Teaching can sometimes be an incredibly lonely job. It can stifle creativity and drive the brightest, most optimistic of teachers to downtrodden distraction. We teach in teams, but most teachers who face a full teaching timetable experience a gruelling war of attrition alone in the classroom, surfacing for air briefly at lunchtime. It is hard to reflect or think about how to do something differently when you have thirty students baying hungrily for your attention.
After lesson planning, a five period day and a liberal dose of marking, to keep up an intelligent conversation can be a monumental challenge, never mind deeply analysing our teaching practice. Most teachers, after a long day, want to talk about their teaching like they want a cavernous hole in the head. Yet, this is the very dialogue about practice that sparks genuine school improvement.
We do, of course, manage to survive in our jobs by lumping ourselves in the middle of the safety of the pack. Like penguins, we lurch back into the comforting warmth of the staffroom after the chill of a bad lesson. We talk. We talk to share our woes, pains and pleasures. Still, too often our insecurities mean we dare not share what went well.
The English disease is to treat such talk as arrogance. It simply isn’t the norm. Having a moan is fine, talking up our strengths – sharing ideas that worked brilliantly is viewed with scepticism. Therefore we too often carry on with our old habits of teaching, rarely making changes for the better.
What we must do is change the norm. The norm needs to become talking about learning and teaching with confidence. We need to share our passion and our practice. We need to share our failures, but more openly share our successes too.
Of course, over lunch we may prefer to gossip (sometimes a moan is good for us!), but school and middle leaders need to engineer as much quality time as possible in the working week to help make learning and teaching the discussion topic of choice.
Last week I posted John Hattie’s six aspects of schools that we need to develop based on his comprehensive research – see here. One salient point was this:
“We need to create climates where quality teaching is the subject of conversation at all times.”
It prompted this question:
“How often is teaching the discussion topic in your school?”
This got me thinking about more questions to ask on this topic. Here are my six of the best:
1. How do we find the time – and the money in an era of austerity – for teachers to genuinely reflect upon their practice on a continuous basis and make learning and teaching the topic of conversation?
2. What if we replaced judgemental lesson observations (whose accuracy is roundly critiqued here) with systematic coaching observations, peer observation, or ‘lesson study’, to make learning and teaching the topic of discussion?
3. What if continuous professional development was organised so that teachers could develop their practice to genuinely suit their professional development needs and personalise accordingly? How would it link securely to performance development in an age of accountability?
4. What if we could find the money to make research into their subject knowledge and their pedagogical knowledge a genuine part of the weekly experience of a busy teacher? Can we create a structure for this to happen to make learning and teaching the topic of discussion?
5. What structures best connect schools so that staff can share best practice and talk about learning and teaching across schools as a norm?
6. How do we get teachers to want to make learning and teaching the topic of discussion?
Helping teachers get better is an incredibly difficult process. I don’t have the answers of course, only questions, but collectively, in our schools, we do have the answers. In a time when budgets are being slashed, it is important to be creative and find answers to the key to school improvement – teacher improvement. Answers on a postcard please…or more practically in the comments below!
How about a man who can and did?
I do also happen to know a man who does know some answers…
Do spend a couple of minutes to watch this video of Sir Tim Brighouse – who helped orchestrate the successful ‘London Challenge‘ initiative that clearly did help teachers improve. He explains how teacher talk and butterflies of improvement can have transformational effects in schools.