Management of people is much more nuanced.
Sledgehammers to crack nuts?
It got a little tedious, as the methodology being deployed copied one that was visible during my training between 71 and 74, through the pamphleteer group, “The Black Papers Group”.
(Click for LINK)
The technique is simple. One member writes and publishes a pamphlet, or blog, others then write in agreement, following this up with their own pamphlets (blogs) which cite the original pamphlet. Despite this, often being nothing more than a recycling of opinion, by appearing regularly and then being quoted in the newspapers or in political speeches, it becomes something of a “truth”. In many ways the Brexit campaign on 2016 was a mirror image of distorted half-truths being repeated endlessly and is already visible in the first days after an election has been called.
That it sways opinion is evident.
It is sad that it devalues discussion, especially when one side seeks to state what the other side stands for in ways that are nothing more than caricatures.
For the 32 years of my school based career, I worked across a wide spectrum of schools, starting in secondary, then a succession of through primaries, or separate junior and first/infant schools, covering the 4-16 age range. Looking back, 24 years were spent in open-plan or semi-open plan schools; eight as a class teacher, 16 as a head (teaching). These were very successful years, both as a teacher and as a head.
Underpinning success was considerable organisation, impacting on the classroom and the whole school. This was supported by good communication, across all categories of staff. There was a singular ethos, well understood by staff, children and parents. Success could be argued from SATs results, but also from continuous reports from receiving schools and parents of children’s pursuance of further success.
Teachers, and I include myself in this, did a lot of DI, direct instruction, or “invited” celebrity voices to do so, through the IWB. For example if David Attenborough had an appropriate series on the TV, this might be used to offer image insights and specialist vocabulary. Other subjects had similar supportive resources, selected by the school subject managers, in conjunction with the County inspectorate. Images and artefacts were regular features of teaching, as were visits to special places, such as museums and galleries, or off-site environments.
Talk was valued highly. This may the point where a purist might wish to part company, but I’d be surprised, as dialogue, reportage, questioning at different levels, feedback and guidance have always been a part of a good teaching repertoire.
Teaching is, at heart, getting ideas across to an audience that we organise into a class. The narrative has to be ordered, organised and presented in an appropriate vocabulary/register, making links with earlier experience to strengthen understanding. It may require a variety of models to be drawn, or exemplified through concrete apparatus, to ensure deeper understanding. We have a habit, in this country, of withdrawing concrete apparatus too early, when it should be kept available to support deeper conceptualisation, eg Dienes blocks to show decimal values.
A high quality teacher will be scanning the class for tell-tale signs that there may be some confusion, as the learning bit may not be visible apart from externalisation in some form. That Dylan Wiliam now calls this reflective-reactive teaching, not just AfL, to me, is important, as the reflective part might include clarification questions to individuals, with some requiring additional in-lesson intervention or adaptation.
Learning may be more difficult to define, as it is invisible as a process and reliant on outward signs, such as verbal or physical outcomes. Some now call these "proxies".
Tasking, beyond the information sharing, should be appropriately challenging, across all abilities. Different challenges for different needs have been staples of my thinking since 1971. Children can be solution finders from an early age using “learned” skills and knowledge; they respond to challenge, can learn to order and organise themselves, with different levels of independence, as long as classrooms are ordered and organised with appropriate resources. They can also articulate when they are “stuck” and need support or guidance.
By providing challenge, then unpicking the various processes that led to success provides insights to all learners about how to think through to solutions. That, to me, is the means to “challenging up”, not just having a mantra of “high standards”. It’s a case of know-how with show-how.
The idea of thinking about thinking has been a part of my practice since the 70s. Now given the name metacognition, it has always been important, to me, that children should be active processers, not just passive receivers of information. That can only really be achieved with children as active participants in their learning journeys. That you can’t see learning is another truism, but you can see the outward displays that indicate that activity is being pursued, which might require closer scrutiny to see the detail. This is one reason why I think in-lesson interactions are so important, to provide the basis for ongoing teacher reflection about next steps.
My slightly tongue in cheek assessment guide, “get it, got it, good”, explored the need for interaction and decision making. If a group “got it” and others didn’t, then the next lesson might start with different demands for the two groups, with a checking task for some, while review teaching might be appropriate for the others.
I want teachers to have the right to choose the best approach for any particular situation, based on their (rapid) rationalisation of the needs. That, to me, should be the basis of every decision in every classroom.
As a head, if a teacher could tell me the reason why a particular approach was happening, that was fine. Why be dogmatic? It’s very illuminating when the rationale is weak, such as, “It won’t hurt them to go over this again…”
A quick anecdote.
The topic for a period of time was sports, as it was an Olympic year.
During one week, I decided to use the long, wide corridor near my classroom to set a challenge. On day one, the group of eight seven year olds whom I thought had the greatest independence were challenged to create (design and make) a crazy golf hole, using materials available within the classroom. They had the morning as their working time. TAs had not yet been invented; this was an independent task.
In the first fifteen minutes, they collected a range of items which might be useful. This was followed with a group discussion around a large piece of sugar paper, with ideas drawn and discussed. The build process started from the agreed plan, but soon adjustments were made, deigned to be improvements. After an hour, they had their golf hole.
A period of measuring and drawing secured the design for posterity and allowed later consideration of scale, as drawings were tidied onto squared paper. Photographs were taken for reference.
The main task was the use of the hole to see how many shots and how long it took for different class members to complete. This tally and timing data was later collated into charts. The group explained before starting what needed to happen to each class member, so everything was “fair”.
Before lunchtime, the group sat together to reflect on what had been achieved, both in terms of measureable outcomes, but also in terms of their personal development. The maturity levels of all were enhanced, as they saw the purposes of the different aspects of learning and set the tone for subsequent groups to follow.
Follow up included instruction writing, developed into reports, scale drawings for the more able, but sketch maps with measurements for all. The quality of discussion was very high, as children had had a shared experience.
During day three of this experience, the school was visited by the chief County Inspector and the new school Attached Inspector, as “they were passing”. The golf course was in full spate and prompted discussion. I was able to point out the wide range of skills and learning embedded in the activity, which was part of a longer term project. This was accepted.
I’d go back to my earlier point. All good teaching is based on order and organisation.
The use of flexibilities within each lesson is likely to be down to teacher awareness, experience and expertise in any particular subject. If all the children can only go at the pace of the teacher, the teacher can be the cause of many not learning, slowing the whole. Letting go can allow some children to make learning steps that can be used as exemplars for others; the whole becomes greater than the parts.
And this is likely to be the significant point of difference.