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.
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.
(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.
(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.
(originally posted on Staffrm)
This time five years ago, like many schools I suspect, the powers that be were trying very hard to get our school’s BSF project to the point of no return. Like many schools, we found it wasn’t to be. As it turns out, they’re still keen for us to expand.
New designs are about to be discussed for our extra building and the staff team have been given a chance to have some input into the new facilities. Given the headings of ‘Essential Features’ (eg. One storey), ‘Desirable Features’ (eg. Learning recovery spaces) and ‘Wish List Features’ (eg. Swimming pool), I was quick to write down a few things but it’s harder than I thought it would be to turn the vague ideas I’ve got into something more concrete.
My essentials include things like timeout space and a bigger staffroom. (It was ok when there were enough staff for 20 pupils, but now we’re going to go up to 100 that’s a few more staff). Desirable features are a bit more indulgent so I’ve mentioned having a bigger art room and a ‘proper’ library would be nice. My wish list is much more personal. I know our art tutor has requested a foundry and other highly specialist facilities, and I’m sure there will be some extravagant sporting suggestions from the PE staff. I’ve gone down the research route.
My thoughts on the place for research in the development of our school are constantly evolving and I’ve got a fair few things in place with ideas of where I see it heading. I am however a bit jealous of some of the things other schools are doing and what is a wish list for if not the extreme? So my wish list section now includes a Learning and Development space. Centre? Hub? I’m not sure. I’ve not thought about it as a reality before. Somewhere for CPD, collaboration, taking part in enquiry. Space to hold CPD events (for us and host for others). Host guest speakers from HE etc. A library of resources for professional development, to evaluate pupil outcomes and engage in action research/lesson study and reflective practice…
It’s not particularly solid as ideas go, but I think it could be. I wonder if it’s out-there enough for a wish list. I mean, I could’ve gone with pimped out golf buggies or a velodrome. If we get a chance it would be interesting to see what other members of staff have put as their answers.
So that’s what I’ve thought of so far. What would you put down as your ‘Wish List Features’ if you had the chance? You can have anything you like…
It’s fairly early and I’m snuggled on the sofa with just a side-lamp on whilst Howard catches up on some sleep upstairs and I’m writing a post that’s been swirling round my head since yesterday. I’m already fulfilling at least four of the introvert statements in the quiz in Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet‘ and that’s before I’ve really started –
- preferring to express myself in writing
- enjoying solitude
- ‘diving in’ without interruptions
- not showing or discussing work before its finished
‘Quiet’ was a book that genuinely changed my life. All of a sudden a lot of things made a lot more sense – not only that but I realised that the various oddities I have could be explained under a broad umbrella and it was amazing. Our world values extraversion and is geared up to promote and reward it but we need to take a step back and see how damaging it can be if we don’t recognise that this is not the way everyone is and see things from the introverts’ point of view.
Yesterday there were a couple of weaving Twitter conversations about ice-breakers and ‘motivational’ activities during insets. Some of it was tongue-in-cheek but much of it was a collective expression of doom at those fateful words ‘Everyone get up on your feet…’. I genuinely have a sinking feeling thinking about it. I wrote about my own feeling on this sort of thing a couple of years ago after my own ‘Motivational Incident‘ at a TeachMeet. I hadn’t read ‘Quiet’ then but having spent time analysing myself I think I’ve got more to say on it all so here it is.
There have been two occasions I can think of where I have flat-out refused to take part in a ‘fun’ inset activity. The first was a whole federation day where there were several activities to do and being asked to stand up and juggle fabric was too much for me. To the presenter’s credit she did tell everyone it was optional and we could sit it out if we wanted, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one. The second was a TA inset where we had to split into groups, come up with a type of machine and each act out a part for other groups to guess the machine. I can vaguely see why you might get people who didn’t already know each other to do something like this but even then I’d be horrified. There were two of us in our group who refused to do it and I did feel a little for the presenter as she’d possibly not come across this before but after some gentle persuading she just said it was very disappointing but we could sit it out. That second one was post-‘motivational incident‘ but pre-‘Quiet’ and I was, I have to say, proud of myself.
Coming out as an introvert is an interesting thing. I’ve not shouted it from the rooftops (which isn’t necessarily surprising for an introvert) but I’ve had a fairly universal reaction from the people I have told, most clearly from my mum who, laden with supportive sympathy, said “Oh, no, you’re not” as if I was putting myself down. The realisation that I’m an introvert has transformed the way I think about myself and for the better; by telling people I’m actually bigging myself up. My mum’s (and others’) reaction is perfect evidence of how society values the extrovert and why, as an aside, I think we need to keep it in mind with students we teach.
Me as an introvert
For me, the realisation I’m an introvert has explained a lot of things. For example, I like to spend a lot of time by myself – in the holidays if I don’t plan outings I could stay at home for the whole time not wanting to go and talk to anyone or deal with ‘people’. I think it’s an extension of Cain’s ‘If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled’. I recognise that it can build up and actually can be bad for my mental health so I do force myself to do things but it really can be forcing myself.
I also realise now that there’s a reason why I find social events exhausting and actually it’s good to give myself restorative space away from things. This recognition is an important one. Knowing that when I have to do something that’s going to put me ‘out there’ that I need to schedule in an opportunity to be away from it a bit too actually makes it easier. There are about 17/20 of the statements on Cain’s list that I would say are true for me but I don’t think that’s made me resigned to the fact I like to do things a certain way, I actually think it’s made me aware of how to cope with trying new things.
Why people are confused and think I’m not one
I can understand why people are surprised when I say I’m an introvert. I’m quite good at getting involved with things, I’ve presented at conferences, I quite like a bit of fancy dress, I’m quite vocal in discussions. All things that seem fairly extrovert. The thing is though I do these things as an introvert. I get involved with things I want to get involved with, I have presented at conferences where I know the set up, I like fancy dress I have control over*, I’m vocal in discussion with people I know and once I’ve got the measure of a situation – I’ll rarely jump in for the sake of it. The technicalities are perhaps subtle but I think for me it’s about controlling a situation.
Introversion and me
Control is key.
Put me in a situation I have no control over and I will panic. If I can find some control I can cope. Leading a project or volunteering to speak means I can control what’s happening. If I don’t have any control, familiarity is important. This can be as simple as obsessively planning a route on Google streetview or when doing a presentation I’ll start in a fairly scripted manner but by the end I’ll be more comfortable and chatty (not that I think this is unusual for people). I won’t start up a networking conversation but if someone talks to me I’m likely to be able to prattle on til the cows come home. It just takes time to get going sometimes.
*Fancy dress is one I’ve had a long-standing theory about. With fancy dress you actually have more control over a situation. My theory, probably starting as a teenager, is that if you are dressed bizarrely on purpose people can’t take the piss. If you’re dressed in something fashionable that you think makes you look hot-as and someone laughs their head off it is crushing. If you’ve covered yourself in glitter or you’re dressed as Bert Raccoon it’s quite clear you’re not expecting mainstream acceptance and you get away with more. It makes it a performance and you can control how people react to you.
I realise that defence mechanisms in extrovert situations are about control and I think introverts get quite good at them. Whether that’s faced with whole-group country dancing, sticking with a small group of friends to take the piss, or taking the plunge and muddling through til it’s over and controlling the come-down.
I think there are two types of extraversion – the one that you control and the one that’s controlled by others. The first you get to pick and turn on and off. If you want to join in you can and you have a good idea of the reaction it will have and how that will impact on you. The second is both controlled and judged by others – a step into the unknown. It may be this is short-lived and the situation quickly becomes familiar but it may be that the outcome is completely in the hands of others. I know it’s healthy for me to challenge myself and not get too comfortable but I’m more aware of my limitations now, how to deal with that and the fact that, actually, it’s OK.
I wrote a 2016 post last year and thought it might be nice to do the same again this year. I’ve been sitting on the vague headings of ‘personal’, ‘travel’ and ‘work’ for a couple of hours now and my frame of mind appears to be one of mild gloom which is making it bit more difficult. I’ll start with travel this time…
We’ve done a bit more travel than we meant to this year. It started with the planned trip to Stockholm for researchED in February – I got a new coat and everything. I love Sweden but have until now stuck to the south and my friend Cecilia. It was lovely and snowed (a teeny bit) and some good funtimes until Howard was poorly and I didn’t get a bus tour. Put a bit of a dampener on things but was still a nice trip and we’ll give it another go next year.
Last year we did big holidays in April and October and, whilst they were brilliant, I kind of missed having a summer trip so our plan this year was to have a week away at Easter and one in August. The first was our cheap package holiday to Mallorca (lots of reading by a pool and working through the all inclusive cocktail menu) and the second was a week in Lisbon (industrial tourism with some amazing art and sea otters). With the odd weekend away here and there, that was the whole plan. Then for various reasons we ended up in Cape Town in October. Still not quite sure how we ended up there (Expedia and Emerites had a hand in it but there was a slight element of ‘whim’)… We did so much in under two weeks but my favourite bits were a duck parade and cuddling penguins in actual real life.
Next year we really do think we’ll rein it in a bit. Long haul flights have turned into the only way we see recent films.
Plodded along this year really. We did some Ikea hacks for the living room and the decking in the back garden that we’re chuffed about.
We saw some awesome art this year including two of my favourites, Anselm Kiefer at White Cube and Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain. I squealed at all of it.
I embraced my inner Hufflepuff (official sorting off of the Pottermore website quiz) and I committed to a favourite post-One Direction member of One Direction (Niall).
As I predicted the academy conversion (and MAT formation) has meant extra website work and, not quite as predicted, this has meant a few things have been put on hold for the start of this academic year. Hopefully I’ll be done with setting things up in the new year and can get some other bits done. There have been moments where I feel that I’ve stalled with a lot of things but as a wise Creaby once told me ‘You’ve just got to keep plugging away at it’. I’m trying, honest, and Relay is on issue 17 now – I’m not even sure it gets read but I’m plugging.
Another thing that’s stalled for various reasons is What Matters (the thing with the University of Nottingham). My enthusiasm knows no bounds however and I’ll see if we can revive it in some way next year (I’m still using it in conference bios, I’ve got to try something).
My focus for next year involves some professional development bits, some writing bits and some researchED bits so far. I may be picking brains.
Who knows. There have been moments when I wasn’t sure we’d get to 2018 this year but unless the next few hours goes to pot we will. With all the shifting round at work I’ve no idea what route that’ll be taking so I’m going to make a conscious decision to keep going with the work things outside of work. I’ve met so many fabulous people this year and my brain has ideas.
We don’t have particularly crazy travel plans for next year either. As long as there’s a bus tour or 6 I’ll be dandy. It’s been an interesting year but it looks like we’ve made it. Here’s to the next one.
Working in a school makes you think about your own school days all the time – the subjects, the teachers, the classmates. Despite the fact it’s 20 years since I did my GCSEs I find lessons are frequently peppered with anecdotes from ‘when I was at school’. It’s not just working in schools of course, nostalgia’s big business and as I type this my Twitter feed’s exploding with suggestions for the best kids’ tv themes (this is what happens when Mr Bennett doesn’t have a researchED to get to of a weekend).
Last week I had an unexpected trip down memory lane as we were watching The Last Leg and all of a sudden I spotted one of my first year uni flatmates (the thrown together by luck-of-the-draw sort) appear in the audience. Right there, grinning with a Australian cork-hat plonked on her head. To be honest it was lovely to see her – and lovely to have the flurry of texting people to confirm it was her. Sometimes things hit you a little bit more than others though.
Michael was in my half of the year from year 7 and part of our friendship group. He went out with one of my best friends for a while, we had various lessons together, I have an official photo of us (and the rest of the Geology boys) at the 6th Form May Ball. In April, having not seen him for 18 years, his face was filling the television. He had been killed.
He was one of those people that is peppered throughout my whole school life. I don’t know what his politics were or where his life took him (apart from what’s been printed in newspapers). I don’t do Facebook or hunt people down and there are very few people I went to school with I’m still in touch with, but the constant little snippets of memories that come with working in a school mean that I realised I think about him a lot. I don’t know who he stayed in touch with but by the few people I’ve spoken to about this with I know there will have been ripples of contemplation and memories across the country – the globe even. But time passes.
Last week I had to cover in science for the morning and it sounds over the top but there was almost something emotional about it. The boys were doing an experiment I’ve done a thousand times using equipment and terminology that’s just ingrained. They needed to be reminded to do things that most of us would probably do automatically. For the rest of the day I was back to thinking about what was. Then this week it was in court and in the news again.
Of course, most of the time it’s little flicks of memory that attach themselves to a school day. I think this has a lot to do with the way we work – whether we want to give the pupils what we had or whether we want to ensure they get the opposite. In many ways working in schools means you don’t move on, but it also means memories are always close to the surface and sometimes they’re lovely.
This was a juicy one. Our PE teacher Joe came to see me the other day to ask if I took requests for looking at research – Research Lead 101 says yes I do, so I did. Apparently PE Edutwitter has been talking about cooperative learning for teaching PE. He wanted to know if there’s anything specifically that supports cooperative learning for SEMH pupils.
Certainly in regards to more academic subjects (the cooperative learning literature seems to use ‘mainstream classroom’ a lot but I’m adding SEND to the mix so don’t want to confuse things) direct instruction with occasional support from a bit of group work is something I’m happy with. In PE there’s obviously a lot of group work going on so it seemed like something that was worth a look at, particularly the opportunity to look at it from an SEMH/SEBD (the literature hasn’t caught up with SEMH yet) point of view.
The other thing that intregued me was that a few times now (I’ve no references, just vague memories) I’ve heard sports instruction – direct instruction, drilling, practice of individual skills rather than whole-game – as examples for what we should be doing in other subjects. Here is PE looking at the alternatives to doing that.
I thought it was a good opportunity to try out something I’d been mulling over and create a single-subject add-on to Relay. I’ve ended up creating ‘Relay FOCUS’ which in this instance looks at the research surrounding PE and SEBD/cooperative learning more broadly and then explores how they might work together. I’m not sure whether Joe was quite after what I’ve ended up with but I’m pleased with how it’s turned out and hopefully there’s more individual requests that I can work on.
I know it’s not perfect and it won’t cover the whole topic nearly enough, but it’s not intended as a formal piece of literature research and hopefully it’s enough to help Joe decide whether he want to explore the approach or whether it’s something he wants to look into more.
If you fancy having a glance, the pdf’s here: http://westburyschool.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Relay-FOCUS-Cooperative-Learning-and-PE.pdf
I’m going to say it. rED17 was the best one yet. There have been researchED conferences that rival of course, and the light-up pens have reached legendary status, but the atmosphere at this one was something different. Whether it was the venue, Chobham Academy, with its circular building that forced delegates to cross paths and talk as they found their next session, or whether on a more personal level I felt like I knew more people there, there was a buzz I’ve not sensed in the same way before.
Despite recent naysaying (and outright attacks) around researchED there appeared to be lots of people who put their hand up to say it was their first time so the great conspiracy doesn’t seem to have put them off. A noticeable feature was the conversations going on. In previous years dining room chatter was filled with overhearing people talk about the speakers they’d seen, in awe at who they were, and this year people seemed to be discussing the session and the ideas. Instead of the queue in the loos being all “I saw X, I love him. I’ve read all his books.” there was a definite vibe of “I went to see X talk about Y. That really fits in with what we’re trying to do with year 9”.
That’s not to say there weren’t ‘big hitters’ – 2017 attracted speakers such as Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb and Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman; but I wonder if one of the achievements, and I really mean achievements, of researchED over the past few years is to make it normal to see and hear these people in person and it’s taken away some of that awe – allowing the debate to take hold. Nick Gibb tried (I think. I’ll be generous for a moment) to stick up for researchED and its contributors by talking about those academics who hadn’t engaged as being stuck in their ‘ivory towers’. I have to say, I think a considerable amount of ivory-tower-placing comes from us, not them, and the more we do engage and interact the further down the tower they come. It works both ways.
I did go and see Nick Gibb’s session. To be honest I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t outraged either though and used it as a good opportunity to catch up on Twitter. I can be a crazy note-taker during these things but my word-for-word notes from this one read:
- Telling us about rED
- Embrace challenge and debate
- Answering the h8ters
- Ebacc, reading
- Reporting G4+
Tell me what’s new with that? The most impassioned bit was the first bit and that was pretty much reading Tom’s blog out loud (we’re at rED, and whether we agree or not, we’ve probably read Tom’s blog haven’t we?). The Schools Week article made it all sound punchy – you can view it here and decide for yourself.
So. To the good stuff!
My second session was Sam Sims with Katie Magee and Dhana Gorasia talking about Journal Clubs. Now, I do like a journal club and this was brilliant to go to as it was Sam’s 2014 session that boosted my explorations into journal clubs to what I’m doing now. The session explored a pilot study of journal clubs as a way to break behavioural habits around teaching and the theory behind this. The second half featured examples of how it had worked at Canons High School. I always make a point to stress that journal clubs aren’t a policy meeting and to avoid getting bogged down in how one paper could be used in school; Katie and Dhana showed how the two can work together with requests for papers on specific strategies and discussions that lead to implementation in practice. I liked the advice that journal clubs can be used to spot positive strategies and behaviours that are already happening in schools and enable these to be shared more widely. There seems to be a few exciting journal clubby things on the horizon, particularly with the Chartered College of Teaching, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and getting involved where I can.
Session 3 found me in the Britney-infused sardine can* that was David Weston’s session on Toxic schools. David explored how the school environment impacts on outcomes, looking a lot of things that Kev Bartle had talked about in York last summer. Coming from a school that has historically had a small number of staff with close relationships that is now expanding hugely, I’ve thought about this idea of trust and leadership a lot recently as the dynamics are being forced to shift. David took us through various biases to recognise and avoid (aided by occasional Britney) with some pointers to take back. His presentation’s here if you fancy it and I’m looking forward to any follow up sessions involving late nineties/early noughties classics with a dance routine.
It was me after lunch – good turn out, Journal Club info here – www.edujournalclub.com
I always find that once my own session is done I can sort of float through the rest of the day without the weight of it (literally, lugging biscuits is HARD) but it does make my notes a bit more relaxed. I went to see Martin Robinson give a warning about Growth Mindset. It does concern me that this is a bit of a bandwagon that looks fancy and evidence informed so it was good to pick up some ammunition for the time it descends on us here (and Martin was lovely, obvs). I went to an Institute of Ideas conversation about Mental Health in schools that was interesting. I agree with points that if we are over-cautious we risk medicalising ‘normal’ responses from pupils and found this idea that we have a ‘cultural script of fragility’ hit a point too. However I’m in a school where our pupils have (by definition) a range of mental health issues and I can see the problems of under-diagnosis and lack of intervention too. A teacher’s job is to teach but they’re with us a considerable amount of time – quite often the only stable time they have, and we have a role in safeguarding them too.
As has become normal at these things one of the best sessions was hosted by a local boozer (and a proper boozer it was too) where I had some great conversations with lovely people. Some about education, some about shoes, some about the Midsomer Murders Tour… I’ve stepped in to defend researchED a couple of times recently and I think we all know there are people who aren’t going to be swayed either way. It was, as always, a diverse day with rushing round behind the scenes that looked ripple-free from the outside. The familiar company was great, the new faces were also great, and I was left feeling overwhelmingly positive (even after the karaoke) about all the opportunities we have to do great things. If people choose not to engage with researchED then I really hope they find something they do like because it’s a shame to miss out.