That the experience, and therefore our understanding, contains flaws, has occasionally to be the case, especially where the experience is a third-party interpretation of something that has happened outside the immediate experience of the sharer. In other words, virtually every area of education, where a teacher largely imparts “knowledge” that they have gained and internalised from another "teacher/source" at some point in their lives. That they alter this to cater for the nuances of the situation in which they find themselves is inevitable; knowledge sharing can be resource dependent, to enable a variety of supportive models to be created.
I am acutely aware that I am the holder of “my understandings”. I’m not going to call this knowledge, because I am also aware that furthering my experiences is likely to result in alteration.
That this is a perpetual state for children working their way through school needs to be considered.
This requires order and organisation from the school, as the enabling body, ensuring that the resource base available to teachers is as good as it can be, in terms of available relevant developmental literature (how many teachers read the teacher guide to schemes?) and also the physical resources that enable visual interpretation through manipulation.
Order and organisation of resources has to be then underpinned through thorough, detailed planning, across year groups and within each class, with subtle adaptations between classes to account for the variability that inevitably exists within any mixed population.
As a head, I allowed teacher autonomy for these decisions, for which they had to have a clear rationale, on the basis that if these things are in place, then teachers can be held accountable for the outcomes of each child in their class.
Teaching teachers, as an initial activity or as continuing development, inevitably means that another adult, deemed to have some expertise is invited to share their expertise to the benefit of a wider group. Whether this is a seminar or an international education conference, the speaker has been selected as worthy of an audience.
What they share will be new to some, possibly old-hat to others, but, as long as there is also quality time for discussion, those with additional expertise can add further value to the understandings by broadening the evidence base, or questioning some of the premises of the presentation.
Apart from two extended periods of post-grad study, for diplomas that extended my professional knowledge, most CPD was short term, weekend at most, on specific subject areas, or even specifics within subjects. These sessions were led by experienced teacher colleagues, local authority or university specialists or national speakers.
They shared the distillation of their current thinking.
It was either reassuring or challenging; either way it was shared within the wider staff group on return and had a wider impact. I learned, as many others had learned before me and many will continue to do, by listening to others and making up my own mind, in relation to circumstance.
People helping each other to improve is, to me, the hallmark of a collegiate group of colleagues, prepared to spend time together to benefit each other. Those with experience have something to share with developing teacher minds, but this has to be done with care, to ensure that they think for themselves, not just become a clone. Cloning and copying rarely works, as there is a significant need to be able to think on your feet and make instant, reflective decisions.
So, if I was looking to make an improvement in education, I’d be seeking a profession-wide dialogue, with experienced support; let’s call them mentors.
- If mentoring occurs across a school, there is common assent to decisions regarding achievement and progress expectations.
- If mentoring occurs across schools, an area wide understanding occurs.
- If outcomes of National testing were seen as an aspect of moderation, the outcomes could provide exemplar material to support internal mentoring needs.
- If mentoring became a common tool across all schools, supported by external expertise as necessary, there could be an improvement in (detailed) teacher judgement and a reduced need for formal testing, so we could save money on SATs testing.
- If in-house teachers became trained mentors, for internal and external use, the use of such people would provide opportunities for mass localised CPD and lead to higher expectations, based on a common understanding.
- If lesson observations became a mentoring exercise, based on the common agenda of the teaching standards, then feedback would be developmental. Nobody is perfect all the time.
- If Ofsted and other assessment/inspection visits were mentoring visits, to validate the judgements of the internal moderation team, we could establish expectations common to every school in the country.
- If Ofsted inspectors and HMI mentored each other, the judgements across every establishment would be more consistent.
- If Ofsted and HMI regularly produced reflective (research) pamphlets about their distilled experiences, across all subjects, the system could benefit from such collated reflection. (Anyone remember the "raspberry ripple" series?)
- Perhaps we could have a new series of conferences; Mentored…