The only guarantee you get from the job of teaching is that you will learn and fail. The trick – well, doing a little more learning than failing, whilst trying to learn when we do fail.
Of course, human nature abhors loss, mistakes and failure. School teachers are no different. This is compounded by the fact that we exist in a school system that abhors and punishes mistakes too. If we are honest, as teachers and school leaders, we can go through years in schools without admitting our mistakes and sharing our failures.
I’ve tried really hard to be a good teacher and leader. The more I have learned (more recently in my career I have engaged with a wealth of research evidence to expose my near-ignorance), the better I am at recognising my failures. Do I share them much? Well, I’m only human!
So yes, regrets – I have a few. In truth, far too many for a blog post. But it is good to share our failures and regrets, so that we can better learn from them. In the spirit of sharing, here is a just a few of my teacher-regrets.
Grading lesson observations with impunity. As a middle leader I did my best leading a large department of English teachers. After a decade in teaching, being labelled and graded many times myself, I thought I could do a bit of lesson grading myself. Confident in my judgements, I’d grade away. Knowing the undue planning and stress of my colleagues, I’d attempt to be nice, but the annual single-lesson show was pretty alive and well – a tiring, useless exercise for all involved. After hearing from Professor Rob Coe, on lesson observations, the error in my over-confident ways were laid bare. Ever since, I’ve been determined to better understand and scrutinise assessment and data.
Issuing oral feedback stamps. Back in 2013, the heady heights of OFTSED madness were being scaled by many. In my middle leader role, I seized upon the importance of oral feedback, alongside the seeming-demands of OFSTED, and ordered in a bunch of oral feedback stamps. Under the guise of making memorable notes on teacher insights, I masked the illusion that a stamp in books could show all we were doing our bit with feedback. Alongside lesson gradings, both regrets make me mindful of the compelling power of Stockholm Syndrome in schools.
Composing student groupings with over-confidence. Another annual exercise of the squeezed subject leader I undertook in blissful ignorance was composing student groupings. As a newbie English teacher I had enjoyed the ease of teaching ‘top sets’ every few years. Teaching *that* GCSE group (you may well know the one) was tough. When I became a subject leader I simply continued the same old groupings. I had little knowledge of my legion of biases, such as ‘halo effects‘ at play, or the evidence base on student grouping, nor the impact on student confidence wrought by a change in student grouping. Though I still recognise all sides of the combustible ‘setting’ versus ‘mixed attainment’ debate, my regret is not really taking care to understand very much about group dynamics and student groupings at all in past years.
The ‘Of Mice and Men’ miracle. I love John Steinbeck. ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a modern classic. Only, after teaching it pretty much annually for a decade, you can have too much of a good thing. My regret is not choosing the novella, but my annual error in revision guidance for my GCSE brethren. Every year, they would approach the crucial Easter holiday. My revision advice: “if you do one thing – re-read ‘Of Mice and Men’” So what did my students do? Little else but half re-reading the novella. It was only when I read the evidence-base of John Dunlosky et al. on studying that I realised that a world of cognitive psychology research revealed to me I had been giving duff advice at a vital time to my students. Each year since, I haven’t let slip the opportunity to better know the science of learning.
Interactive whiteboard training. In year two of my bumbling early teaching career I had the privilege of seeking out some ‘me CPD’. After some basic local NQT training, I was entrusted with a course out of school. On my own. At a nice hotel no less. Flicking through the glossy catalogue of CPD, I spied the goldmine that was ‘interactive whiteboard training’. I only had one lesson a week in the room that had such a device, but it felt like the answer to all my newbie ills. I went on the course. The display of whiteboard games was intoxicating. The impact…there was no impact. I used the whiteboard a couple of times and that was pretty much it. I realized a few years later that continuous professional development could prove a massive opportunity for the betterment of the profession…if we move beyond whizzy one-offs and passable hotel lunches.
So there you have it – some of my less reputable regrets exposed to you dear reader. There is no easy antidote. A open mind, with a healthy engagement with evidence, will help but there is no cure for bad decisions. We can only learn from them.
[Insert wise quote about regret here]
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