David Hargreaves once wrote a paper in which he compared education and medicine and expressed the view that education could learn quite a lot from that other discipline and the profession that practices it.
For the past six weeks I have been able to observe doctors and nurses going about their daily work in a number of settings in two hospitals as a Family Member embarked on a journey through a series of complications ranging from the serious to the not-so-serious as a sequel to a major operation. This has included such settings as specialist wards, general wards and two different intensive care units. So on the basis of this extensive “research and observation” I offer the following reflections.
It is clear that medicine is much more research driven than education. They bring the results of research into their decision-making, the tools they use and the procedures they apply. I saw no evidence of leeches being applied, blood being let for the sake of it or of poultices being randomly applied. Yet in education we continue to use practices that don’t work well past the time when evidence has made us aware of that.
Medicine bases what they do on careful and scientific observation (aided by incredible technologies it must be said). When they make assessments it is on the basis of evidence, what they see and know. Of course there is a role for experience, judgment and intuition. But all these attributes are applied in a controlled and measured manner.
And on that matter of technology – it is apparent at every level of the practice of medicine and it is clearly a wonderful tool that assists professionals to do their job. Do we have this orientation in education? Or do we too often think that the technology will do some or all of the job by itself. I forget who said that the teacher who thinks that technology can replace the teacher deserves to be. I saw technology being used to allow the skills of professionals to flourish.
Team work. I observed specialists from different disciplines working as multidisciplinary teams and wondered why this still challenges us in education. How often do we daily bring to bear the different skills-sets of different educational practitioners to bear on the issues of achieving positive results? Yes, occasionally but certainly not enough. In the intensive care units single nurses have high levels of personal responsibility for a patient but in close proximity are other nurses with similar responsibility for their patient. And when one needs help from the other it is easily and willingly there.
Instead we place teachers into settings where they are physically as well as professionally isolated. It is a difficult undertaking rather than an easy norm to achieve this level of team work balanced with individual responsibility in many education settings – in one it is the patient that benefits and in the other the student who must be patient!
Another area that impressed me was the relationship between the close family of the Family Member and the professionals. Even in the most troubling of moments those who cared greatly were made to feel welcome and even brought into the innermost sanctums of the workings of the hospital. Information was forthcoming, briefings given patiently and in terms we could understand. The well-being of not just the Family Member but the small group around him were a clear concern.
Why then must the educative processes be practiced at a relatively remote distance from the families and caregivers? It seems almost verboten for family members to get into classrooms or even past the front office. The orchestrated “report evenings” are offered as a morsel of consultation and attendance reported as something of a meaningful thing yet ongoing involvement of the closest group of the student is often denied. It seems neither good practice nor conducive of the best environment for learning that sees connections between home and school.
Finally – and this was a great joy of the past six weeks – the application of knowledge and training to the real world was apparent at every point. I work in an institution that trains nurses and they undertake clinical practice in the same hospitals that I visited so often. The trainees were identified by their logo on their trainees uniform and I have had many conversations with them. They expressed not only the pleasure their experiences were bringing to them and the helpfulness of them to their development but also an affirmation that they had made the right choice. They “loved it” and “really wanted to be a nurse” and were “really excited” that they were heading towards such a worthwhile job.
Gently questioning identified those who had trained and were now flying solo. Nurses of different experience including those out of training relatively recently were given real responsibilities and supported and supervised but real responsibilities nevertheless. We see this in young teachers. But do we have a joyful workforce? Are people in education the cheerleaders for education?
And the good news? Family Member is going home this week. There is a commonly held belief that when the chips are down the state health system is second to none. Can we say the same about our state education system?