had at the same time removed the production of golden eggs!

I could not help but think that these ideas strongly resonate with the education system at present.  Covey refers to the goose as “Production Capability (PC)” whereas the golden eggs are the result of “Production (P).”  As a result, focusing too much on increasing the outcomes of production can lead to a significant reduction in production overall by metaphorically killing the goose that produced the golden eggs.  Conversely, focusing solely on improving production capability may lead to amazing increases in potential yet little delivery or substance organisationally.  As a result, Covey argues that it is all about having a stable equilibrium between the two, or a P/PC balance.

I feel that in many schools the equilibrium is out of shape.  Teacher workload/burnout and disillusionment with the state of the profession seems prevalent across all forms of media and noticeably on Twitter amongst teachers.  There seems to be too great a focus on the “Production” of excellent outcomes and grades at the expense of what actually creates these outcomes: excellent teaching and learning from excellent teachers.  As a result, what ends up happening is teacher burnout and exhaustion with teachers leaving the profession in droves, simultaneously depriving the education system of the golden eggs or outcomes that they are so desperately hunting down in the first instance.

Within a school context, constantly adding workload pressures/accountability measures/Performance Related Pay measures/Targets all seem to be focused on driving up the outcomes of students at the expense of looking after the people who create the outcomes in the first place, the teachers.  Students are frequently put first, amongst all other things, yet I argue this is potentially a damaging stance to take.

As Mary Myatt so eloquently puts it, staff should be seen as “Humans first, professionals second.”  Following a recent ResearchEd event in Birmingham, the headteacher’s opening line consisted of their success mainly coming down to putting the staff before the students.   This alternative viewpoint offers a counter-intuitive paradigm shift but one that he argued would inevitably lead to the students doing better as a result anyway.

Surely, it is time in education for leaders to look after the goose more, to shift the equilibrium slightly and pay more attention to the teachers who are capable of producing the golden eggs rather than blindly focusing on achieving outcomes at any cost.  I argue that that by looking after the producers more carefully, more golden eggs would be produced anyway.