A childhood with visits to Paignton seafront regularly brought Mr Punch into my early experience. Walking home, attempting to speak in a Mr Punch voice brought on either a sore throat or a bout of coughing.
There seems to be a growing number of “discussions” on Twitter and through blogs that appear to be designed to paint a contrarian view of the views of another. I first met this technique on starting my teacher training, where one of my housemates spent seemingly endless hours pulling down the arguments of others. It was only when one of us ventured to challenge him to put forward a coherent alternative with no flaws, that he admitted that it had essentially been a mental game, derive from his philosophy studies. It didn’t engender household harmony.
Interestingly, one side of the presentations will also be a form of “what works”, in our context. All ideas start off in a “pure” form and within almost “laboratory conditions” can be seen to work particularly well. The outcomes are then described and “followed”, as they work for others, even prescribe by political will, as they are deemed to be “the best approach”. When these ideas are filtered through the various layers of interpretation that denotes the cascade model, by the time it reaches the workplace, it has become something slightly different. It is then filtered one more time through the teacher lens.
Equally, of course, no two contexts are the same, with space and physical and human resources being major differences, so it is likely that the pure product then has to be adapted to a greater or lesser extent, in order for it to be made to work. So it will become a variation on the theme. If the institution is enabled to think it further, for themselves, based on outcome evidence from practice, it is likely that they will create a strong system in their context.
What works for me, has to work for me, because I have to get through my day. It works until it doesn’t work, then I may have to find out something, by reference to another, or some other source. That, to me is learning.
Being a classroom teacher in the 70/80s was a constant battle with adaptation, as school financing was based on a relatively small purchasing budget. There were ideas aplenty, from the various schemes available, such as Nuffield Science or the Schools Council publications, supplemented by trips to the teacher’s centre. Sticky back plastic turned soap boxes into file storage. Trips to the shoe shop gave a supply of storage boxes. My first classroom “library” was salvaged from jumble sales and charity shops. Junk modelling, and a large part of the science curriculum derived from available free materials. Begging and borrowing were common.
But it was all make do and mend; adaptation became a mindset. We made things work, if we felt it was important to happen. We seem to be approaching a time where school budget are likely to become more constrained.
Adaptation takes time, for thought, for exploration and some experimentation. This should not be a luxury, but, in reading many blogs, it would seem as if some colleagues feel under such pressure that thinking is a luxury.
Politicians claim that this is a good time to be a teacher. Pressurised colleagues, at all levels, might beg to differ.
This is probably the deepest thinking generation of teachers that I have encountered. That may be a result of the availability of the internet enabling the sharing of ideas across the world, coupled with social media to flag up the blogs. Within a short period, a collection of blogs on a topic, kindly shared by generous colleagues, can give a very broad spectrum of current thinking to inform decisions. Focused discussion fora on Twitter allow “conversation” across a specific topic, but also brings a collective together. People are giving time to share and discuss, in person, or electronically, in print or at conferences. Equally, there is a growing bookshelf of books sharing ideas and thinking.
“We’re all in it together”. So says the current mantra. But, in any school, the college of teacher is all in it together, to give the learners the best possible deal. It is incumbent on the institution to create the best possible context for their learners to thrive.
So why the contradictions? Education is in danger of being guru led. You pays your guru and takes your choice. The gurus question the work of other gurus. The teams line up around them and argue the case. It has been going on forever in education. The Black Papers, with Rhodes Boyson in the vanguard, was a self-referencing group in the 60/70s. It gets in the press, but can distort public opinion, sometimes with significant effect. For example, the daily dose of the “Literacy Hour” message from David Blunkett altered many minds.
So, I will go to #TLT15, look forward to hearing from others, to taking away a few nuggets to chew over and to spending some time with a group of people prepared to give up their Saturday to do the same. Education and learning are life-long activities. We are not born as empty vessels. We experience learning opportunities throughout each and every day. We need the skill to spot the opportunities and time to make the best use of what we have encountered. It is very easy to go through life without doing either.
There are no easy, ready-made solutions to longer term problems. That requires strategic thinking, not another bright idea or sticking plaster. Someone else’s solution may not be your solution.
Make time, or buy time, to think.