Disclaimer (usually written at the bottom of a text but I’d like to be abundantly clear from the start): in no way will this writing necessarily reflect what the speakers meant at all. They are merely my resulting thoughts and ideas, with hopefully a little clarity of the speakers’ words thrown in between.
One of my very favourite times of the year had arrived- The Times Education Festival at Wellington College. If you’re a teacher and you’ve never been to this two day event then what possible excuse could you have?
The grounds are awe-inspiring and the weather is usually wonderful. Lunch by the lake is one of the most tranquil times I’ve experienced in a while… and then there are the workshops and talks. It’s got to be some of the best CPD going; with such a huge choice and at a very reasonable price too! There’ll be speakers present to confirm your own morals and values in the classroom, as well as those who will challenge them; and a healthy challenge is good! A Katie Hopkins shaped challenge on the other hand, is a challenge none of us needed or asked for.
Having just secured a leadership position (of sorts), I started off in a room that was going to look at leadership. It seemed like the sensible choice to make. The words ‘carpe diem’ were on the screen and my radar twitched. I felt this wouldn’t be for me. Not because I don’t seize the day but cliche much? And the atmosphere in the room didn’t suggest any seizing would be taking place! I had flashes of last year when I had sat in a stiflingly hot room listening to speakers I shouldn’t have been listening to, watching the tweets flashing before me and realising that there was somewhere else I should have been.
I looked at my colleague furtively and we made a dash for it. Lesson learnt. I was not going to sit and be bored this time. WIN!
This was THE best decision of my day and I completely believe in fate by the way; we were destined to be at the talk from Chris Waugh.
He was speaking about handing choice over to our students and I was all for that. He spoke of the magic of the classroom and his passion for teaching couldn’t have been more clear than if he had been jumping up and down on a space hopper whilst waving his arms furiously and shouting ‘I love my job THIS much!’
He was brilliant! And to use a question from a later speaker- What is it like to be a student in your classroom? Well that’s one for me to ponder for myself in a few paragraphs time but I immediately knew for certain what it would be like to be a student in Chris’s classroom: confidence filled, valued and excited about learning.
He summed up a problem posed by teaching in that the kids in our classroom don’t turn into logic in the end. They so often can’t be figured out. And this is probably one of the main problems that keeps us all in teaching; trying to figure these young people out.
Some of his thoughts:
Teaching is a craft- a continuous working towards mastery.
We create the conditions whereby things can happen.
‘The authenticity of the learning experience is what allows us to transcend the mundane.’
Students place trust in us to make the right decisions for their learning; once we have that, they’ll do just about anything we ask of them. Chris said that one of the most depressing things he’s seen was students being asked to write an email- on paper- with a pen. The trust they have in us (and carrying out such tasks as a result of this trust) should be respected and we need to use it for the good of their learning.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things he said was that we are not preparing students for ‘the real world’. If we are, then what does that say about what we’re doing now? That the experiences they have with us aren’t real? Aren’t important? That their life now is just a preparation for their future? Never has one statement had more power to transform education than that.
Chris has created such fantastic online spaces for all of his staff and students to use. Each class and teacher has spaces and everything that happens in the classroom is shared online- so that it opens up discussion, among many other things. Someone from the audience interrupted at this point to ask, how do you get all your staff on board with this? Chris replied quite simply, ‘Make them want it!.’ Make it so good that they couldn’t imagine not having it; that they need to be a part of it.
Chris then had several tales of things that happened in his classroom that had got him really excited.
One of his students had written on his own blog that Chris should bring in a camera for them to use: when our students start telling us what to do then we’ve really won!
He shared his approach to a writing task where students had been asked to reply to a newspaper article that had been written by a real person with a real Twitter handle and so a real debate about the subject ensued. Rather than some imagined one.
He then showed us a poem that one of his students had written; he displayed the comments that the student had received. One from Chris, one from a peer, one from another teacher on Twitter, one from a lecturer in a University who was going to be using his poem (which obviously made the kid feel like a poet!)… and then one from his dad. Which almost made me cry like a baby.
If you’re not encouraging students to share their work in a way that other people, especially the people that matter the most to them, can see it then you and they are missing out on a whole host of learning conversations and confidence-building moments that also serve to make their learning more effective and their lives richer.
It was at this moment when Chris’s talk stepped into a whole other level of powerful. I’m going to skip forwards to Tom Sherrington’s talk and although he’s doing great things in his school, his classroom and with his learners, really great… These two people were speaking very different languages. Tom spoke very much within the realms of teaching and learning and schools. Chris has moved to a place where the windows and doors have been thrown open and the walls blown up.
He spoke about how each of the English teachers in his school, design a course the way they want it (they don’t all deliver the same things in the same way) and the students vote with their feet. The teachers pitch their courses to students and then the boys apply to be in the class that appeals to them the most. The teachers describe the texts they’ll study, the approaches they’ll take and the level of challenge that the students can expect. He assured the audience member who had asked about uneven class sizes that generally the students were as diverse as the teachers and all chose different things. If a teacher wasn’t getting many (any) applications to their class then they’d go back and look at redesigning their course. If the teachers felt that a student would do better in another class with another teacher, studying a different programme then they sat down and had this conversation. In the following year, they apply again and they may move onto someone else’s class. A scary moment if you lose all your students at this point…But it’s probably a good thing for them to move on; to experience someone and something new.
He then declared one of the most powerful things I’ve heard in a long time and, like all great CPD, me and a colleague (who I’m so glad was there to hear it with me), decided that we’d have an early lunch later and discuss how we could make it happen. You’ll find out more about that in a little while!
Our students need to make decisions about their futures that are full of hope and ambition and I think Chris has some of the answers about how we can do it. Pity his passion and enthusiasm can’t be bottled and sold…
My colleague then decided we should go and meet Chris, which essentially involved us saying how much we loved him! We then talked outside the room and he said he was going to see Tom Sherrington so we all walked over together. It was then that we stumbled onto a little adventure (Chris’s words, not mine!), I said I knew where we were going.
Now it wasn’t these people’s fault- they just don’t know me well enough… Yet. But they soon did. If I EVER tell you that I know where I’m going. I don’t. I never do. And this is a lesson I have NEVER learnt. This is a mistake that I will continue to make for all of eternity. If you ever meet me, DO NOT follow me if I say that I know where I’m going- however certain I sound!
We ended up around the back of a building. I remembered doing this last time I was at Wellington, so we worked our way around to the front. But it was the theatre, not the old gym: completely the wrong building!
We eventually arrived at Tom Sherrington’s talk and had to sit at the back of the ‘old gym’- yes it was old but it certainly wasn’t a gym! An ex-gym perhaps!
As I saw Tom present his image of a skateboard, I realised this was a talk I had seen him do some of at Pedagoo London but I knew he was doing good things so I stayed to listen anyway.
Skateboarding lessons don’t happen because they’d be crap! Can you imagine students being lined up in rows and taught how to skateboard? Some learning just needs to be left to happen, without the current definitions of how learning should take place- but maybe this was my Chris Waugh mind making the interpretation. I think skateboarding lessons could happen- if we remove the parameters around what could be considered a ‘lesson.’
A lot of students’ learning takes place outside of the classroom- do we just accept this or do we take Chris’s approach and give students the opportunity to class the classroom as the real world and then just as much learning happens there?! Chris’s stuff had been powerful for me. It’s not because Tom’s wasn’t but for that moment in time, it was precisely what I must have needed.
I saw Hywel speak at last year’s conference and that had lead me to think that I shouldn’t go and see him again. But then I remembered how brilliant he had been. He was the first person I’d seen, on the very first day of that conference and he was the one, perhaps like Chris this year, who had lead my thinking for the rest of the conference. Perhaps that’s what to expect- that the first thing you see will influence your thinking for the remainder. Maybe something for us to consider in our lessons? Or maybe it’s just a complete coincidence…
Anyway, I am so glad that I went because it was truly fantastic! He was talking a lot of sense about learning; in terms of creativity, and ‘imagineering.’ Hywel is one of those characters who you can’t even begin to describe to others. He’s northern, he’s almost a caricature of himself (if that makes any sense at all) and he has such wonderful wit and warmth about him.
When I got home last night, after realising I had lost all my notes, I searched online for him. There’s loads. I watched some clips on YouTube and I showed my partner; I wanted him to roar with laughter like we had. I wanted him to feel as inspired as we had in Hywel’s presence. He said, ‘Hannah, I think it’s a teacher thing.’ Oh god. It’s happened. I’ve finally become one of ‘them’. Perhaps I have been for a while but it had taken until now for me to realise it.
He used pictures to pin the curriculum onto.
He talked about wardrobes as entrances into Narnia.
He asked some questions:
What’s it like to be a student in your classroom?
What would the plaque/motto be on your wall?
I said I would return to my answer for one of these questions in a few paragraphs time. I need more time and thinking space to conclude this. A blog for another day (I know, I’m just a coward!)
We then took an early lunch (because I’d just be going to see something because I thought I should.)
We sat by the lake with our beautiful food, on a very sunny day and listened to a student (presumably from Wellington College) singing and playing a guitar… in a really nice way. Not in one of those, ‘you’re really starting to grate on me’ kinds of ways that guitars and signing so often is. I think he may have had actual talent.
It was then that we discussed and started planning for a Town Meeting. This was the idea from the two days that has stuck. As soon as Chris said it, I knew that we needed it. The College are currently rethinking the curriculum in big ways and what a Town Meeting will provide us with, is the opportunity to redesign and reconfigure using all of the right sources of information. We’ll invite members of the local community, voluntary organisations, MPs and employers as well as students due to start with us in September and their parents. What we need now, is to be able to pull it off in just over a week. Unfortunately, when I get an idea like this, and I can see how it might influence all that we do, I have to engage with it: by any means necessary. My thing is ‘making things happen.’ The timescale is tight as we need to do it before staff go off on holiday but I HAVE to do it. Watch this space!
After lunch, and after Reading College students had won bronze in the making of cupcakes contest, we dove into a tent with a dark, star filled fabric ceiling.
This was essentially a man, making us very jealous about the amazing trip around the world that he had been on; visiting 18 countries and looking at the learning in each. There were three main points he found as themes across these countries:
Context is King (rather than content)
I related this to the curriculum and realised that in this case, the content is the curriculum and the context is the community; we needed to include the community if we were going to get anywhere with the content… Or perhaps this was all part of me trying to persuade myself that I was doing the right things!
In his case, he referenced schools that were using kindles; perhaps a tool we might consider as not as great as perhaps a tablet but in their context, where books were difficult to get and be able to afford, kindles provided the solution; where families could be exposed to reading (and therefore learning too) because the children were taking them home.
Digital is a catalyst for change
Will we use technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practices or do we try to achieve more with it?
High Tech High sounds incredible and I need to research more; with students conducting project based learning across various areas of the curriculum so they get maximum exposure to a range of subjects whilst integrating all of the necessary skills and learning outcomes.
Environment is also transformative. I don’t remember what this was about. My note-making got bad.
I’d like to look into his book perhaps, as he described the way in which content; text and photos, through the use of technology, will have the capacity to be updated. So you buy one edition and as a result, will get access to all future editions too. Is this the future of publishing?
And something that appeared on a classroom board in one of the images:
I just had to witness Dylan William in action, he is god of AfL after all.
This debate didn’t meet my expectations. Not because each speaker wasn’t making perfectly valid points but because I didn’t get any answers. I like a good answer. They don’t necessarily have to be given by the speaker but I enjoy being taken on a journey where I’m able to explore possible answers for myself. Having said that, looking through my notes, I’ve recorded some interesting soundbites from the discussion (rather uselessly, I didn’t note down who said what!)
All of AfL presupposes that we know what learning is. What if learning isn’t visible and we can’t see it?
What we see in lessons is performance rather than learning.
Learning is far more complex than is indicated by the idea of what outstanding teaching and assessment looks like.
Success criteria has been used incorrectly in that we replace effective modelling in class with three bullet points for students to tick.
The hidden lives of learners- regardless of the arrangement of classrooms- students talk to each other a lot- and far more than teachers thought. 80% of their feedback is from peers and 80% of it is wrong!
Our students are learning things just long enough to pass the exam- to get over a hurdle.
Unless something is retained long term, then it is useless.
People don’t get rid of misconceptions- they just learn not to activate them.
Students prefer a crystal clear straightforward explanation but they aren’t successful in activating schemata and therefore they’re not the best thing to give.
Peer teaching is powerful in a small range of circumstances- it’s a great tool but we are still facilitator and we still have responsibility to guide what’s happening. Don’t use it unless we’re able to monitor it.
Dylan William is a fan of teacher talk- because it’s better quality than teacher talk.
If a student isn’t struggling then they aren’t learning.
You need to know your students and they need to trust you- you need to know when to push them and when not to. These social aspects to learning are often missed in studies of AfL.
Technology won’t change things as much as we think.
What am I wanting the students to learn?
What activities are likely to engage them and lead onto this?
How might technology help?
If we’re asking questions in this order then it’s far better than the other way around- where technology will be leading it all!
Any old fool can entertain students and/or stand in front of them and tell them what they’re going to learn.
Dylan William- maybe some of the things we’re teaching students are useless but the things they’ll learn from it, perhaps even through the experience of resisting it, will be worth it.
Getting things wrong and being corrected is so important- we must foster environments that generate this.
Don’t encourage students and prevent them from struggling too much but it’s a careful balance between challenging them and supporting them to learn so that neither one becomes too much.
The main problem I had from all of the things that were said was David’s assertion that we choose to believe things are right because we like them- they fit with what we think and they appeal to us. He suggested this was dangerous and I’d be inclined to agree somewhat. But isn’t this unavoidable? Surely we’d tie ourselves in knots trying to consider all of this- trying to figure out what is right, whether we like it or not, involves us separating our sense of what we like from our sense of what is right and I personally think that’s an impossibility. Perhaps I’m just nto functioning at that level yet.
Although I focused on the above thought immediately after leaving the room, I realise now that there was more to be taken away. This is why I take notes!
Facebook and selfies- we become teenagers for an hour!
We met with another colleague outside and they made me take a selfie. I don’t really ‘do’ selfies- it’s weird- just take pictures of one another! Anyway, we then decided we’d go into a Facebook session. And we were bored and got annoyed. Sorry Facebook, you’re just not the learning tool that we want.
It was argued by a student on film that, ‘you’re checking it regularly so you can passively revise as a result. Excuse me, what is passive revision exactly? I’d hazard a guess that a very small % of learning for an exam takes place in such a passive, social, distraction-filled-environment; especially where the driving purpose is not to revise.
I don’t say this because I’m against social media or technology for learning but because I prefer Google+. It’s an environment that students didn’t already use for a different purpose; we’ve set-up their accounts and created the communities for our classrooms- where learning will take place. The ground rules are just like those we’d make in our physical classroom space and it’s easier to keep it this way because students weren’t already using it for social reasons. They can now be actively revising rather than than partaking in ‘passive revision.’
A concern was raised from one of the audience members about bringing Facebook into the classroom- from an ethical perspective. I wonder why, as educators, we might be seeking to protect students from the outside world? My argument would be to bring the outside world into the classroom as often as we can and educate them in its use and ways of working instead because, let’s face it, as soon as the College or school day is over, then they’re being exposed to and engaged with it in any case. I perceive more value in teaching them how to be safe in this world than shielding them from it.
After an inordinately long wait, he finally appeared.
This session was far more aggressive than last year; especially when we got to the questions.
There was a great deal of heckling at phonics in primary schools and when asked about levels.
There was a really badly worded question (rant) from a teacher who had a comment to make about class sizes and teachers’ workloads.
She said that there wasn’t time to do the planning, mark their work and give them all proper support and differentiation. All of this might have been perfectly valid until she said that there wasn’t time to learn all of their names. I couldn’t believe that she’d just said that!
There was a cracking question at the end from a student about BTEC qualifications- why are we giving these students exams to do?
Gove said that it was because schools and the old qualifications failed the students and the new qualifications will make learners more employable.
I’d argue that it’s only what happens within the classroom and the teaching that can enable students to be more employable. Not whether they sit an exam or submit coursework (neither of which exists in a job). I’d also argue that the FE sector are paying the price for schools who have abused BTECs for their own gain (not all schools I hasten to add and perhaps some FE providers too). But that’s like giving detention to the whole class because a couple of students did something wrong.
I got home at about 10pm and I was feeling fragile. My mind was still buzzing considerably but I had fears. Huge fears. I have a clear vision of the teacher I want to be and I think exists inside of me but still, after five years in the classroom, I don’t think she’s fully formed yet. Perhaps this is normal but this, combined with the pressure to plan our Town Meeting and my new job role (yet to officially begin and more on that later) had left me feeling overwhelmed.
The alarm was set, the light clicked off and so it would begin again tomorrow…
I awoke this morning feeling far more positive. I had written a re-draft of the letter to go out to our community regarding our Town Meeting and I’d re-done my to do list for the coming week. My mind was clearer and the whirling fears of the previous day had settled. My notes for today are even less coherent than yesterday’s so please excuse the possible fragmentation and confusion.
First on the agenda was Tom Bennett. An obvious choice. He made a lot of sense.
A lot of the discussion we have is about how we teach and how children learn, which is all valid, but behaviour is a barrier to learning. Behaviour has been the number one problem in schools; recognised through the variety of work he’s been doing in schools over the years.
Two schools within a school
One is the high status member of staff who’s been there for a while. They have a lighter timetable because of management responsibilities and they therefore have more time to meet people and deal with issues. These people, to other teachers, appear to have the ability to perform Jedi mind-tricks of some sort.
The other are the newer teachers, supply and cover teachers: people without levels of status. People teaching the full timetable and the bottom sets and the big classes and in possession of no time.
Alternate dimensions within the same school, will continue to exist until these people talk to and appropriately support one another.
Schools that have this kind of problem yet insist that they have good behaviour in their school, are the same as a person who has gangrene in one hand and says that they’re well. However small the % of bad behaviour in your school, it still exists.
Praise is great but if there are no sanctions then we can’t get far.
We need to think ourselves in charge of the classroom- otherwise we won’t be.
Often, a teacher’s problem with this comes from their lack of security about having the authority to tell people what to do. To a certain extent, this attitude needs to be applauded; we need to be far more worried when there is a teacher who can’t wait to assert their authority and hand out detentions left, right and centre.
Learners need us to be the adult in the room. If we’re looking after them then we need to be in charge of them.
Behaviour and academic expectations come on day one- and they’re upheld for all of the time afterwards. This is the key and the only key to unlocking the door to good behaviour. Don’t apologise for using the first lesson of the year for this.
Tom declared that as teachers, we shouldn’t want to meet students in the street years later who say, ‘I should have worked harder.’ We should want them to be able to say, ‘yeah, I worked hard, didn’t I?!’
Compliance and then independence- they need to be able to follow your instructions first before they’re able to explore their independence.
In the end, it’s kindest for us to draw lines in the sand and set boundaries.
Routine is the magic ingredient in the classroom. Some people forget this and spend 30 years living the same day over and over again.
Tom gave advice to build bridges at the start of the year: call home and introduce yourself. Give parents details of how they can get in touch with you. Then ring when things go well, as well as when they’re not going so great.
It’s everybody’s responsibility to maintain good behaviour in a school or College. The children see us as the College/school. As a collective. Not as individuals.
The final two things that stood out for me:
What a lie it is when trainee teachers are told that if we plan a good lesson, the students will behave.
Giving students beyond 2nd, 3rd and 4th chances is cruelty- we’re setting the snooze alarm for life and when it happens to them, it will bite them in the ass!
I was very excited to see David speak as I had emailed him recently and even though he couldn’t help on the day of our conference, he was very gracious, kind and helpful in other ways.
Highly effective teaching can enable a disadvantaged student make three times as much progress as when the teaching is poor. (The Sutton Trust)
Hanushek and Rivkin- teaching experience and improvement increases over a period of 5 years, after this point, we reach a plateau because everything’s going well, we become more and more bogged down by the system and improvement stops.
Teachers have typically experienced very passive CPD with very little active learning taking place.
David gives an effective analogy about dieting and eating programmes that are watched- how many of us actually embed or transform our activity as a result? It’s probably the same limited percentage in the case of CPD.
Something which has certainly begun to guide our practice already and shall continue to do so, was that for CPD to truly be effective, there needs to be 30-50 hours of thinking time and doing, planning, observing and reflecting time. Rather than lots of little bits of things that are lovely and we agree with but that make little to no impact on our practice.
We learn when we’re motivated to pay attention. We’re motivated to remain resilient and put in the time and effort to reflect, practice and seek new knowledge.
Helping teachers help themselves is the best thing a leader can do. Just like students, we can drag them through or we can empower them to improve themselves.
In a brilliant teacher’s classroom, 80% of their activity is their core practice and the other 20% is the sparkle on top.
Great transformation unsettles you and changes what you do.
In a great school, there is a strong level of consistency across departments.
‘Powerful professional development helps children succeed and teachers thrive.’
I went and said hello afterwards and I’m glad I did; he seemed as lovely as he did in his emails.
After lunch, it was debate time!
We’d wanted to see Katie Hopkins earlier on in the day but her room was small and it was packed. Turns out everyone else had also gone to fulfill their need to feel a bit (majorly) angry.
As we had been sitting outside the room earlier, we had heard laughter and huge rounds of applause. Was it really teachers in this room? If so, then I was worried. I can only hope that what she was saying wasn’t her usual pile of elitist, obnoxious, prejudiced drivel. If it was and they were teachers, then the education is in a worse state than I imagined.
They each began by laying out their views on education .
Katie Hopkins’s views were, of course, elitist. That’s all I’m going to say about her because I don’t wish to give her any more airtime than she’s already been given. What’s slightly reassuring about this woman being included in this conference is that at least she doesn’t really believe half of the things she says. She undoubtedly says it all for the sole reason of getting a reaction, which means we can fear her far less.
David Starkey stated that he felt social mobility as well as grammar schools are important. There’s a place for really rigorous education but it’s mad to try and give that to everyone as there are different types of intelligence and people.
Claire Fox said that every child is entitled to be taught an arts curriculum until they’re 16. She would rather they sit in academic lessons before they’re shoved into vocational and skills things. Education is not just about employability. Jobs should be forgotten and we should just educate young people. Educate them about Mozart and even if they decide they like Mozart later, at least they’ve been introduced.
Keith Vaz said he is the son of a teacher and took the easy option of praising the UK’s education system and made the teacher-pleasing comment that the profession of teaching and teachers should be valued far more than they are at present.
He did make the very valid point that education hasn’t really embraced multi-culturalism.
I stopped taking notes after this because it all became way too entertaining and absorbing. None of them had the answer and the question wasn’t really discussed. It should have been titled, ‘what does your perfect education system look like, according to your own warped morals and agenda?’
We then headed to see, ‘Who should decide what students learn?’
We hoped this might provide some food for thought about our Town Meeting. Unfortunately I felt yet again that the topic billed wasn’t really the one being discussed.
I enjoyed a lot of the conversation happening but failed to take a lot of it in and make it stick because it was warm and late and Johnny Ball had said something that made me want to scream. My heart was pounding very loudly in my ears and I felt a little sick. He had said that it was a low aim to want to be a plumber. I knew I was going to have to tackle him on this one.
As we left, I said to my colleagues that I would have to speak to him about it and I’m really proud of myself. He made the valid point that actually, it was more the level of ambition in the student that he was speaking about: that these young students had reached the end of school, arrived at College and felt that they were picking a vocation because they wouldn’t be able to do anything else. I’m all for raising ambition but perhaps what’s more tragic is that these vocations have this stigma attached to them in the first place.
Johnny Ball did redeem himself in his consideration of lifelong learning: No-one has ever filled a brain.
This year has been powerful once again. I was exposed to new ideas and perspectives and some not so new. I have had the opportunity to reflect and refresh and I’m ready to tackle the big challenges that face me in the next few weeks. The problem I must try to find a solution to is how I might achieve such valuable reflective moments, without having to wait another year.
It is this coming Saturday (28th June) that many will hopefully have such experiences of wonderful CPD at #ReadTL14 at Reading College. PS. If you’re not yet signed up, there’s still time! I’m sure that won’t provide quite as many opportunities for calm reflection end enjoyment but it’ll be a chance for me to experience CPD in a different way; from a conference organiser’s perspective! I’m entering a whole new realm this year and the excitement levels are a little greater than my fear levels now thanks to this weekend.
writer, reader, walker, thinker
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