Grace: the return of gratitude, amnesty and professionalism to educational politics

Grace. It’s one of my favourite words in the English language: up there with ‘ribbon’, ‘cacophony’ and ‘lewd’.

The reason I like it so much? It is difficult to say without smiling; it combines a sense of gratitude and forgiveness; and it is a quality that I think needs to be infused throughout political management of education.

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As can be seen in the above graphic (nabbed from Google), the word ‘grace’ has fallen from grace (as it were). This is understandable as it has overwhelmingly spiritual connotations and, in Western Europe at least, our vernacular is much more secular than it was. We are much less bound by reference to spiritual texts than we were in the past. This, in my opinion, is no bad thing. However, in cutting ourselves free of a more spiritual age, have we made it more difficult to communicate in anything but the most rational, dare I say functionalist terms?

Grace stems from the Latin ‘gratus’, meaning ‘thankful’. In addition to thankfulness, it can also refer to expertise or practical facility. For example, to move gracefully in dance (trailing ribbons of silk). In addition, it can be used as a synonym for politeness. You can also have “a period of grace”, so it has shades of amnesty.

These meanings of grace all have relevance for teachers, administrators, politicians, journalists and the electorate: pretty much encompassing us all.

What does it mean to be a graceful teacher? You are adept, forgiving and far sighted. You separate assessment from accountability, ensuring that your students are not exposed to the pressures of performance that you may feel strongly yourself.

For an administrator, again you are forgiving: you might expect the best, but you know that you need to provide amnesty and a pathway to success. You give your staff opportunities to acknowledge their weaknesses and you give them time to reflect and collaborate.

Politicians need to listen more closely to conscience: am I forgiving? Do I build my platform for improvement on gratitude for existing foundations or simply the desire to whip up the electorate in my favour? Whose interests do I serve by highlighting failure and publicly threatening dismissal?

And for the electorate? What can we all do with grace as our guide?

Let grace give us gratitude for our current circumstances; the patience to work incrementally towards improvement; and an ear for sincerity of purpose in others. If we are told that 10,000 doctors are failing or 5,000 nurses are failing; how do we respond to these incitements? Are we willing to be complicit in graceless, metaphorical declarations of war? How much better to contemplate our condition from a point of gratitude, amnesty and professionalism.

We have always lived with doubt and uncertainty. The one thing that can unite us in purpose and goodwill is a sense of grace.

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