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Stating the obvious? The secret to teaching….

2014-08-15 12.40.32

I may say it was your fault
Because I know you could have done more

The Kooks.

This post may be stating the obvious or extremely naive, depending on your view point.  Thing is, as a leader of teaching and learning, I should at least attempt to communicate my thoughts on how to teach.  This is it.  Ready?  The secret to high quality teaching and learning (which I define as leading to strong outcomes) is that there is no one, cast iron, indisputable, bomber way to teach.  It’s just not there.  I’m always careful to emphasise that all I can ever do is tell stories of what works (and what doesn’t).  That goes for any research, idea, vision.  I believe that the professional teacher is there to judge and employ the best way to teach the young people.  The secret to a school doing well in to encourage and invest in subject specific, erm, specialists.  From my own experience, the transformation we achieved at Priory Geography had very little to do with whole school policy, we drove it based upon our understanding of the best way to teach our subject.  Leadership supported, challenged and allowed us to get on with it.  Middle leaders are the most important cog in the machine.

Of course, we should be informed by research and other opinions, but it’s not black and white.  Certainly, it shouldn’t come from Ofsted or the Ministry.  There are a few bits and bobs that have some up in the past few days and, in an attempt to put these ramblings into context (mainly for myself before I head off for ten days of not thinking about the job), here are my thoughts.

Ukedchat Play

I’ve spoken before of the meaningless distinctions and bipolar arguments that play out on twitter.  It gets to the point that I adopt a rather wind up stance as it’s clear that the person ‘arguing’ isn’t going to budge from their position.  It’s especially pointless as the answer to any of these debates is ‘ well, it’s a case of a bit of this and a bit of that. You know, using my professional judgement and basing what I do on the children in front of me and the staff (who I hope are) behind me.’  It’s not a case of saying that ‘play is pants.’  If you consider a definition of teacher below, it suddenly becomes clear that there’s a whole heap of stuff to get done.  It’s not the case that play doesn’t equal actually giving them knowledge.  It’s the skill of the teacher.  To be honest, the whole stance strikes me as a defence – people basically saying that they have nothing left to learn.  I am truly jealous if they have this teaching thing sussed and can therefore speak with such cast-iron confidence on what works and how everyone simply is wrong about what they are doing. I’ll never get there.  When I do, I’m going to retrain to be an accountant.  Or an artillery commander.

The key is to have a shared, common language operating throughout the school. 

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Get over it people – what is shared through things such as Ukedchat are wonderful stories of what works for people.  If it doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Take technology or outdoor learning as examples.  I’m a strong advocate of both.  Both can help young people understand and engage with the world around them (my responsibilities as a teacher extend well beyond the classroom).  However, I recently came across the following quote that sums up my approach:

‘But it has always been my temperament to prefer a tiny amount of the excellent to a plenitude of the mediocre.’ An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris.

I don’t blame teachers for sticking to their comfort zone, as long as they are open to new approaches and, most importantly, apply them with a critical eye and measured approach.  Teachers should be researchers and learners.

Kids aren’t scientists / geographers / mathematicians / poets….

Which leads me on to this.  What rubbish.  Consider a definition of a scientist, for example:

A scientist, in a broad sense, is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist may refer to an individual who uses the scientific method.

I simply won’t believe that children can’t do this.  Indeed, at least at secondary level, children should be taught to think, learn and act like scientists, artists and geographers etc.  Will they do it professionally? Probably not, but aren’t they learning?  Of course, there is a wider, more complex debate here: the nature of education.  Are teachers employed to simply fill empty minds with knowledge or to critically engage with the world?

Oftsed

This story is interesting in that I’m very happy I don’t work there.  I remember my first (of around 10 in 10 years) Oftsed inspection.  We had a month to get ready.  Not only was the atmosphere horrendous during that time, it meant that the school’s ethos demanded that we put on a show rather than get things right all of the time.  I have no problem whatsoever with accountability, but it’s clear that if Ofsted are playing a political game then they need to be destroyed and built up again as an independent body.  Life isn’t a level playing field, and it seems that the old ‘boys’ club is alive and well.  It’s clear that if Ofsted are not independent of the Ministry, then they are not fit for purpose because inspection judgements need to communicate the most accurate picture of education, rather than acting as a ‘yes sir’ sounding board for ministers.  I wonder what continuity Gove will make if the situation?

In the mean time, I personally believe that schools with a strong vision and a desire to do the best for pupils will prevail.  Having Ofsted in the back of your mind at all times is like balancing on a precipice.  I’ve always advocated a ‘business as usual’ approach to when inspectors call. Although I’m yet to see this approach through as a senior leader, I think it’s the only way to manage the stress.  I’d welcome no notice inspections. Short and sharp and very focused.  Lets have five or six a year, all looking at a department or whole school focus.  Let’s see the real picture rather than the show.  If the Head happens to be out? So what?  When did your school last collapse in on itself because a key member of staff was on a course?

It’s about high quality lessons, day-in-day-out.  It’s about getting the humdrum-whizz bang ratio right.

Anyway, now that’s off my chest until I return from an adventure…..

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