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Waiting for the paint to dry?

Have you ever stopped to ask why something is the way it is? Why we do what we do? Perhaps more specifically, why we do things the way we do things? When did we start doing what we do? How did it morph into the way it is done now?

Tradition and culture are funny things. It’s a case of the chicken or the egg…does tradition build culture or does culture build tradition? The argument can be made convincingly for either side but today I want to talk about tradition.

Every school has its own culture, its own quirkiness and its own set of traditions as well as the curriculum, the day-to-day operations, the people, the kids, the families that all play into that culture and those traditions. What traditions do you have at your school? I’m extending the term tradition to also include practices because we are talking about the ‘way’ we do things as well as the ‘what’ we do. Have you ever asked where these traditions come from? Have you ever stopped to ask “Why?”, “Why do we do this?” or “What is the point of this?” If you haven’t, then I suggest that you start.

A friend sent me this via Facebook and it made me smile. And then I stopped. Because it’s true.

A new camp commander was appointed and
while inspecting the place, he saw two soldiers
guarding a bench. He went over there
and asked why they were guarding it.
“We don’t know. The last commander
told us to do so and so we did. It is some sort of
regimental tradition!”
He searched for the last commander’s phone
number and called him to ask why he
wanted guards on this particular bench.
“I don’t know. The previous commander had
guards, and I kept the tradition.”
Going back another three commanders, he found
a now 100 year old retired General.
“Excuse me sir, I’m now the CO of your camp
You commanded 60 years ago. I’ve found two
men assigned to guard a bench. Could
you please tell me more about the bench?”
“What? Is the paint still wet?”

This is schools. This is what happens when we carry on doing things ‘the way we do things’ without questioning. Some traditions are worthwhile, and some are complete rubbish. It might be time for your school to examine which are worth keeping – because they have worth and, which are worth tossing – because they have no worth. Usually, traditions are kept because someone on staff or in the community has some ‘ownership’ and no-one wants to offend, or perhaps something tragic happened and there is a fear that it will be forgotten and so now it has become a tradition.

Either way, it is time to take a good hard look at why we do what we do. Some traditions and practices have died out over time… when I was in a Catholic high school the nuns would measure the length of our skirts on a Monday, with a ruler, while we were on our knees…

Some of the still used traditions and practices might need a good swift shove to get them out the door. Don’t be afraid to use your knowledge and wisdom to challenge these traditions and practices. Ask yourself, “Does this practice have meaning? Serve a purpose? Benefit students? Or is it merely time honoured? Harder to challenge than keep?” Is it time to stop waiting and start to challenge the old guard?

What practices or traditions could your school benefit from tossing?

What is your school still waiting for to dry?