Officially the word legacy refers to what we leave behind when we die, but it’s often used in other contexts too. I remember that the London 2012 Olympic bid was successful in part because of the promised legacy. The Games were hugely successful and inspirational, but whether that promised legacy has actually come to pass…well, I guess there are several points of view.
I’m not sure why, but the word legacy kept coming into my head when I was busy tackling my ‘work stuff’ this week. That was a task and a half! I did handbags and clothes this week too, but it was the work stuff that took the most time. I can’t remember when I last had a good clear out – it’s the one area where I do tend to hang on to stuff. It took me about six years of being an English consultant to finally decide I should get rid of all the maths, science, history, art, etc resources I had collected…and, if I am honest, I never let go of all of them. Just in case!
Anyway, pretty much everything I pulled off the shelves and out of cupboards this week was at least six years old. I know that because most of it was clearly dated and came from the Department for Education (or one of the predecessor branches of government) – and it’s been at least six years since printed materials of that quality were given away. Nowadays it’s all available online – and if you choose to print it out, that’s up to you. (Mostly, I don’t!)
It was like one of those Facebook memory videos: My professional history in little packages of information, glossy booklets, videos (yes, VHS!), DVDs…there were even one or two floppy discs – remember those?!
It was interesting to note what has stood the test of time – and I don’t just mean the technology. Some of the strategies and policies that I worked so hard to introduce (along with many others around the country) are now so firmly embedded in educational practice that it would be practically unheard of for anyone to do anything different. Other ideas never got to that point. Sometimes that was because they were bad ideas, but most often it was because initiative after initiative was being rolled out, with little concern (it seemed) for the impact on those trying to deliver at the chalk face. As a consequence, there was some really good ‘stuff’ that didn’t get a chance to take root in the mainstream. And then there was all the information that is just plain out of date now. Things have moved on, and not everything is relevant any more – even when it was what every school lived and breathed at the time.
It’s quite sad really, especially when you consider that so much of the physical material is now landfill – or, hopefully, has been recycled! (I did my best with that – and I don’t think I’m going to need to buy any plastic pockets for a considerable length of time, if ever.) But the legacy is still there – in what has endured and what has faded away. I’m not going to get into the politics, or rights and wrongs of educational policy in the last 15 years. Suffice to say, there was a lot of both. In the end, my responsibility is the same as yours: we do the best we can with what we have and what we know at the time – and we make sure we use the legacy of the past to teach us about the consequences of certain types of actions. In this way, we’re creating our own legacies – whether we take the responsibility seriously or not.
That sounds a bit grandiose, but in this case all it means is that I will use my experience and judgement as best I can to support the teachers and leaders I work with, and I’ll introduce the things that have stood the test of time to a new generation of teachers for as long as that’s my responsibility, and for as long as they seem to be relevant. Rest assured, I didn’t get rid of everything in my mass clear out! Of course, I’ll keep learning about new ideas too – because they were all new ideas once and because that’s my job. But in an age where resources are more scarce and technology is (allegedly) more reliable, I don’t think those spaces in my cupboards will be filling up too quickly.
I didn’t expect that this month of Simplify 7 would lead me to think about anything as intimidating as my legacy. In some ways, it’s more comforting to think that my life is so insignificant I don’t need to worry about such things. But I’m reminded that even small pebbles cause ripples. We all leave a legacy of some kind.