It’s the summer holidays 2018 and the EduTwittersphere is alight with two main topics; not as one might imagine, the future of the world order and whether we have food come March 2019. No, it is whether and why schools exclude (with some asking if it’s enough) and what appears to be a move by a Government minister to dictate further what is taught, and possibly how.
There is a regular mantra that is bandied about, that “anyone can teach”, and it has been in the back of my mind throughout, trying to differentiate between teaching and being a teacher. I would argue that knowledge is collegiate; the sharing of what one person knows enables others to enlarge their capacities. In teaching, there is both personal (knowledge) and professional (pedagogy) capacity.
Reflecting on a blog where I explored the teaching standards, entitled 24652, I separated out the personal aspects of “teaching” from the longer-term thinker about progressive development, making subtle changes to ongoing plans.
In different areas of interest, especially in nature conservation I have met a variety of people who can “teach”; stand in front of an audience (class) and speak about something that they know. This “expert” has a certain “something”, either in terms of their demeanour, their voice, their apparent knowledge or their manner of delivery. They can “hold” the audience, sometimes in rapt silence, especially if they can involve the audience with something to look at or hold or enabling interaction in some other way. Some of the best speakers, with children, bring artefacts to handle, or possibly even live animals, which they might be invited to hold.
These people have an important story to tell and can get it across. They help to pique an interest, to deepen involvement and to really engage children in the world of specific knowledge, much of which will be transient, but which, for some, might be the start of a life-long interest.
They are very useful in that regard, as they can offer an expertise that extends the audience experience, including the class teacher.
So, these people can teach, within their specific area of expertise, but, to my mind they are not yet teachers. There are much more nuanced decisions to be made that differentiate a “teach” from a teacher.
The “second level” of teacher thinking centres around the needs of the learners, rather than just the narrative being shared.
This is the 24652 dynamic. Know your children, plan effectively (over time), engage with their learning, tweak to needs, check if they understand; know them better, new baseline.
Teachers are judged on their children’s progress and outcomes (2). To know and understand he needs of children starts from a generalised understanding which is coloured-in through experience within classrooms, working with a wide range of children. This can also vary significantly between school contexts, where the demographic mix of the class and the community can create a very different dynamic. Even within a school, year groups differ, so even a teacher who may only have taught a narrow range of ages may not fully understand the needs of a different year group. I would argue that this may have an impact on thinking about SEN, particularly in the context of year-group based curricular expectations. A child who “doesn’t get it” might be a particular challenge to some, possibly less-experienced teachers.
Equally, Secondary colleagues may not understand Primaries and vice versa, but this can also be an issue within a Primary school, if the Infants and Juniors are ideologically separate.
Being ordered and organised, being able to plan (4), over time is an important aspect of being a teacher, creating medium term plans, based on a good understanding of the starting needs, but also adapting these to the developing needs as they manifest themselves, as they will, while the children are working on challenge within their tasks.
To me, the most significant parts of the teaching standards are probably standards 6 and 5, which, although articulated as “Assessment (6) and “Adaptation (5)”, which can be effected between lessons at a generalised level, “did they “get it”, what do I do next?”, but which, if interpreted as the teacher “thinking on their feet, looking for prompt signs of learner discomfort” (6), leads to an engagement with any issues arising, coaching and support, or in more extreme cases, in-lesson adaptation to individual needs (5).
We are at the stage of a school year where teachers will, in a few weeks, be working with new classes.
While Primary teachers will get to know their children quite well, quite quickly, in relation to other classes they have had, Secondary colleagues may only see some classes a couple of times, so the individuals who haven’t made their current learning needs obvious may still be names, rather than people.
It is in the nature of interactions that the more frequent they are, the better you get to know the person(alities).
Some colleagues will move schools and be(come) aware of the nuanced differences between their new experience and their previous school(s). It can be a shock to be seen as an outstanding teacher in one context, only to find yourself challenged in another. The context can be a significant factor in perceived “success” as a teacher. ITE students can find the second practice more challenging if they have had the first in an “easier/nicer” school, especially if they are carrying the “high” grade potential with them.
Which leads on to the idea of the “Teachest”. These are the teachers who have taught for a while, have had experience across a wide age range, in different contexts, which enable them to cope with change, occasional difficult children (or colleagues), and who can, at the drop of a hat, magic up a very solid, or even a very good lesson, when covering for another colleague.
They have sought, filtered and adapted the best of their experiences to provide a nuanced “performance”, probably make teaching look easy, but also, at times, be unable to explain every aspect of their actions, because teaching is them, they are intuitive, but as a result of practicing their art/craft with embedded and ongoing reflection. They are and possibly always have been, reflective life-long learners, with a real excitement for their specific areas of interest, which they share, day in and day out.
In other words, they put all eight teacher standards into practice with ease, day in, day out.
It is this last descriptor to which I’d hope all teachers aspire. To develop to this phase, though, teachers need to pass through the other two, the “teach” and the teacher, with the teacher phase being the essential good stage, which is required of all teachers.
The “teachest” comes over time, but also the interrogation of experience as a self-development tool. The best “teachests” are also collegiate in their willingness to share and unpick their capabilities, to the benefit of less-experienced colleagues. These people are the bread and butter of continuous professional development, at no cost to any organisation. They teach teachers as well as children.
The skill of self-evaluation is the significant skill which can be shared with developing teachers. Focusing on the processes of development, rather than just passing on simple tips and hints, enables the developer to reflect on their own practice, so that tips and hints can be explored within a development dynamic.
A pack of tips and hints and bright ideas does not make a teacher. A set of pre-prepared worksheets doesn't make a curriculum. These things only work of they have clear purpose and the teacher is aware of potential issues, in order to intervene appropriately with children. I have seen more fail lessons arising from colleague generosity in sharing a plan, than from a teacher preparing their own.
A teacher thinks for themselves.
To some extent, teachers and “teachests” grow themselves, by regularly reflecting on new information and “sloughing off” aspects of the old, so that they can move forward with greater ease.
Sharing is caring; a simple mantra.
Collegiality is the hallmark of a successful staffroom. Shared expertise benefits everyone, ensuring that the children receive the best that a school can offer, which, in reality, is the best that any school can do.
Where it identifies the need for external support, this should be carefully considered, if it is to have a developmental collegiate impact.
Communication is key and this takes time. School leaders are responsible for how time is “demanded” for specific needs. Time should simply be allocated for quality talk between colleagues. That way, current reading can be shared, discussed and, where necessary, embedded in practice.
Love the ones you’re with. Make the best of the available talent. Support every adult associated with the school, including parents, partners in children’s progress.
Humane education, in professional hands, anyone?