Education is full of plug-ins, often as a result of political decisions of pronouncements on the "best way" to do something. Often simplistic and undefined, they take centre stage and create a distraction from the core purpose of educating each child. Most recently, education has been distracted with textbooks, assessment, teacher oaths and private/state school relationships. While the first two should be debated, probably heatedly, the latter two are peripheral to the needs of all children.
Useful fact: do you know the derivation of “Square peg in a round hole”? t I didn’t until I visited the 17th century Living History Village in Gosport, where the carpenter showed how timbers were held together, by hitting a squared peg into the round hole, in order to hold the joint as tight as possible. Worth a thought when considering staff?
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167
I’m beginning to argue within myself, the pros and cons of the debate about purchasing teaching resources and other people’s ideas, promoted by a Twitter discussion on the pros and cons of Inset, as well as the use of Twitter as an aid to CPD.
Health warning; Twitter CPD can become addictive!
Among the Twitterati currently writing openly about their journeys in learning are Keven Bartle @kevbartle , Alex Quigley @HuntingEnglish, David Didau @LearningSpy, Zoe Elder @fullonlearning, Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher . Many have associated blogsites with much food for thought.
Keven Bartle’s school recently published the outcomes of their inset at https://www.dropbox.com/s/a7swjxfjmy16o5c/16235%20Marginal%20Gains%2016ppA5%207.1.13.pdf
The main thing teachers are paid to do is think, about teaching and learning, the subject at hand and the children. The best teachers often don’t switch off enough, but reflect on every detail of activity in their classroom. They believe they should be seeking to develop their practice to the best they can, because their children deserve the best and are often hypercritical when a small error is spotted. Teachers, in my experience, are self-critical, sometimes requiring support to get through. This is where “Professional Capital”, by Hargreaves and Fullan has something to say; invest in people as the major resource. How much teachers are enabled to think for themselves is critical in this regard, as lack of room to think and manoeuvre can lead to frustration, a negative and sometimes destructive place.
Zoe Elder’s book (Full on Learning ), is well worth a read as it is full of useful, thought provoking ideas, and follow her on Twitter (@fullonlearning) where she is exploring marginal gains, looking at the small details within learning that make a difference, with additions by other colleagues/ followers. Not sure if this recommendation will ultimately qualify as a potential fad or bright idea?
There is currently probably a larger group of consultants at different levels, including active teachers, whose ideas have been developed and honed within their classroom experience to the point where others want to hear from them how it is done. These outstanding people certainly have a great deal to share and are very confident polished performers. It is a pleasure to be in the company of passionate, reflective people. Ideas are always food for thought, to be adapted to local circumstance. But what happens when the person also becomes the product? The mantra can be sold as, “Follow me and all will be well….”
The problem with a fad or a fixation, especially in education, is the adherents or disciples become evangelical in their zeal to ensure that their school should also be devout followers and, I have to admit, where a whole staff works collaboratively on developing an approach to learning, this can become very successful, because they are determined to make it work. The creative process is contagious and personally developing. There is no better CPD for teachers than creating a scheme of work, or just a lesson, that really works well. The class buzz, the direction, the feedback from and to learners and between colleagues can become electric and other teachers want to know how it is done, so the more confident take career steps in developing CPD for others and so the snowball rolls.
In a busy world, it is understandable that finding a useful resource, including a proven method that might suit a particular piece of learning is a good thing. One interesting innovation over the relatively recent past, in selling, has been the use of words such as accelerate or big in the product title. Does this really make them better? Then of course, there are the training courses to be able to use the product, or to meet with the person, with subsequent cascading of information. It takes time before a clear evaluation can be made, in order to decide whether or not to pursue and the cascading will inevitably be the interpretation of the original.
Schools and staff can become fixated on a product, the ethos of which can become the principles on which a whole subject is developed. This can assume national proportions, as was seen with the introduction of the Literacy Strategy. The politics became “The Literacy Hour”, while local interpretations allowed individual advisers to promote personal practice at the expense of current school practice which may be better, but changes under pressure.
The difficulty is that what works for one cannot be instantly successful for another. The current push for synthetic phonics as the main approach to reading is a political imperative, based on a centralised view that it is the “best” approach, as was the “Literacy Hour” and that became a millstone and a drag on learning for many.
How much time are teachers spending trawling the internet? Is that in itself a kind of fixation? Is this directly to the benefit of learning in the classroom, if the resource is used without adaptation? Equally there are many excellent teachers doing wonderful things, but just sharing the worksheet with a colleague may not produce the intended outcome, unless the receiver has a very clear idea of the process of development, the internal screenplay for the lesson, the off the cuff improvisation and adaptations that can occur when you “know your stuff”.
I’d argue that all time for reflection on pedagogy is valuable, so that decisions are based on informed choices. Perhaps time purchased for thinking time would be better than time looking for another new resource?
Teachers are responsible to some degree for their own CPD, either through reading, conversations with experienced colleagues as mentors/models, in-house and external experiences including Inset, which should provide at least minimal food for thought.
Teachers have a small amount of dedicated PPA time. Is this time out of class always put to uses which can take teachers further in their thinking than filling in planning forms, which in themselves might be the product of someone else's mind? Reflecting on practice, with colleagues, is an essential part of self-development, made more interesting if there is a challenge to come up with slightly oblique or unusual ways of sharing ideas with learners. It’s well worth considering binning the worksheets and thinking about the developmental framework and scaffolding questions, rather than prescribing the script.
Inset is valuable time out of classrooms without the burden of responding to issues. Prescriptive inset that is delivered can be demotivating. Inset should model the Teaching and Learning approaches that the school is seeking to deploy, on the basis of” Know-how with Show-how”. This supports the visualisation by teachers of what is being said, especially if pedagogical change is outside their experience. They need to be able to “see it”, just as much as the children.
Think for yourself and your setting first.
The school should establish a clear ethos, philosophy and pedagogy. Communicate.
Staff can then reflect on innovation and what it can add to the whole, especially on what has to be adjusted or lost.
Copying may be a form of flattery at an initial stage, but adaptation may lead to further innovation and cross seeding of ideas back to the originator.
Schools have something to learn from each other and collaboration is a key driver of innovation, with ideas dispersed, trialled in different settings, then outcomes compared.
'No Man is an Island'
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions