Of Mr. Selfridge and Education

Selfridge's - Oxford Street at night
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ho John Lee via Compfight

“Why should man allow jealousy to make him miserable? Why should he hold his eyes so close to the surface that he cannot take a broad survey of life?” – H. Gordon Selfridge

 A Store is Born

I’ll be the first to admit that I am by no means even close to being an Anglophile. I enjoy history and I like looking back at where we have been to see how it has shaped where we are and how we can make choices that will form where we are going.   My wife enjoys shows such as Downton Abbey and if she happens to be watching it when I’m in the room I tend to enjoy it as well.  Apparently, there is a new show she has started watching called Mr. Selfridge; it is about the retail magnate who started Selfridges and the lives and happenings surrounding him.  I came to the show a bit late. I only saw one episode and it involved a visiting dancer and different departments working together and apart from one another.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but make parallels to modern education.  It was easy to envision Mr. Selfridge as a principal who desired to make changes for the better for his school.  I saw him as fair, stern, and as a man of great vision (of course this is based off of one episode, but I am certain this is more than likely an accurate representation).

Taking a Broad Survey of Life

There was one interesting event that immediately caught my attention.  A new American department manager came to the store and took materials from another department without asking that department manager for permission.  The American had demonstrated vision and ingenuity and ultimately made quite an impression with the customer and Mr. Selfridge. The other department manager took offence and wanted to ensure that this didn’t happen again.  Except, Mr. Selfridge commended the departments working together and the end result.

What I found realistic was that, despite this, the department manager informed her staff that under no circumstances were they to give anything from their department to the American manager again.  The complexity of the human condition was demonstrated in these actions. I had a moment of clarity and began to connect this event to modern education.

I see the different departments as different classrooms.  I envision the store as the school and of course the students and parents as the customers.

I’ve witnessed teachers who get so narrow in their view that they focus only upon their own classroom and only upon what will help themselves.  Like this department manager, they focus on the glory of the self rather than the possible success of the institution.  Luckily, my staff does not fall into this troubling pattern.  We are actively working on understanding that we are a team, an elite unit that is formed to help students learn.  I’ve faced battles with some educators that have their eyes so close to the surface that they cannot take a broad survey of their practices.

We live in a time that is ready for change. The system hasn’t failed us, it has served its purpose. We have simply outgrown the system.  It is time for people of vision to move us forward into the 22nd century of education. I only ask that as we do so, we take a step back and take a broad survey of our situation so that we may work as a team.

I look forward to future episodes and I hope that I will continue to be able to make parallels with education.

Your View

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.  Have you experienced teachers that don’t like to share and mire themselves in the myopic view of their classroom?  How have you encouraged collaboration? How can we develop a more global view of the school so that we realize we are all on the same team? I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

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