INSPIRE: Seeing the Bigger Picture

Rossall INSPIRE is the umbrella under which members of the Rossall community come together to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives on all aspects of education and learning. Ky Hutchinson, Head of Chemistry and Staff Coach, explores the importance of ‘seeing the bigger picture’.

In the summer of 2008, the city of Chicago found itself in serious financial trouble. Many of its public services were archaic and in desperate need of investment. The public were extremely vocal about the poor conditions within the city and resentment and bitterness towards the local Government was growing at an alarming pace.

What follows is beautifully outlined in Henry Graber’s book ‘A Paved Paradise’ and narrated by Tim Harfard in his brilliant podcast ‘Cautionary Tales’ which discusses the mistakes made in history and the lessons that we can all learn from them.

Desperately searching for ways to raise funds and fearful of their jobs, the Mayor and his team decided to sell off the rights to the parking metres in Chicago to raise some much needed funds. This had been a thorn in their sides for a long time and they envisioned passing one of their problems off to an unwitting investor. Offers came flooding in from potential buyers but then an investment banker called Morgan Stanley, representing a consortium of backers, offered in excess of $1 billion dollars. This dwarfed all the other offers presented and represented a huge financial commitment from the consortium. Chicago could not believe its luck – $1billion dollars was a huge sum of money which would help alleviate so many of the problems they were struggling to find solutions for and they gleefully accepted Morgan Stanley’s offer and handed him and his backers a 75 year lease for the rights to charge for parking in Chicago.

Fast forward 8 years. Morgan Stanley’s consortium had immediately tripled the rate of parking in Chicago across all of the 36,000 metres and had recouped a big chunk of their 1 billion dollar investment. The local Government had already spent most of the money they received and were now desperate to take back over what had turned out to be a rather lucrative service. Unfortunately, the contract they had signed was bulletproof and in their haste to secure the deal they had failed to consider why Morgan Stanley was offering so much money. The contract could not be terminated before the agreed 75 year lease was finished and that’s not where the bad news for the Mayor ended. It increasingly felt like the streets of Chicago themselves belonged to Morgan Stanley. Annual parades where the streets were closed to cars could no longer take place without paying compensation for lost parking revenue to Morgan Stanley. Changes to bus routes were impossible as it would mean changing where bus stops are and that meant changing the positions of parking metres which the city no longer owned. Construction in the city ground to a halt as any changes to available parking had to be expressly allowed by Morgan Stanley who always agreed. for a small fee!

The handcuffed city officials have no choice legally and have to see out the terms of the contract they originally signed. However, it is not all bad news for the citizens of Chicago. Although initially outraged at the increases to parking charges, it has meant that more people are now using public transport as an alternative to paying to park their cars. This has had a hugely, unseen benefit in freeing Chicago from the gridlock it suffered from and long term benefits in carbon emissions will help the city fight air pollution and climate change. People living in Chicago have much improved public services and a cleaner, more accessible city. Perhaps history is being very tough on the Mayor and perhaps he foresaw all of this when he signed the lease in 2008.

This story of Morgan Stanley and parking metres in Chicago is a great example of ‘not seeing the bigger picture’. Morgan Stanley was able to view his investment through the lenses of long term thinking whereas the Mayor of Chicago could not see past the 1 billion dollars being placed in front of him. It highlights beautifully the benefit to having a long term perspective in life and not being blinded by quick, short term wins that will benefit us for a short amount of time but in the long run, are detrimental.

Having a long term perspective in education is extremely important. Life at Rossall is busy, what with lessons, academic activities, sports, music, drama, art, singing in the choir, charitable work, prep… the list goes on and they all happen at breakneck speed. It is so easy to get swept along in the hustle and bustle of daily life, but what of the savvy, Morgan Stanley-esque student with a long term perspective? They are the people considering the longer term implications of their daily actions. They are the students who are keeping all of their work meticulously organised and considering where it fits into the overall curriculum. They are the students consolidating learning and asking questions of their teachers and coaches for aspects of their subjects they have found challenging. They are the students preparing revision resources as an ongoing process and not just when instructed to by their teachers. The stark reality is that GCSE, A Level and IB courses are all delivered over two years and when you sit down for your final examinations that will go a long way to deciding your overall grade, the first question in that paper may be on something taught in the very first lesson you attended almost two years ago.

It takes me about 20 minutes to get home after my day at work and on that drive home, I am always thinking about the lessons I have taught that day. What went well? What parts of the lesson did my students enjoy the most? What parts of the lesson were not as successful as I hoped and what could I do differently next time I teach that topic? This evaluative thinking helps me to be a better teacher and I am entirely sure it could help all of you be better students. Try and build just 10 minutes into your day to reflect on what you have achieved, what would help improve your desired outcomes and then act upon it!

In closing, I’d like to mention another famous Chicago businessman, W Clement Stone. A one-time Chicago newsboy and the only child of a widow, Stone began working at the age of 16. Eventually, he turned a $100 investment into a $2 billion insurance company. He was famous for his unfailing positivity and solution based approach to business where he delighted in finding and solving problems within his companies. I’d like to close my article with one of his famous quotes, taken from his book ‘Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude’

There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. That little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”

Mr Ky Hutchinson

Head of Chemistry, Staff Coach