I think that there is a school of thought, and one that is very well intentioned, that believes that process can lead to excellence, that if we avoid enough errors we will achieve greatness.
At the heart of this is some truth: excellent artefacts have few glaring errors, and simple mistakes are one the sign of an amateur.
Some English teachers work like this, imploring students to focus on avoiding error and following “the rules”. Some of these rules are just folklore and some actually reflect wider usage.
- Never start a sentence with “and.”
- Don’t have more than one “and” in a sentence.
- Don’t write sentences with more than 25 words.
- Avoid clichés.
- Don’t split your infinitives
- Don’t end your sentence with a preposition.
- Use a variety of long and short sentences.
- Leave out unnecessary words.
- Don’t write in the passive voice.
Some of these are misguided and simply reflect prejudice, and others are sensible restrictions. However, you can follow every single one of these and still write boring, forgettable crap that no bastard will want to read. You just legislate again mistakes, but you can’t legislate the production of quality.
Others, and I count myself in this second camp, focus on students producing and consuming at a great rate, with less focus on avoiding error. Write then polish, rather than fret and don’t write.
There are similar veins in management, and especially management of schools. Some leaders encourage performance and engagement, and polish as they go. Other imagine that if you keep people away from “mistakes” then achievement, engagement, and success will follow.
Things to be avoided include
- Students all working one a task together
- Students all working on the same task
- Using information or activities from a textbook
- Teachers setting goals for students
- Doing the same activity again
- Explaining concepts to students
Just like the grammar rules, the individual items on this list are sometimes associated with low-quality work. However, and this is the kicker, you can avoid all of these things and still have a crappy school.
You can, in some cases, have students just phaffing around, without resources, without goals, and with teachers who will not or may not provide them direction. You cannot subtract your way to excellence.
Instead, I believe that leaders should park their orthodoxy and concentrate on helping students and teachers actually learn. Quite aside from anything else, when people define their roles in terms of finding errors and punishing those making them, they see errors everyone and teachers and students alike get sick of being told they are bad.
Instead, help the learning train get up some momentum, and then tweak it for ideal performance, rather than parking it in the shed until every possible mistake is obsessed about, talked to death, and turned into the boogie monster that it usually isn’t.