The grassroots approach – being a Dave Grohl

Grassroots is a sought-after designation and is associated with an unfettered authenticity in communion with colleagues.  Australian education has a grassroots tradition.  As a junior teacher, I observed senior teachers move to work in the union movement, to the exam board, into various branches of the bureaucracy, and into academia. During the political maelstrom of Victoria’s Kennett years, teachers were being moved all over the place. In one of those moves, I was mistakenly sent to a school that was in the process of being demolished. Instead of bleating, it was at that moment that I decided to contribute to fixing the system. That’s the grassroots approach.

About a decade after being mistakenly moved to a demolished school, I worked in the role of HR Manager, in the role that authorised that mistaken move those years before. A couple of years after that, we had installed a new recruitment and payroll management system for Victorian teachers (eduPay). A few years after that, perhaps because of the transparency of the new payroll system, the anti-corruption commission cleaned out the Department. Now everything is back in a row.  That’s the grassroots approach.

On my journey into the Department, I was fortunate enough to work on the PISA project. There too the project directors were once teachers in the Victorian system. Further, Andreas Schleicher had completed his Masters at Victoria’s regional Deakin University. He too thought about a grassroots movement to provide more data to schools, he was in search of an organisation.  That’s the grassroots approach.

We all like to see ourselves as grassroots, we all like to think of ourselves as authentic, and more authentic than the systems in which we work. But as we form networks, connect with the powerful, engage with the corporations, the integrity of any grassroots claim diminishes.  Whether working in the Department, working for PISA, or working for the VCAA, when you’re in the system, when you are in an organised network, you are the system. And yes, the system has problems, and systems need to be fixed.

Most teachers would like to consider themselves as grassroots, as authentic, and being in touch with everyday life.  I’m like that too, but to enjoy that authenticity I have had to resign from jobs several times.  Bureaucratic work can be boring, and involve much comprise. I prefer to move on when the job is done, I’m like Dave Grohl, I can’t sit still. Currently, I’m fortunate enough to be below grass roots, a full-time student working part-time with refugees. And enjoying it.

My PhD addresses concerns with education in Victoria and Australia, and it considers deep structural issues and assumptions.  I’ll blog more on that later. There are always complaints against the establishment, there are always claims about what them and they are doing.  A key part of my journey has been to find ‘them’ and ‘they’ that the many talk about. I’ve always found that ‘they’ are ‘us’, and ‘they’ are ‘you’. Wherever you go, there you are. Of course there is power in the confused Canberra, in the corridors of Sydney that likes to assert itself, and then there  is AITSL which seeks to be a statutory authority but is not one. There is also AARE, and anybody who thinks they are the establishment has rocks in their head.  Everybody knows that most of them are from Queensland, and Melbourne is where it is at.

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