Published on October 13, 2014
What Really Matters
My blogs prior to September 2014 were written when I earned my living giving inset. I suspect I am part of a very small band of people who once earned their living from giving inset but who then have returned to full time teaching. I may be wrong.
These older blogs were written at a time when I used to regularly meet teachers who were often angry, sad and confused. They often felt confined, forced to teach in a way that was, in fact, an anathema to them. They would shake their heads at the fads that would come and go. They would beat their chests at the gimmicks that would wax and wane. They would bend over backwards to please the powers that be.
I met happy teachers too! Of course! The teachers who were told by their SLT that they were “outstanding”, they were happy. They felt a lot of pressure to find the next “game changer du jour” but they were happy-ish.
Of course there were lots of teachers who were told they were “good” and they came to me looking for a new game or an acronym or magic formula that would win over their SLT in their next observation so they too could be – “Outstanding”!!!
Anyway, here’s a blog, maybe a bit anachronistic now, have a read, see what you think. As ever, it could be just some bloke ranting into the ether or, maybe, just maybe, there might be some food for thought buried in my not so elegant prose.
Someone suggested I write a blog on “objectives” and I thought, “Hey, why not?” So here, goes…
This blog is, on some levels, meant as a bit of advice to new teachers. On other levels it’s a commentary on the nod-a-long conformity that is so often encouraged in teaching. It’s an attempt to question “good practice”. Cos, you know, very often, “good practice” really isn’t that good.
So much in education, that is, so many of the fads and fashions that come and go, they never arrive empty-handed. They arrive, not only with the fanfare that says, “This is the panacea you’ve all been waiting for!”, but they arrive with the expectation that we adopt the latest “magic formula” without ever actually questioning its value, its roots or its learning impact.
So many of the “must-do” miracles of modern pedagogic orthodoxy don’t leave a lot of room for discussion or independent thought – it seems to me.
“Shut up and do as you’re told!” prevails in many schools, I’d suggest. That’s not teachers talking to kids. No! Perish the thought that adults should tell kids what to do.
“Do as you’re told, fit in, never stand out if you want to be outstanding.” That’s more the mantra that teachers are encouraged to adopt to ensure conformity.
Of course, if you “do as your told”, if you “tow the line”, if you never “rock the boot”, if you dutifully recycle the nod-a-long “thinking-lite” soundbites that permeate education orthodoxy, you’ll soon be recognised as “outstanding”.
In an avalanche of green, amber and red, in a tsunami of lolly sticks, in a blizzard of independent brain-based multi-sensorial interactive 21st C personalised deep learning – you’ll be praised to the hilt.
Which is a shame. Because praise is addictive. And, even if you’re being praised for teaching by star sign, delivery through mime or, better still, facilitating through stealth – praise brings with it a buzz and we like that buzz of acceptance.
It’s very easy to get sucked into the concept of “if others like it, it must be good stuff”. See, you’re probably working on the premise that those observing you have given this stuff some serious thought. And maybe they have! In some schools you’ll be observed by some great teachers who are critical, challenging, supportive, sharp and insightful. They’ll tell you some stuff that’ll maybe smart a little and they’ll tell you some stuff that’ll make you really question every hackneyed essential “good practice” Pavlovian learned response embedded via not good enough ITT and CPD.
That’s brill! If you’re working with teachers that think – you’re in a great place. Teachers should never be afraid to question “good practice”. Teachers should be constantly analysing and dissecting “good practice” based upon the evidence they see before them daily. Teachers should be constantly asking…
What do my kids find hard? Why?
How can I teach differently so the hard bits become accessible?
How can I do that without dumbing down?
How can kids hide in my lessons?
How can I pre-empt the most common errors through precise and concise teaching?
How can I convince them that success in this subject is just a set of habits that need lots of practice?
How can I make those success habits explicit and ensure they weave through every lesson?
They’re the sort of questions teachers should be asking themselves – I’d suggest. But instead a lot of teachers are encouraged to focus upon…
How can I demonstrate “engagement”?
How can I get some group work in here?
How could I include mini-whiteboards?
How can I incorporate technology?
How do I make the lesson objectives fit the SLT prescribed format?
None of those questions really get to the heart of teaching, I’d suggest. None of those questions help teachers better understand themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, areas for development. None of those questions focus the teacher on the kids in front of them – not really.
Those questions are about embodying, demonstrating, replicating, parroting “good practice”. Those questions don’t encourage teachers to reflect on the kids in front of them or on their own potential. I think that’s a shame.
If change is going to start anywhere, it’s going to have to be with the adult in the room, the teacher, who gets to understand himself and his vision and the little and big habit changes he needs to make to really impact upon learning.
So learning objectives typed onto a powerpoint, following the prescribed format, maybe with some snazzy font and zingy effects – that might be “good practice” but it’s not great teaching or learning – I’d suggest.
If you like, or rather, if your SLT like, give your objectives in the “All, Most, Some” format. If SLT like WILF and WALT, if they salivate over EBI, if they want objectives in the form of questions, if they love SOLO – go on then, feed them the thing that they crave. That’s the game.
But I worry about this imperative to please observers at all costs. There’s a real danger that “the observer is king” mantra encourages crowd-pleasing conformist, mechanistic, lobotomised teaching, robotic unthinking teaching, the kind of teaching by numbers that corresponds perfectly to an SLT designed tick list but doesn’t necessarily let the teacher grow and develop their potential.
I guess my point is: lesson objectives – they don’t need to be written to be at the heart of everything you do. Just because they’re written, copied down and referred to, as per prescribed procedure, at designated lesson intervals, that doesn’t mean the teacher has really asked the important questions about what holds kids back or pushes kids forward.
So, new teachers, nod your head, do as your told, tick the boxes, it’s the game and, besides, nobody likes a smartarse. But when you’re praised for your capacity to follow the party line, to swallow the sound bite, to nod-a-long, just remember that, one day you’ll move to another school and the definitive unequivocal “truth” that seemed set in stone in your first school, well in your next school they’ll laugh at it, as they’ve moved on to “the next big thing”.
Take the panaceas with a pinch of salt, take a moment to think about what you really believe in. What’s your vision of a brilliant lesson? What would you want a fly on the wall to see? Try working towards that – that’s my suggestion.