rED18 – The SEND One

Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.

My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:

  • Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
  • Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
  • Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
  • Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
  • Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
  • Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum

It was a guddun.

This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.

One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.

Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.

My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.

As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!

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One week, two conferences and an emerging idea…

This week I’ve had two conference experiences, both packed with brilliant sessions and filling my head with new ideas and connections. The first was the Teacher Development Trust annual conference in London where I was chuffed to be asked to speak about my experiences of the TDT Associate in CPD Leadership course and ‘the transformative effect of professional development’ (not actually my finest fifteen minutes but more on that another day perhaps), and the second was the inaugural Derby Research School conference in, surprisingly enough, Derby.

I’m gaining more and more clarity about the way high quality professional development can be increasingly woven into the systems we already have in place at my school. I’ve never seen much benefit in suggesting I come in with a sledgehammer and force new ideas on people, particularly as I’m very aware that I’ve spent the last few months really digging into and exploring the possibilities of effective CPD  and I know that other people aren’t quite as into it as me, but in the process of thinking about everything from a CPD point of view I’m finding lots of interlocking ideas. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that’s making it such an evolving and, perhaps, delicate process is how much I realise it matters to get these first steps right. It doesn’t have to be perfect or something we stick to, but it needs to be something we can embed and build on.

A common thread through the TDT conference was the importance of culture within a school and how that impacts ideas. That includes a culture of relational trust, of challenge, wellbeing, and of course the importance placed on professional development for staff at all levels. It’s certainly something I want to be central to my own plans for CPD and thankfully I’ve got a wealth of back-up as to why this should be the case. I think I came away from this conference with more answers than questions for the first time in this process of CPD CPD. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to feel I’m on the right track.

The Research School conference was a beautiful thing. A bit like one of the early researchEDs actually, and slightly squeezed together to shorten the day so that everyone could watch the football. I saw some interesting sessions but for me, the two keynotes bookending the day have given me the most food for thought. First up was Marc Rowland who spoke about the use of pupil premium funding. Not in a ‘which strategy off of the EEF toolkit works best’ way, but how we can genuinely delve into and identify where pupil need is, exploring all pupil needs in terms of themselves and their families, their communities, and reflect on the barriers we put in place ourselves as schools. At one point he said that the ‘teacher is the most effective intervention’ and if that’s not a case for cracking CPD, I don’t know what is.

The thing that really brought a lot of things together for me though was in Alex Quigley‘s final thoughts for the day. The conference was about building the role and reach of the Research Schools Network and with a local slant to his presentation, Alex started and ended his talk with this slide:

This brought into focus a few things for me and I think this idea is central to everything I’m trying to achieve. When I visited a local primary school as part of the TDT CPD leadership course, one of the comments that stuck was how they were looking at how they deliver reading instruction and realised that they already have a team of experts in-house. This has prompted me to think a lot about the importance of ‘finding and developing our experts’ and it’s central to my yet-to-be-proposed CPD plan. What Alex’s words have done though is cement this concept as a wider ambition for me. If we take out the specific detail, this is something I think should drive our CPD journey as I move from working with my school, to across the Trust and then in a wider context. There will be many ways to support this process, but these are the questions I want to hold at the core of what we build:

Where Does Pedagogy Fit In? Part 2

I’m doing a lot of work around CPD at the moment and when I started thinking about the level of importance placed on pedagogical expertise I started to ponder about when might be the best time to introduce these skills if it isn’t happening during ITE. I don’t think it’s a case of people not wanting to know the ‘why’ – the plethora of conference-bingo edu-myths are probably a cliché, but I take their longevity as evidence that teachers like to feel they understand the science of teaching. It’s for schools to harness this and if they harness it early enough and in the right way everyone’s a winner.

The students that sparked my thinking about all this in Part 1 appeared to be talking about how they’re going to have time to study ‘the pedagogical knowledge stuff’ once they’re teaching and in turn, I presume, that they’ll be able to change practices they’ve already imbedded. With the presumption that their situation is not unique, it’s important we provide opportunities and time to address this in our school CPD programmes.

I’m not particularly concerned right now with the ‘what’ teachers need to know in terms of pedagogy – there are lots of excellent suggestions for that all over the place and it would certainly turn this into ‘Part 2 of 12’. I’m mostly thinking about how those with a role in leading CPD can take this information into account when designing and updating their plans.

Whilst research informs us of the importance of subject-specific CPD, we need to think about the varying levels of pedagogical knowledge in our settings and ensure this is addressed too. Going back to Weston and Clay’s (2018) Depth of Practice Framework it is clear that programmes of CPD need to take into account the current knowledge and skills of colleagues and have an idea of the level of expertise expected following CPD. For teachers, the expectation for pedagogical knowledge and skills will probably be that they attain a level of adaptive expertise – an automacy that is adaptable to different situations. For this to be successful and embedded in practice there needs to be a continuation of opportunities throughout their careers.

Leaders of CPD also need to bear in mind the higher the level of adaptive expertise, the more difficult it is to make changes to practice. Therefore, the best time to embed good pedagogical skills would seem to be as close to the start of a career as possible and not, as my sample of two students indicated, once their teaching is ‘outstanding’. If we wait too long then the biases will creep in. Kennedy (2016) shows that as independence increases, so the ways in which CPD transfers to lasting change in practice change. As teachers become more experienced they need to be able to discover things for themselves and place them within experience.

Experiences are necessary to give teachers concrete ideas to hang abstract ones on – this idea carries on throughout a career with common advice to keep a particular pupil or situation in mind when taking part in any CPD. So maybe a solution to this is give teachers information and ‘facts’ whilst training, without worrying about practice too much when they’re concerned with all sorts of other things, but make sure the next step starts as soon as possible – and make sure they are, as Becky Allen and Sam Sims (2018) state, ‘immersed in a community of skilled teachers’ as more experienced teachers model what it looks like further down the line.

Experts can often forget how it feels to be a novice and this make pitching teaching at the right level an art that needs training and refinement – for children and for adults. By creating CPD systems that take into account different levels of experience and ensuring we include opportunities for challenge, questioning and learning from each other I think it’s possible to support teachers effectively throughout their careers and hopefully our visiting ITE students will find some of this ready for them in their next schools.

References:

Allen, R. & Sims, S. (2018) ‘The Teacher Gap’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980

Weston, D & Clay, B, (2018) ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: the secrets to the most effective teacher development’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Where Does Pedagogy Fit In? Part 1

I think I’d always assumed that learning about pedagogical skills came hand-in-hand with learning to teach, but what if it’s something that needs to wait?

Broadly speaking, research says that in terms of teacher CPD, subject specific development has the greatest impact and that CPD with a pedagogical focus should be placed within a subject-specific framework. Aside from complications to this that may arise for teachers of multiple subjects in perhaps primary or special-school settings, it seems more than reasonable for teachers to relate the ‘how’ to their particular ‘what’.

At which stage though in ‘becoming a teacher’ should basics of pedagogy and detail of how children learn be introduced? I’ve not gone through an ITE programme myself and I’ve heard a mixture of comments about this that probably fall into categories of people who qualified a while ago saying they were just thrown in and never really taught how to teach and more recently qualified people having experienced a bit more theory and research – perhaps even an expectation that they carry out some research themselves. It’ll vary hugely, I suspect, between programmes but I had the idea that maybe the ‘how’ was increasing in importance.

I’ve been prompted to think about this following a recent series of visits from ITE students in school when I overheard some interesting comments over lunch. Aside from amusing snippets like ‘He wants to use a textbook and I’m like ‘agghh, that’s such old-school teaching” one of the conversations made me actually listen closer as they discussed how they want to (I wrote it down)

get better at [their] teaching, get that to outstanding first, and leave the pedagogical knowledge stuff for later

They spoke about how they felt like it was ‘Masters or PhD stuff’ to know about how pupils learn and felt like they were likely to get more information about this by asking the pupils themselves. Aside from the fact that many PGCE courses offer Masters credits and so I’d assume a PGCE is Masters level, it really made me think about the value that’s placed on pedagogy.

Firstly there’s the incredibly weighted area of ‘outstanding’ teaching and secondly, they think that this can happen before engaging with pedagogical knowledge. Assuming their subject knowledge is fairly fresh, isn’t pedagogical knowledge (and how that’s relevant to their subject) central to improving their teaching and exactly what they should be learning now? I didn’t get a chance to ask them about it but I have so many questions! They know what pedagogy is and can see a level of importance but don’t see it as relevant to improving the job. Is this because their time is too full of everything else to have time to study in more depth about how pupils learn? Are they just being asked to think about it now, at the end of their course? How much do placement schools influence their opinions on this? If older/more experienced teachers essentially tell them it’s nonsense… I’m wildly speculating here but it fascinated me.

I know there are ITE reforms in the offing and maybe this will all be addressed in that, but whilst we wait for it, if we assume that some ITE students are just paying lip service to their pedagogical knowledge to get through the course, how then can this be addressed through our school CPD programmes? Maybe it’s like the learning to drive cliché that ‘you only really learn to drive once you’ve passed your test and are out there on your own’. Maybe you can only really appreciate how to use pedagogical knowledge once you’ve been teaching for a while?

In their new book ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: The Secrets to the Most Effective Teacher Development‘, David Weston and Bridget Clay demonstrate how the needs of CPD provision change depending on experience and the level of independence of teachers. Their Depth of Practice Framework shows how programmes of professional development should take into account both the level of pre-existing knowledge/skill and the depth of expertise being sought.

Learning all the aspects of teaching whilst juggling the workings of a classroom is hard – and making these processes automatic is even harder, so it’s easy to understand why my example ITE students would want to put all the ‘how they learn’ stuff to one side whilst they deal with the rest. It’s important though to recognise that the more expertise someone gains, the harder it is to learn something new. So whilst some experience might be a good idea on which to build pedagogical knowledge, it probably can’t wait too long.

In my second post I’ll have a little look at how schools can use evidence on effective professional development to address this potential pedagogical knowledge gap.

Reflecting on Journal Clubs

I’ve been spending some time reflecting on journal clubs and their use in schools recently. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at events about journal clubs in education for a while now, and whilst I’ve tweaked my presentation a few times and always use a new paper for discussion, it’s still pretty much the same thing and I think it’s been good for me to go through this process of reflection so that it doesn’t become something I churn out for the sake of it.

This Easter I’m lucky enough to be going to Toronto for rEDOnt. Whist I’ve presented at events for other organisations, the majority of my presentations have been for researchED and as this is how I started out doing it it’s quite nice to have been able to develop and explore the promotion of journal clubs with them. There is always a treasure trove of speakers at researchED events – all giving their time for free – and it always seems like they’ve got a PhD and books and a gajillion followers on Twitter and they talk about hardcore research and RCTs they’ve done and theories of how research should be applied in schools. I experience quite a bit of imposter syndrome, doubting the legitimacy of my presenting at these events (although I’ve seen ‘names’ doing the same thing a few times so don’t feel too bad) but it’s important I remember the number of new people who come and tell me about their clubs. There are journal clubs across the UK, in Sweden, the US, Canada all because of me and if I allow myself to be honest, that feels pretty awesome.

People talk about research projects they’ve been involved in or opportunities for schools to take part. There is a wealth of stuff going on and I love it. I think it’s increasingly important that people come away from researchED, or other events, with something practical they can do in school or with colleagues and even better if that is something that doesn’t need huge amounts of planning or money and can be done by any group. After a few researchED conferences, and when I’d taken part in (and tried to take part in) some research projects within school I found that for us particularly as a small school it was difficult to take part. Our cohort was too small or didn’t fit trial recruitment criteria. In the one RCT we were part of our pupils found it hard to access the pre- and post-test materials so we ended up as an additional case-study. I’m sure there will be things we can take part in more successfully but I’m aware that we won’t be the only school in this position and for those who come to researchED and want to take back and share something solid that can get their schools engaging with research I truly believe journal clubs are the way they can do it.

There is understandably a significant focus at conferences on how research can be applied in the classroom and how to measure impact on pupil outcomes, or how policy makers at different levels can make research-informed decisions, and I think this risks narrowing the research we look at in schools. I think it also risks an over-reliance on research summaries and meta analyses which whilst they definitely have their place and I’m not saying we need to stop this, it’s healthy for teachers and leaders to be critical of the research they’re presented with and face their biases. Teachers also need to be aware that a lot of research isn’t ready for use in the classroom and I think it’s just as important that this is looked at too.

Implementation science and knowledge translation expert, Melanie Barwick, put my thoughts into a more concrete form recently in a blog post about ‘Why Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science are not Synonymous‘, particularly when she said ‘Not all evidence shared for building awareness or informing is ready for application, but this does not make it less beneficial to the knowledge user’. It’s just as important that teachers become aware of ideas, different perspectives or potential developments in research as it is they find out about something new to try. Journal clubs are a space for teachers at any level to read and discuss research with colleagues without the expectation that they put any of it into practice. It’s great if it means coming across something new to try and explore it further, but it should be equally valid to have an awareness of the research that’s out there and be critical of it and make links and connections and prompt reflection on practice.

It’s amazing to be part of the charge of schools becoming more research savvy and the increasing awareness of the big ideas in education, and despite my occasional doubts over whether I belong, I want to be there to give people something to take back and share something concrete and doable in the hope that it prompts a wider discussion and participation.

I really hope those coming to rEDOnt find something in journal clubs that they feel they can do, starting clubs and starting a conversation. I’ll bring the biscuits 😉

21st C Skillz

What if using education to prepare students for the 21st century is actually just giving them more education?

We caught up with Endeavour last night – it was set in a 1960s private school and started me thinking about the whole ’21st Century Skills’ thing (what we should be teaching kids and how we prepare them for this new world we’ve already had nearly 20% of). I was wondering what people would say a 20th Century Skill looked like if you had to pin it down – given the changes that occurred over that 100 years, and I thought about how the pupils on the screen were older and in non-compulsory education for the time – privileged whilst their contemporaries were out at work. But I was mostly watching Endeavour.

This morning there were some tweets about from people at the Global Education & Skills Forum debate on 21st Century Skills including this one from Laura McInerney that included this picture:

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I thought I’d take my idea further and have a look. I’ve only used Wikipedia for this and there are many with the knowledge to sweep my nugget of an idea away but my thoughts are that with each ‘industrial revolution’, instead of narrowing a curriculum to prepare children and teach them a new skill-set, the answer is to lengthen their education and broaden their skill sets.

So how do the various revolutions so far fit in with this? Despite the fact there are gradual changes in-between the dates on the image Laura tweeted, I was quite impressed when I had a look.

1784 – 1780’s saw the start of the Sunday school movement. Educating children (boys to start with) on Sunday because they’re at work in factories for the other 6 days a week.

1870 – The Forster Act of 1870, leading to introduction of compulsory education of children ages 5 and 10 in 1880

1969 – Raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 enforced from 1 September 1973 (but Wikipedia says they were preparing for this from 1964 so it all includes 1969 quite nicely)

Now – the Education and Skills Act 2008 said that by 2013, all young people in England have to stay on in education or training at least part-time until they are 17 years old, and that by 2015, all young people will have to stay on in education or training at least part-time, until they are 18 years old.

Not implying correlation or causation or anything like that, it was just interesting to look at. Of course increasing access to education will have added to the likelihood of each new ‘industrial revolution’ and I’m fairly certain that the dates of each ‘revolution’ will happily match up with a wealth of other changes – let’s face it, I’ve just selected some dates off a Wikipedia article and that’s not going to stand up to super scrutiny, but I was pretty happy to see there were things that matched up.

The paper I used for the researchED Haninge Journal Club last week was about enjoyment and aspiration of middle grade students and there was a small bit that caught my attention regarding boys’ aspiration and the assumption that they’ll be able to get a job in an industry without good grades – something that’s increasingly less likely. Their 21st Century is less likely to involve simply falling into an industry and I think education is the answer.

From: Smith M, Mann MJ, Georgieva Z, Curtis R & Schimmel CJ (2016) ‘What Counts When it Comes to School Enjoyment and Aspiration in the Middle Grades’ RMLE Online, 39:8 (p10)

The other thing if course is that even if the answer to education for the 21st Century is ‘more education’, it doesn’t give an answer as to what that education should be about and doing more of the wrong thing for the sake of doing more isn’t particularly useful. I’ll leave it there until next year when there’s a new series of Endeavour and I hope it gives me an idea about the rest.

My two-penneth

I’m as bored of having a timeline full of times tables chat over the last few days as the next person but, perhaps inevitably, it’s taken a shift in rhetoric and to be honest this trend for equating things to child abuse has proper pissed me off. I came perilously close to spewing out a Twitter thread about this on Thursday but thought better of it in order to focus my thoughts a little more. This isn’t a subject to be flippant about and quietly seething at the quiz was probably not the right time to put my point out there.

The word ‘abuse’ has many uses and degrees of seriousness; whether that’s in terms of verbal abuse, abuse of power, emotional abuse or physical abuse, I think most people can understand the nuances. I understand that the word ‘abuse’ can be used as hyperbole – I’ve used it myself when people (hilariously) suggest triple barreling mine and Howard’s surnames and I tell them that should we have children I would consider it tantamount to child abuse. The thing about these recent comments though is that it’s not being used as hyperbole, it’s being used as a direct comparison with actual life-changing abuse as a central point in an argument against doing something with children. Again.

I’ve worked with children from some very difficult backgrounds for well over a decade; many of them having suffered different forms of abuse and children for whom school is their safe place with routines when home is chaos.  There are children who have witnessed and experienced things I can’t even imagine and school is the one constant in their lives. Often these children are ones with 100% attendance and poor behaviour on the run up to holidays because they won’t be at school for a week. Far from being an abusive environment, school and education can be healing.

Of course kids’ll complain about learning things that are tricky. It’s what they do. But basic maths isn’t abuse, it’s a right. I understand concerns about workload, pressure on pupils or staff from these tests, all of that. It’s a separate argument. My issue here is that it doesn’t matter what the argument is – phonics, school uniforms or rote learning, at the moment I couldn’t care less. Flippantly making use of the term ‘child abuse’ to describe pedagogy people disagree with is not routine, throw-away commenting we can afford to get complacent about. It’s not hyperbole, it’s insulting and it’s damaging.

rEDBrum 2018: The Purple One

All researchED events kick off well and whilst I’ve sat through a fair few ‘we aren’t expecting a fire alarm test today so if you hear a continuous bell…’ housekeeping announcements in my time, never before has this included instructions of what todo in the event of a lock-down. This made for a very exciting start to rEDBrum (and a silent wonder if each of the change-over bells would run to a count of 5 and we’d (very sensibly and in an orderly fashion) be required to dive under the tables). It didn’t happen (for the best really). It was also the most purplest school I’ve ever been to and if the TES do an award for having a theme and running with it,  Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School wins hands down. The announcements and introductions were swiftly followed by a mini-keynote from Daisy Christodoulou on why we need to improve assessment and this ended up an unintentional but welcome theme threaded though my day.This event was also the first time I brought someone else from school to a researchED conference; a surprisingly big thing for me. I’m conscious that I hold researchED dear as my ‘thing’ – there are people I know, ideas I’m familiar with and challenged by, and despite the day-to-day stresses of work I can rely on something like this to put me back on track with why I love it. Of course I share what I learn back at school but bringing someone from one work-world into my other work-world was strange but positive. Anyway, at 7:45 on a Saturday morning our school principal Marcus hopped into our car with his copy of Daisy’s ‘Making Good Progress’ to read along the way.

Introducing a ‘novice’ to all this was a refreshing way to view researchED. Aside from the general what-is-researchED-who-is-Tom-Bennett-yes-everyone-really-does-do-it-for-free stuff there were a lot of things I found myself giving an overview of that I pretty much take for granted now and think lots of other people do. A couple of speakers openly glosssed over who Dylan Wiliam or Daniel Willingham are because researchED is pretty much taken as an environment where that’s basic knowledge – a solid case of David Weston’s point on Fundamental Attribution Error. There were a lot of hands up when Tom asked whose first rED it was in his introduction and whist some may be of the opinion that it’s unthinkable for a teacher of 30 years to not know about ‘Inside the Black Box’ I reckon there’s more out there that don’t know than do.

Marcus reading ‘Making Good Progress’ was actually a happy coincidence. I’d popped into his office to arrange our travel arrangements for the weekend and rattled of a few of the people who were going to be speaking, including Daisy’s keynote, and whilst I explained some of her work he produced the book from under a pile of incident sheets and exclaimed that he knew the name was familiar (promptly writing his name in the front when I asked if it was the copy I’d leant to another colleague). He’d not started it yet but when I popped in again on Friday it’s pretty safe to say it was blowing his mind even from Wiliam’s foreword.

My own day was perhaps subconsciously threaded with assessment/feedback/progress. I’ve spent a week cramming in baselines for new pupils and using a new system for the first time (GL Assessments in English, Maths and Science alongside Hodder Reading and Spelling tests for those who are interested). Ben Newmark’s talk on the mess that is target grades and Tom Sherrington’s take down of ‘Can-do’ statements make complete sense to me and it’s confirmation that what I assumed for a long time was naivety on my part – that the reason for all these non-sensical things must have been explained on everyone’s PGCE courses and it was all a ‘teacher’ thing – is actually based on a snowballing of decisions that nobody is certain of why it’s done; it just is. I’m still moving thoughts on this round in my head so I might consolidate those more clearly at some point. I have to say though, my take-home feeling is it’s no longer just theories of better ways to approach things, there are researched models out there, Ofsted are pumping out the message that they aren’t looking for specific things and school leaders have to be really brave to leap and make these changes. The fear of change is very real for many reasons and not all leaders have the autonomy they need to really go for some of these things. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get going but I sense that as some are starting to jump off the cliff edge it won’t be as hard for others to follow.

As always I left yesterday feeling positive and full of ideas. We’ve still got a week before half term and I’m desperately trying to finish off Relay before Friday so positivity is welcome. It was great to see people I’ve not seen since September and for my fox shoes to make friends with Cat Scutt’s. I’m still rubbish at talking to people at these things and shall endeavour to do better next time. I think Marcus got a lot out of it too. I know it’s consolidated some ideas for him and given food for thought in other areas. I also know that whilst most of us on-line buddies are introverts and ignore each other IRL, he’s 100% extrovert and turns out he spoke to loads of interesting people! We’re in a big period of change at school now and I’m hopeful that there can be increase in evidence informed decision-making. At the very least I’m hoping that when I enquire nicely for time off to do yet another international conference or plant the seeds of hosting a rED event the boss’ll at least know what I’m banging on about.

Think You’ve Got It Sussed…

(Originally posted on Staffrm)

I had a brilliant reading session with a pupil today. Normally, if I have someone for a whole lesson, once we’ve finished our reading-the-book part we use the time that’s left to play some literacy games or work on a particular target. This boy was keen to keep reading today so I gave him a choice of books from the Rapid books that he isn’t using and let him go for it.

Like many similar books Rapid have a series of comprehension questions at the end and they also have a joke. Again, like similar things, the answer to the joke is printed upside down. I was quite surprised that this boy who is at quite a low level and struggles noticeably was very quick to read the upside down answer without a problem. He even questioned why they would just write the answer underneath so anyone could see it. I did a small experiment and made him read some more with the book upside down. Now this wasn’t ‘War and Peace’ but the kid read the whole book without a single mistake. He was ecstatic!

Now. I reasoned as he was doing it that it might be something to do with him being left-handed. I’ve read things about left-handed people finding writing back to front/ upside down easier and guessed that this probably fits in the same bracket. I also suspect that the extra thought process might slow him down and make him think so he’s not rushing as much. I don’t know. I’m just making it up. What I do know is that it was blummin’ impressive and gave the boy one hell of a boost.

Obviously I’m going to try it again. Maybe I should try writing something out back to front and see if he can do that as well. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this sort of thing? I know he’s going to have to learn to cope with reading words the right way up (unless we build him a camera obscura to live in I suppose), but I think it’s worth exploring a bit further too.

Teaching (Hair)Style

(Originally posted on Staffrm)

Bare with me on this. I watched Legally Blonde recently and I’m going to stretch this one as far as I darned well can. Instead of a comparison with medicine, I’m comparing teaching with hairdressing and bending the metaphor til it, um, snaps.

Education, particularly evidence based education, is frequently compared to medicine. The idea that any profession should develop and update, based on research evidence where possible is something I’m all for. Education isn’t just a science though; it’s an art as well.

Teaching, like hairdressing, is a craft that needs to be honed and developed over a career. It is possible to learn the basics from a book or course. You could get by and end up with something crude. The theory, the step-by-step instructions, are great for giving it a go, but to be successful you need more than that.

The best teachers use theory and a core foundation of knowledge to push boundaries and try new things. They test out new products and can fine-tune the result.

The best teachers are aware of the individual needs of their client. They notice where they differ from the ‘norm’ – they spot the frizz, the cowlick, and the best ones know how to work with curl…

They know when someone might need a deep conditioning treatment or when they might benefit from highlights. They know you can only hide grey hairs temporarily.

Experience can be a source of invaluable advice but some are resistant to change and new techniques. They stick firmly to the tight perms and purple rinses that have always got them through. Others embrace fashion, rushing headlong into every new fad that comes along (without regard for anyone’s face shape or questioning the damage it might do). Some create the fashion; sometimes it’s classy and lasts a lifetime, sometimes it’s fixed in a particular era. There are the TV hairdressers, the ones with a voice, pushing their message to improve the hair of the nation. Most are probably in between, letting fashion filter through, adapting training as they need it – hanging on to trends a bit too long? Some insist on using a highlighting cap when foils might be the better option.

Keeping up to date and developing isn’t just about reading. It’s about having a feel for it and doing what is right by the pupils. Picking up the pieces of a bad job and turning things around even if it takes years; giving them something they can maintain between visits and, ultimately, something that will grow out well once they move on.