Why are standardised education systems failing?
For over 30 years or more the concept of standards and testing have characterised the mechanism by which policy has sought to improve education outcomes. There is such a belief in standards and testing that even as it sweeps away all other aspects of education to the point of resulting in teacher recruitment and retention crisis and teachers’ and pupils’ well-being plummeting no other approach has been allowed. In that time all we have seen is a strengthening of the political belief that standards and testing will bring about improvements sought for – well they don’t and won’t.
What many believe, including myself, is that it is the act and support of creativity that will bring about the excellence in education we seek. Sir Ken Robinson amongst others have campaigned for such an approach but without success. At what point and what argument has to be made to make the change happen? To use one of my analogies
How do we sell HD colour TV’s with surround sound to people who are both colour blind and deaf?
My own work led to setting up Advocating Creativity in Education over 12 years ago and during those last 12 years I have worked at developing a narrative that can be easily and without added burden translated into the activities in our schools and that puts creativity first.
Two narratives have evolved – the first is based on a set of pupil engagement needs (Power/Belonging/Choce/Fun) and the second a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that allow learners to manage their own learning (Learning Intelligence, or LQ).
My work has led to the publication of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships’ in which I show how focusing on four needs and developing in our pupils their LQ we can bring about the change we so desperately need in education.
One of those needs fundamental to creativity is power, our ability and the opportunity to express ourselves. Standardisation robs us of that power and that is one reason why as a policy or strategy it fails. I have attached a picture that I hope demonstrates my point.
If you want to explore my narratives, either PBCF or LQ then my book, written as a learning journal for teachers, is reviewed by #UKEdChat and there are a number of interviews available online including:
- Pooky Ponders Big Questions with Brilliant People How can we build effective learning relationships with every student?
- Interview by Rebecca Hanson
6) Time management, Johns 12 Rules and Learning Intelligence
Today is publication date and there are only 3 chapters left to explain.
Time management is a critical factor in teaching so it was important to me that any book that suggested making changes, no matter how demanding, dealt with the use of time management. It is my experience that trying to do too much in too little time limits our capacity for change and change rarely gets truly embedded.
Question: Why is it that in teaching there is never enough time?
Answer: Well, the short answer is because you try to do too much!
‘Teaching is a full-on job; there is no doubt that it is demanding both physically and mentally. Teaching can be draining and leave us without the energy or motivation never mind capacity to change our approach. It is only fair then if I am suggesting change, although much of building learning relationships and PBCF is about approach and attitude, that I consider how you can best manage this often scare resource -time’
Starting with a look at the Urgent/Important matrix I develop a formula referred to as the ‘Not Enough Time Equation’. This is a tool I have developed to help you explore how you use your time and to make better decisions on how to use it effectively. Don’t worry if you have maths anxiety, there is no adding up or multiplication involved!
Question: What’s Johns 12 rules all about?
Answer: Chapter 11 is one that highlights the importance of a mentor during your time as a teacher. I was lucky when I started teaching, I had John as a mentor.
‘My teacher training course involved both my subject specialism and the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching and lasted three years plus a probationary year. It was a good grounding, but I have said that to be a teacher you must remain a lifelong learner and in doing so you should be open to advice and ideas. Sometimes you learn without really knowing it; that was the case with me and John’s 12 rules.’
John had a number of saying he would drop into our conversations, but it was not until his passing that I sat down and reflected on them. Then I realised they were integral to the way I approach learning and teaching and that I had taken them on board without knowing it. John’s rules are very much associated with learning needs and so I have listed all 13 of them (yes 13) for you along with a detailed explanation of how they can be applied.
Question: Just what is Learning Intelligence or ‘LQ’?
Answer: The short answer is that LQ is about seeing learning as a problem-solving activity. Another way to put it is your ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. It is not something to be measured but something to develop. It consists of a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that are needed to manage your own learning. Chapter 12 looks at different intelligence and learning theories before introducing the concept of LQ. and describes how I came about the concept and the definition.
‘An important aspect in your teaching is about having a story to tell pupils that draws them in.’
‘You need a narrative, a story that brings all the elements together in a way that makes sense and can be related to learning experiences. ‘
‘Our ability to learn is not just defined by a single general intelligence (IQ) nor through our emotional awareness (EQ) or what learning abilities or intelligences we demonstrate (MI) and the learning preferences we have. It is defined by all of these things as well as the yet to be fully defined working of the brain which we are only beginning to understand. ‘
‘Providing a narrative that will allow you to embrace all these elements and understand how they fit into the learning jigsaw has been my breakthrough. ‘
If you have found the insights into the how and why my book came about then perhaps it’s time to buy a copy. You can do so through Critical Publishing or Amazon
5) Labels and learning maps.
As we get closer to the publication date of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships’ this instalment looks at the dangers of labelling and the concept of a learning map.
Question: Why include a chapter on labelling?
Answer: Education loves a label; they are everywhere and used for all manner of things. Whilst some labels are useful such as letting you know where the gym or staff room is located some can be harmful. It was important to me to explore the topic of labels in education and to think about the accountability and the morality of labelling. A quote from chapter 8 on labelling.
‘I want to make a practical association between labelling and PBCF (building effective learning relationships) rather than discuss the many labels and their use in education. In the Further reading section, there are links to Howard Becker’s labelling theory as well as specific education-related articles on labelling. These will enable you to achieve an overview of the wider impact, concerns and issues related to labelling in education.’Taken from: If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships
It is important that as teachers we reflect on the impact of labels on building learning relationships and I have included several reflective tasks that will encourage you to explore both your own experience of being labelled and the use of labels in learning.
Question: Where did the idea of a learning map come from?
Answer: My book contains several personal reflections, I see these as an opportunity to share my experiences that have informed my thinking. Here is how I came up with the idea of a learning map for chapter 9.
In conversation, pupils will point to examples from their past experiences of learning and what they were and were not able to achieve. I began to think of these as roadblocks to learning and the analogy with a learning map became my way of discussing learning challenges and beliefs with pupils. I discovered that lots of features you will find on a map are analogous to learning. These provided a narrative for talking about learning in a practical and almost physical way. Together the pupils and I were able to discuss learning barriers and opportunities in the same way as you would the physical topography of a map. The concept of the learning map had developed.Taken from: If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships
In this chapter I not only suggest how the terminology applied to maps and mapping can be applied to learning but also many of the road signs and symbols in everyday use. Another important point about maps is that they can be and often are redrawn as more information or insights become available. This is an excellent narrative to use in approaching the concept of a growth mindset with pupil. There is a direct link back to the Learning Hero’s Journey too. You will be encouraged to reflect on your own learning journey and draw a part of your learning map.
Nearly there – the next instalment will look at the all important aspect of time management and John’s 12 rules.
6) Time management, Johns 12 Rules and Learning Intelligence
4) Our 4 learning engagement needs PBCF
This is part four of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ and the topics it covers.
Question: What impact do our learning needs have on how we behave as learners?
Answer: William Glasser has said “All we can do from birth to death is behave” and the more you think about it the more obvious it becomes that any relationship triggers behaviours. Maslow recognised a set of needs too from physiological through to self-actualisation. What I have done in chapter 4 is to look at needs in the context of learning and focused on the four that have the greatest impact on the pupil-teacher learning relationship and therefore learner behaviours.
As a teacher you will recognise types of pupil behaviour but to fully understand how pupils feel when these needs are not being met and how they behave as a result you must relate them to your own experience. There are reflective exercises in chapter 4 that will help you do just that.
Question: What types of behaviours might we see if our learning needs are not being met?
Answer: By taking the time to reflect on pupil behaviour rather than just respond to it you will recognise the four needs and what each creates in terms of behaviour. This approach forms the heart of the book. The four are needs and typical behaviour when not met are described and discussed. There is even an opportunity to take part in an exercise that will cause you to experience having needs denied. This section concludes by offering you suggested supportive actions to build learning relationships.
Question: How can I ensure I remember to meet learner needs and build them into my practice?
Answer: Ellen Langer wrote about mindful learning, a term that resonated with me as a teacher and so I have taken it a little further and chapter 6 explores the concept and impact of mindful learning and teaching.
In teaching, being mindful is a way of ensuring you embed changes to your approach to learning and teaching, taking every opportunity to build effective learning relationships and meet the four learning needs. It means you do not wear yourself out and you do not limit your pupils’ potential; instead, you foster creativity and raise standards. Essentially you are mindful of your own needs and those of your pupils.Kevin Hewitson. If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them
Question: Does a mindful approach not need more work and resources?
Answer: No, all you need is a change of mindset. The chapter gives examples of mindless learning and teaching from asking questions to planning and includes case studies and tasks to raise your awareness. It also looks at some of the myths that surround learning, myths that ask teachers to do things that have little impact or possibly a negative impact on building effective learning relationships.
Question: How do pupils respond to mindful learning and teaching
Answer: In my experience they are a little unsure to start with. Mindful teaching is one of those steps towards supporting independent learning, something that has been sought in teaching for some time. Chapter 7 asks “What are independent learners, and do you want them in your classes?”
You must consider the independent learner within the context of your learning relationship with them. You will need to take into account the learning environment you have created through PBCF and your mindful approach as well as the skills, attributes and behaviours of the pupil and their past experiences of learning. Chapter 7 will take you through these considerations and look at a knowledge based versus learning focused curriculum examples as well as touching on some of the debated issues around learning styles.
Next: In the next instalment the dangers of labels and of labelling learners raises its head.
‘i’ is for inclusion
Today, 15th Jan 2020 at 2:00pm (GMT) I will be taking part in an online live Facebook discussion on inclusion.
This is something that sits at the heart of education and a fundamental reason why learning relationships are so important in education. It is a timely discussion just a month before my book is due to be published.
Today Marius Frank and host Manobina Chakraborty and myself will look at the topic of:
Alternative Pedagogy to Promote Inclusive Learning
Listen in for FREE !
3) The call to adventure – How can I be a better teacher?
Essentially this book is about the final stage of the call to adventure, that which in the form proposed by Christopher Vogler is called ‘Return with the Elixir: the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world’ Although I am no hero each chapter of my book is about something you can do to improve your teaching and ensure that you remain a learner.
Question: How can I be a better teacher? For teachers, no two days are ever the same and no group or individual pupil is guaranteed to learn or behave in the same way from one day to the next. Teaching is a full-on job and often with only time to respond to the challenges and changes.
Answer: To be a better teacher I recognised that teachers need to have time and the opportunity to reflect and that they need to remain learners. It is important to me that the book gives you the tools to manage your time effectively and to successfully meet the day to day challenges as well as encourage you to reflect.
In reflecting on what worked and why in learning and teaching I realised that after all the preparation, planning and resourcing it came down to pupil/teacher relationships. Establishing, building, and maintaining relationships is very important. There are many things that can damage a relationship in an instant but it takes time to repair or build an effective learning relationship.
Question: How do you build effective learning relationships and secondly what factors can support or undermine them? We are now getting to the heart of the question.
Answer: In observing and discussing the relationships pupils build with teachers and their peers it became clear that pupils will invest in establishing a relationship to meet certain needs. The pupil may not make a conscious decision or even be able to articulate why they behave in a certain way towards some people or when in some groups. Pupils may not even recognise the drivers of their behaviour at all. It also became clear that some needs are powerful drivers of pupil behaviour, so powerful even that they will override such factors as social or school expectations, personal safety, parental influence, or any pressure from existing relationships. It was also clear that not all pupil behaviour is predictable and that there are dampening and enhancing factors that can promote or subdue the nature of the behaviour a pupil will exhibit in any given situation.
Chapter 1 explores the challenges you will face as a teacher and includes a series of reflection prompts. Chapter 2 is an in-depth look at the learning relationship between pupil and teacher using an innovative ‘Learning Relationship Responsibility Ratio Graph’. The important role of leadership in nurturing and protecting the relationship between pupil and teacher is recognised and is also analysed.
Question: How can we interpret pupil behaviour to understand pupil needs?
Answer: Seeing behaviour as a symptom of a need rather than as a challenge is the first step in developing our understanding of needs and the impact they have on learning and teaching. What we want as teachers are engaged learners, pupils that are motivated to learn. Chapter 3 looks at what pupils need in order to engage in the process of learning.
Question: Who helped in my call to adventure?
Answer: It’s a long list! From my teaching mentor John, who’s 12 rules appear in chapter 11, to those I have taught and those I have taught with, the many who have challenged my teaching and opened my eyes. Some sources go back further than you may think too, some were suggested by the different online groups and education thought leaders we are familiar with through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, TEDx etc.
The next instalment of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ will describe the chapters that cover four learning needs and how you can plan to meet and manage them.
4) Our 4 learning engagement needs PBCF
2) Developing the narrative
In the first instalment, I introduced you to ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ I now want to explain to you the nature and format of the book.
Question: Where did ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ come from?
Answer: From my own experience, insights, observations of pupils and teachers, reflections on what worked and what did not in learning and teaching and the research I carried out when I tried to work out the ‘why?’
‘To be a teacher you must be and remain a learner. If you stop being a learner then I believe you give up the right to be a teacher and the right to be a leader too for teachers are learning leaders.’
Question: Why a narrative?
Answer: Much of teaching is about telling stories, those that draw pupils in, develop their confidence, set them challenges and celebrate their success. Story telling is an art, you must assess your audience, know what interests them and you must listen and in a way that retains their interest. A good storyteller will build a relationship with their audience that allows them and their audience to take risks, to have emotional highs and lows together, to wonder and to celebrate together. Story telling is a way of getting complicated messages across to your audience in a memorable and effective way. There are skills involved in being a good storyteller in the same way as there are in being a good teacher.
I want to take you on a learning journey.
The idea of a narrative, of telling a story of how as a teacher you can improve your storytelling is also a story. My driver for writing is the honest aim of helping other teachers be the best they can be by sharing my own learning journey. In wanting to share what I have learnt and to widen my sphere of influence I realised I needed a story, a good one, one that would bring to light the complex nature of learning and teaching and convey a message in the gentle and thought-provoking manner a good story does. The message I wanted to get across is that if you understand and respond to learning needs you can be a better teacher and remain a learner.
Talking about story telling
In one chapter of the book I use the analogy of the Hero’s journey, a narrative attributed to Joseph Campbell. In Campbell’s version the hero experiences a call to adventure, takes on challenges, experiences a transformation and returns enlightened to share what they have learnt. I saw a lot of similarities between learning and teaching and the Hero’s journey so I adapted it into a learning journey. Whilst I don’t consider myself a hero I have certainly faced a number of challenges in my teaching career and the knowledge and understanding I gained as a result feature in the book making it the true story of a learning journey.
Question: What is the format and how is it differnt to other texts?
Answer: Whilst in a recognisable chapter format a key element is the use of reflective exercises and encouragement the recording of your own learning journey.
A learning journal
One feature I was keen to include when writing the book was the concept of recording your own learning journey, best thought of in terms of a keeping a journal. I wanted my book to be your companion on your journey. This is important to me because if we reflect on our own experiences, challenges and strategies as well as observe others then we remain learners. We remain open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, not blindly but with an enquiring mind. A mindset that challenges as well as stimulates creativity. Throughout the book you will find reflective tasks, tasks designed to make you think, and you will be encouraged to record and share your thoughts and ideas.
The call to adventure
Having set the scene for my writing in the next instalment of this story I will describe my call to adventure and those who have helped me to develop my narrative.
Keeping up to date
The publication date for ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them‘ is February 2021 (link below). You can follow the story of its conception by clicking the follow button located to the right of this column.
Th enext article exploring If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them is:
Resolutions for 2021: Mine’s about relationships – what’s yours?
This time of year, as one closes and another is on the horizon, we start to look forward as well as back. Part of this process is to reflect and also declare resolutions for the coming year.
Certainly 2020 has made its mark and there may not be a lot to look back on but it has not all been doom and gloom. There have been some spectacular events, achievements, happenings, and many challenges overcome. In the midst of this upheaval to our everyday lives has been learning and teaching. Schools have gone online or been open throughout the pandemic and their much broader role of supporting children and their families has been highlighted in many ways. Teachers and schools have certainly faced significant challenges but in seeking solutions some interesting doors have opened and things in the classroom may never be the same again.
Reflecting and the three R’s
I have a feeling though that one of the key components in learning and teaching will always be front and centre, be it online or face to face, and that is relationships. Building and maintaining learning relationships is for me what teaching is all about. The three R’s if you like – Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.
Resolutions and developing and sharing a learning narrative
My challenge this year has been the forming of a narrative that I can share and that described the importance of building effective learning relationships in learning and teaching. 2020 certainly afforded me the time to do it but it has been great to reflect and write, even if I was unable to present at the wonderful Festival of Education again this year.
My aim was to write something along the lines of a learning journal for teachers with the honest aim of helping those who want to become a better teacher. There is no arrogance in my aim, I certainly don’t hold all the answers, but I do understand how much of what teachers do depends on building effective learning relationships with their pupil or students. I also recognise and understand how the four key elements that help form those relationships (power, belonging, choice and fun) work in the learning environment.
As the year ends I can tell you that the narrative I developed now has a title, several chapters and a publisher and will be available in February next year. In this blog I will be looking back on the process and the challenges in putting the narrative together as well as sharing some of the things from the book. In the new year you will also be able to find support materials from the book on my website (www.ace-d.co.uk) So in 2021 look out for ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ published by Critical Publishing and follow the blog where I will explain how this important text came about and my hopes for it in the world of education.
You can find the next article here explaining how the narrative developed.
The Value of Play Before Formal Education Starts
Charlotte and David are part of the future of education – well if we listen to them.
One of the great joys of being involved in the future of learning is that you come across a large number of well-informed and passionate people who are in possession of a significant piece of the jigsaw that goes to make the future of learning.
One of these people is Charlotte Davies who is involved in the removing hurdles to successful learning, both through the Tomatis system of aural analysis and in the wider preparation of children to become effective learning.
A key theme of her work is that children are being rushed into formal learning in schools before they are developmentally ready to access such learning. Conversely, denying children learning in play means that they are ill-equipped to cope in formal learning situations and cannot grasp the conceptual learning on offer.
The most progressive learning nations recognise this. Finland has always delayed access to formal educational settings to ensure…
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Does it matter which path?
In teaching and learning terms that is.
Asking somebody to do something or giving instructions to be followed is an everyday thing but when we teach there is another dimension, we are directing learning. If there are two paths to the same objective does it matter, through our teaching, which one we direct our students to use?
We know that there is often a sequence to learning, an order in which we learn things and on which we base future learning. I find that we can learn things out of sequence, but it severely hampers our understanding later when called on to apply our knowledge or undertake a problem-solving activity. We also know that it takes an effort to learn something and the major part of that ‘learning’ involves cognitive activity: we must think in order to learn!
How hard can learning be?
The effort of learning is proportional to what we already know, what we understand and what we can use to learn what we don’t yet know or understand. Make sense?
A teacher who can make each of these steps proportionally ‘easier’ for a learner is often regarded as a ‘good teacher’. Making things “easier” of course involves many things such as providing encouragement, a good learning relationship, an accurate assessment of what is already known and understood as well as choosing the appropriate learning path.
What part does memory play in learning?
Let’s get back to the thinking aspect and let me give you a simple example of how the right path can make something easier by considering what we need to hold in our memory as we carry out a task.
Finding something: the instructions.
- The item you are looking for is in the large inside pocket of the blue bag in the third room on the left of the corridor.
- On the left side of the corridor look for the third room. In that room look for the blue bag and inside the blue bag open the large inside pocket where you will find the item you are looking for.
I’ll start by asking you if there is any difference between instruction a) and b) since they both direct you to the object in the pocket of the bag.
You will notice the sequence of information is different. Sequence “a” starts at the end, at finding the object and “b” starts at the beginning, of looking for the object. Which do you think load your memory the most or are both the same? In order to remember or follow the sequence would you involve imagery at all, would you try to visualise the sequence and see in your minds eye (the pocket, the bag, the room and the corridor)? If you were given only sequence “a” do you think you may reverse it to make it easier to follow?
Thinking about how our brains work – working memory and cognitive load theory
I am of course hinting at two theories of how our brain works and how they may influence our learning. The first is “working memory” (different to short term memory as it involves some ability to process information and was coined by Miller, Galanter and Pribram and first used in the 1960’s[i]) simply put a type of memory that has limited capacity. It is from this memory that we may transfer information to our long term memory, the type of information, knowledge or understanding that is involved in learning. We may get told an address and recall it minutes later but the next day we will probably have totally forgotten it.
The second theory is “cognitive load theory” (credited to John Sewell of the University of New South Wales in 1988[ii]) and is directly proportional to how much effort we need to make to learn something irrespective of our ability. We can ‘load’ the learner with unnecessary demands by confusing them, making things overly complicated or by making the learning environment ‘hostile’ or ‘toxic’.
Addingto the challenge – the issue of time
Now let’s add a new dimension and see how it would impact our ability to find the object, that of having only a few seconds to find it after which a severe penalty will be imposed.
Consider our example again and instruction a) and b). For me path “b” offers the least effort in terms of working memory, I do not need to re arrange the sequence and can easily visualise the path to the object. No time will be lost in ‘reverse engineering’ the instructions and I believe I would be calmer or more confident of success even with a time penalty being applied.
As for cognitive load, well I think path “b” again would make things easier since there is a logical sequence in the order of direction helping me process information, but the time penalty certainly adds to the load. Once again though to me the complicated nature of instruction “a” would add to the cognitive load.
As teachers and given these two theories where are we in creating our teaching paths?
I would suggest that it is certainly worth exploring these
two theories prior to planning our lessons, building learning relationships and
creating learning environments especially when we consider the claims of each
in terms of learning.
8 Proactive Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers | Edutopia
An excellent piece that speaks of the value of the PBCF approach to building learning relationships. See my earlier post about my talk at the 10th Festival of Education and download the notes. https://4c3d.wordpress.com/2019/07/01/closing-the-achievement-net-talk-notes-and-slides/
New teachers — and experienced ones too — can find ideas here on how to stop disruptive behavior before it begins.
In the 1950s, psychologists Jacob Kounin and Paul Gump discovered a curious side effect of discipline: If a student was being disruptive and the teacher responded with strict disciplinary measures, the student might stop — but other students would start exhibiting the same misbehavior. Kounin and Gump called this the “ripple effect,” and it demonstrated that efforts to control a classroom can backfire.
“The teacher who is interested in controlling ripple effects can generally do so best by giving clear instructions to the child rather than by exerting pressure on him,” Kounin and Gump wrote.
Decades later, classroom management is still a thorny issue for teachers. Nearly half of new teachers report that they feel “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle disruptive students, in part…
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School priorities and how to recognise them.
I am currently reading David Hughes book “Future Proof your school” the section on pupil voice contained a comment that made me think, well most of the book has made me think!
Pupil voice is a key component of my work on learner engagement and building learning relationships which I represented in the acronym “PBCF” meaning Power Belonging Choice and Fun. Easy to remember – “Please be child friendly”! These four ‘needs’ form the drivers for engagement and so pupil voice is a critical component. Power is the representation of ‘voice’, being heard or your views and opinions genuinely recognised.
In his book David gives an account of one of his experiences in making the Schools Council a funded body. The school was suffering from the effects of vandalism which drew resources away from the school and affected the environment in a negative way. His solution was to offer the Schools Council a percentage of the saving the school would make if there was little or no vandalism. They could then spend this money on school projects, such as disco equipment. Attendance at the disco would be by ticket and tickets were linked to learning behaviours and learning progress, engage in learning and you were eligible for a ticket but if you did not then you would not be able to attend. He says:
“.. achievement co-ordinators monitored pupils’ progress with the tutors, issuing weekly reports in assemblies. This was much more positive use of their time and began to set a change in climate of the school: achievement was given a higher priority.”
It is the last part of that quote that made me think, “achievement was given a higher priority”. It made me ask the questions “Priority over what, and in what was achievement in competition with?”
Symptoms or cause?
I know that it is easy to focus on the symptom rather than the cause and these then becoming the priorities in schools. Symptoms of under achievement include lateness and absence, poor learning behaviours, a lack of respect to each other and these are symptoms we need to address by understanding the cause. I think that is what David did successfully and what began to alter the climate in the school, he understood the need for a real voice, for ‘power’ in a structured and tangible way that had a genuine ‘ear’ when it came to setting school priorities. Students became ‘empowered’ and understood the implications of their actions or indifference to what was directly affecting them.
So what are the priorities in your school and how would you characterise them? Do they focus on symptoms rather than cause? We know all schools will say achievement is a priority, perhaps their number one priority but how does this translate in terms of allocation of resources? I would claim that those things that have the biggest immediate negative impact tend to receive the greatest resources. In doing so the finite resources of a school are often focused on the symptoms and not addressing the underlying cause. I believe those students who do not have their four learning needs met will only reluctantly engage in learning and will present symptoms typical of those needs not being met which result in school ‘phoney’ priorities. Perhaps you can suggest a few.
Here are some of the ‘priorities’ I have experienced in the schools in which I have worked. Assessing the resources given to each (teacher time, money, facilities, equipment) we can get an idea of the true priority each is given.
- Classroom behaviour
- Movement around the school
- School rules (equipment – uniform etc)
- Various policies (marking – homework etc)
- Raising standards
One through to four only become a priority because learners are not actively engaged in learning and we hold number five as our single accountability performance indicator. I suggest we become fixated on one to four which only serve to subjugate the symptoms of the causes rather than recognising them. Ask yourself what you do if you don’t like the TV programme you are watching. What do you do if your partner wants to do something together and you don’t. Your actions are moderated by maturity, agency and a sense of responsibility. Perhaps our students don’t possess such moderating factors. If they don’t then it is our responsibility to recognise the four needs and ensure the school maintains these as their true priorities for doing so will result in raising standrads.
For more on PBCF you can download details of my presentation I gave at the 10th Festival of Education this year held at Wellington College.
For David’s book you can find it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Future-proof-Your-School-improvement-developing/dp/1912508443
Depression and Anxiety – Why We Need a More Positive Environment
A good analysis and reason for adopting a different educational model.
I consider myself blessed to have grown up in the 1960s when there was an underlying and fundamental belief that the world could be changed for the better. Between purposeful action and technology, problems could be addressed and solved. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but the recent celebrations of the Moon Landing seemed to epitomise the time and the attitude.
Fast forward fifty years and we seem to be mired in a sea of problems which demand our attention. The focus of media outlets on negative stories, the existential threats to our future posed by climate change and environmental destruction all paint a sorry picture of our future.
There is a cost on the lives of individuals who are asked to function with little hope of fulfilling their ambitions, or even rising above the daily grind. The classic story that education would give you the resource and…
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Designing a school curriculum
The school curriculum has many masters and whilst we think in subjects, few options. We need to rethink our approach and it starts with developing a new specification.
Where we are now.
Any present curriculum is a specification consisting of ‘subject areas’ and listing ‘content’ under those areas, content being the things learners should know and understand. The specification sets out a standard for education and provides a basis for measuring conformance. Demonstration of the success of the teaching of this curriculum is by assessment of the learner through formal examinations or tests producing grades or levels.
The problem with a specification
The very nature of a specification requires it to be exact but if what is written is ‘criteria specific’ then it can soon become obsolete. The reason for this is because as either the expectations change, or the standards required increase the specification becomes no longer appropriate. This is both a good and bad thing depending on how flexible the system is to adapt to changing specifications. If the system is inflexible, unable or unwilling to change then the specification can act as a limiting device preventing future developments keeping pace with change. In such circumstances it can also lead to those with a vested interest unwilling to change frequently resulting in a conflict between the existing specification and the new ‘reality’ or requirements of the system. We often observe such stakeholders battling to retain the existing system ‘as is’ and insisting on a set of ‘basics’ represented by the current specification as being essential.
A simple example of a limiting or hindering specification
- The new vehicle design MUST achieve 40 miles to the gallon.
Here we are limited to the figure of 40 mpg, there is no incentive to explore 80mpg. Further we are referencing a ‘gallon’ requiring a liquid fuel solution.
It is possible to write a specification that is less limiting and more liberating.
- The new vehicle design must represent the most efficient form of energy conversion currently available or planned in the near future (5 years), and also be able to be adapted or upgraded to future systems.
Please don’t pick holes in my two examples, they are just that! I am trying to make a point that is critical to education. That the knowledge we teach today and the understanding or skills we require to be demonstrated today may not be that which is necessary in the future. If we have a limiting specification then it is more than likely that we will be ‘out of date’ and caught up in that vested interest cycle (think EBacc, STEM, STEAM etc).
Where to start in writing a specification
It is easy to write a limiting specification, we list the traditional core subjects and rely on what we were taught in order to define the curriculum. We can insist on the ‘basics’ and on ‘traditional values’ and say we are going to raise standards, but I would argue we are creating a conflict between ‘what is’ and ‘what is needed’, we are being inflexible. Writing a specification that will produce a more ‘liberating’ curriculum will help us respond to future needs, to be more agile or flexible in our approach. We will still need ‘checks and balances’, a way of evaluating the effectiveness of the specification in achieving our desired outcome but this will not be one looks backward to determine its success but instead very much forward.
To put this argument into context I would recommend you read the “The Sabre Tooth Curriculum” by J Abner Peddiwell. There are many online accounts and a book is available too.
In the Sabre Tooth Curriculum it is survival needs that lead to identification of the tasks that need to be taught. There is both spiritual and political impediment to the development of a curriculum and to the teaching of these things. Success based on the initial criteria promotes the curriculum and the content but as the initial need and challenges change the curriculum does not. Sides are taken and arguments made. Those for continuing with the current system reference greater virtues than suggested by the now outdated skills in order to justify their continuance. Those that suggest change are admonished for their lack of education.
My advice in writing a curriculum specification
You start at the beginning and that is not with the specification at all. Alvin Toffler is accredited with saying ““The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”
Learning as a problem-solving exercise
We need to look at education, specifically learning, as a problem-solving exercise. We need to decide what we want to achieve. Once we do then we have available a language and a set of tools that will help us design, specify, generate ideas (for there is always more than one),build, test and evaluate a dynamic system that will equip people with the abilities, knowledge, insights, understanding etc to teach themselves in whatever environment they find themselves in. We will have done what Alvin Toffler suggested the literate of the 21st century need from our education system and we will have cut the strings that presently bind us to the Sabre Tooth Curriculum mentality.
Closing the Achievement Net: Talk notes and slides
After my talk at the 2019 Festival of Education I have prepared a downloadable file covering the key aspects of the session. Like all my presentations I favour writing something specific after the event, you may wonder why!
Nothing ever goes to plan!
No matter how or what you prepare a good teacher knows you must respond to the audience and their needs, so it is with my presentations and talks. I find I may miss or understate some key points in the urgency to deliver in a time constraint. If only I had a half day, but then would that be long enough to squeeze in over 40 years experience in education? I very much doubt it.
After the event I have time to reflect and using my slides and notes I take the opportunity to put it all together along with any points raised during the talk. I hope you find the file useful and even if you did not attend #EducationFest this year the notes should allow you to understand my approach and message.
“See the behaviour as a symptom of a need and address the need.”
As far as needs go there are four of them that require addressing if we seek active learner engagement and learning behaviours. For more about the four needs you will have to download the file but here is the graphic I use to explain the simple message to remember the four needs –
“Please Be Child Friendly”
What I learnt at the 10th Festival of Education
This was my 5th time at the festival but this year I spoke at the festival about the importance of learning relationships and our learning needs when we are in the learning zone. What I was reminded of, and what I have always believed is that ….
“Teachers need to remain learners“
And this is why….
I don’t mean the compliant type of learner who takes on new initiatives, learning ideas or theories and adds them to their teaching repertoire just because they are asked to. I mean the type of learners who challenges the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. The type of learner who sees learning as a problem-solving activity for to do so shows they are already looking for ways to improve learning. They are the type of teacher who is observant, reflective, see opportunities, is collegiate, supportive and open.
The second reason teachers need to remain learners is firstly the dynamic of learning and how this impacts our view of self, our confidence and our energy. To place yourself in learning situation, to move out of your comfort zone requires confidence but it is where the magic happens. It is where you discover something new about yourself and add to your view of the world and those in it. The second reason is you get to visit the emotions, experience the anxiety, and celebrate the successes and failures of learning. You get to be reminded what your students go through each and every day and this is a valuable reminder of the type of learning relationship you need to build with your students.
Compliance then in both teaching and learning could be regarded as a disability and not an advantage. Think about that as you as a teacher seek compliance from your students. Accept the challenges that come your way from learners and as a teacher learn to use these to your advantage. There is no such thing from a learner as a “red herring” questions for they are an insight into how they are thinking and an expression of a learning need.
Teachers are heroes!
This is my version of “The Hero’s Journey”, I have adapted it for teaching and learning, for learning is a journey often involving challenges and teachers are heroes. “The hero myth pattern studies were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung’s view of myth. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern” (1) and we can recognise these in such things as Disney adventures today. See if you can recognise it in your own teaching and learning.
10th Festival of Education
This year, actually on Thursday the 20th of June, I will be speaking at the 10th Festival of Education. I have attended the festival in previous years and enjoyed listening to the broad range of speakers and exploring some very interesting topics. So what am I talking about?
The title of my talk is “Closing the Achievement Net”.
Not all that clear perhaps so here is a breakdown:
- The session will start by reflecting on the types of learners we find in our classrooms and how they respond to learning challenges.
- A discussion of the ‘teacher/learner relationship’ will help identify the key elements, after ‘safety’, for building effective learning relationships.
- We will also look at typical behaviours when these elements are lacking encouraging us to see them as symptoms of need and respond accordingly
- Each of the four elements, (Power, Belonging, Choice and Fun) will be discussed in practical teaching terms in order to identify opportunities to build and strengthen them in our lessons and around school.
In preparation for the talk I have run this past a number of people, and I have been surprised by some of the comments, so much so I thought I would highlight a few issues that I think need explaining and that I will need to address in my talk.
- What net? The ’net’ is a metaphor of course but what am I hoping to catch? Well I am hoping by ‘closing the achievement net’ we will ensure that we acknowledge all learners and that we create an environment that positively promotes learner engagement.
- Types of learners. I am not referring to terms like “learning styles” or “multiple intelligences” I will be using three very practical identifiable types taken from an analysis of school reporting and teacher comments over a number of years. In defining the learner types my focus is on ‘learner approach’ and ‘potential’.
- Language, it appears that not all words mean the same to all people and we need to be mindful of the context in which we have both heard and used them. The word “Fun” for example is the “F” part of PBCF which I claim is essential in the teaching and learning relationship. One teacher said I am not hear to entertain and tell jokes and I agree so what do I mean by “fun”? This is something I will be careful to explain along with other words I have used like “effective”.
- The possible mix up between symptoms and behaviours. I see behaviours as symptoms of a need or needs. If I buy a bottle of water this is a behaviour that is symptomatic of needing to quench my thirst.
If you are attending the Festival then I hope you are able to come along to my workshop on Thursday (14:15 in Maths 3) or say hello during the day, if not then I will be publishing the slides and notes from the day.
I want to add to the discussion about teacher wellbeing, to explore the signs and symptoms and then offer some practical advice from my own experience.
How are you doing, deep down?
How are you doing? I don’t mean the casual “How are you?” question that we answer politely with “Fine, and you?” I have written this article to flag up how easy it is to slide into routines and practices that are bad for us as teachers and what we can do about it.
To judge your wellbeing I have a question for you but you need to be brutally honest in your reply.
“How do you feel the night before starting the school week?”
It’s Sunday evening and you begin to mentally go through the week ahead. There are bound to be challenges and outstanding tasks as well as new deadlines to meet, that is ‘normal’ but how do you ‘feel’ about it, deep down. You need to be in touch with those feelings, either the excitement or the nervousness, as you mentally get ready to start teaching on Monday. If there is a feeling of dread, of apprehension or anxiety that too can be ‘normal’ but what we should concern ourselves about is the depths, the extremes of these feelings.
Other ways to assess your well being
There are other signs that things are not as they should be too. First we stop being learners and rely on routine and established behaviours, especially when faced with a challenge. We lose a certain capacity for change or taking on anything new. We find it hard to ‘switch off’ and to leave school behind. Relationships take the strain, and as teachers we rely on good learning relationships with our students, this is a significant symptom.
We develop a security blanket.
Taking things home to do is fine if it is an option and not a necessity. When you leave school you may find yourself carrying along ‘work’ to do at home. When these are loaded into the car and left there until the next day or over the weekend then you need to stop and assess how you are doing. Worse still if you take them into the house and they remain untouched you have a problem for then they represent a spectre of your worries and concerns.
What you have done is create a form of ‘security blanket’, a way of convincing yourself all is okay because you can ‘catch up’ at home and so you pack them up and carry them out with you. Don’t believe me? Try this, try leaving everything at school when you go home and see how it feels. I did and it was a revelation.
Take nothing home and see how it feels.
There I was standing in the carpark feeling as if something is not right. It was odd, I had nothing in my arms, nothing on the back seat and I felt ‘lost’. I had the same feeling all the way home and when I entered the house. My routine had been to say “Hi” and then do a little work before cooking and eating and then finishing things off. It is easy to get into this routine but is not good for us. A little work can become a lot and finishing things off can mean a very late night.
It is about setting boundaries and expectations.
I can remember Kenneth Baker in 1987, the then Secretary of State for Education, setting 1,265 hours as a reasonable expectation although there was the caveat about needing extra time for the marking, report writing, lesson preparation and teaching resources that were needed to “discharge effectively his professional duties” [i] I also remember a deputy head who would ask “Have you earnt your money today?” If the answer was “Yes” then the instruction was to “Get on home and relax”!
Here is my advice
Do as much as you can at school without staying too late. This often means working efficiently and with focus when not in the classroom.
Plan ahead and keep an eye on any event or deadline that requires you to participate.
If you must take things home then set a space aside for doing ‘school work’. Do not let invade your personal space (dining room table, kitchen worktop, or even worse, the bedroom).
Have a rule about taking school work home and stick to it. “Not on Friday” is a good one.
Don’t try to ‘multitask’, i.e. watch TV or socialise whilst working – you end up doing a poor job of both and you do not recharge your batteries.
The night before a school week asks yourself “How do I feel?” and set your mind to address any negative issues. This may, and probably will, involve engaging with others to share your feelings.
You may need to learn to say “NO”
Saying no is not a sign of weakness and neither should it be a last resort. Here is a link to an article all about saying “NO“
Think about finding a coach, like myself, that specialises in working with teachers. Sharing and being challenged is good for us and the impartial nature of the relationship with a coach can have significant benefits.
It’s not easy and it won’t happen overnight
Of course it’s not easy, but being aware of our ‘well being’ is often all it needs to find the focus to do something about it. If you are still struggling then make sure you talk to someone.
[i] The Education (School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order 1987
I like it when a plan comes together, even if it’s not one of mine!
I came to Northampton to take up a post as head of faculty at Trinity school in 1990 when education in the town was split 3 ways, lower, middle and upper. What struck me moving from Lincolnshire was how close the schools were and how much co-operation there was across schools and phases. This was supported by an excellent teacher’s centre, an ICT support centre and LEA advisors. There were black clouds on the horizon though in the way of Ofsted inspections, league tables and the resulting competition and a changing National Curriculum as schools wrestled with the burden of demands it placed on time and resources. Enter the “dark ages”, who would have predicted academy chains, a University of Northampton or a teacher recruitment and retention crisis?
Jump forward nearly 20 years and the University of Northampton is now in the town, education is split 2 ways and there are such things as academies, MAT’s, the EBacc and once again the energy and passion and above all, ownership for education by those who teach in Northampton has emerged. Hurray and well done to those who has the vision and tenacity to make #EducatingNorthants that was both a) an event that was well supported and owned by the teachers and b) a success. I am so glad I was there to see it, it has been some time coming.
I no longer teach, instead I share my 40 years of experience of teaching and learning, leadership and management through my writing, coaching, workshops and consultation. So perhaps I may offer a slightly different perspective on the day to many who were there.
The venue, the UON is new and ‘modern’ in all senses of the educational world and proved to be up to the job of hosting 600 teachers providing entertainment, refreshments and excellent resources. I have to say it lacked a little ‘soul’ though, perhaps it will come in time.
The excellent programme kicked off with a welcome and a chance to hear from the organisers whose vision and determination had brought about the day. The tension and excitement was palatable, it was going to be an exceptional day. Talking to those who I met and became re acquainted with there was anticipation and expectation, something has to come from this day other than a temporary high. I was reassured that although I had not taught for nearly 8 years I still understood the core challenges and that little had really changed in day to day teaching except the landscape in which it played out. Let’s not underestimate the significant impact the landscape and the ‘political engineers’ who have formed it has had on teaching, but I found many examples of those who had begun to take ownership of it and who had ideas on how to master it. Creativity is important to me, I see teaching and learning as a problem-solving activity, and there was much creativity in evidence throughout the day.
I was able to continue my journey as a learner like many who attended this day and felt uplifted as a result. Change may not be here, but the winds are blowing, and they are rising from a breeze to hopefully a storm.
How will we measure the success of the day though and how will we continue the ‘conversation’ as some have put it? Perhaps we should take a spoonful of our own medicine each day and show creativity, a growth mindset, resilience and above all create the learning environment that embraces all those in our care first and satisfies some arbitrary target last.
I will conclude with what I have discovered to be the key to engagement in any activity, process or organisation and which I believe sits behind the success of #EducatingNorthants. The graphic below gives you an overview of the concept and it’s easy to remember just “Please be Child Friendly”, PBCF. You can of course take this as “Please be Colleague Friendly” too.
When people have a voice and representation and can communicate openly with each other it empowers them.
Believing in something that is shared with others and through common language or aims it gives us a sense of belonging.
By being given a choice we can express our needs and learn to understand responsibility and consequence.
Fun translates into energy and passion for the things we believe in, for the things we believe are attainable and of value to us.
PBCF was at the heart of the success at #educatingNorthants and if maintained will be what ultimately transforms teaching and learning in Northamptonshire.
Director at Advocating Creativity in Education
Published 8th April 2019
Work Life Balance
I have written this article as a way of looking at the teacher retention and recruitment issues we are currently facing in the profession. A key element is doing too much, high levels of stress and burnout.
Teaching involves passion, dedication, endless energy and a strong sense of accountability as well as ‘personal’ responsibility. The rewards are addictive and here in lies the problem, when do you say “No”? It’s not easy to say “No” and so you put up with a little less personal time in order to meet the needs of the children you teach. You do a little extra, buy the odd resource, stay a bit longer because the benefits of doing so outweigh the cost.
Learn to say NO*
There is a case to be made for saying “No”, loudly and with commitment and to suffering the immediate consequences but it comes at a cost too. Are we as teachers ‘masking’ the problem of being underfunded, under resources and over burdened by doing more? Are our efforts to make things work actually responsible for the high level of numbers of teachers leaving the profession, of many being too tired to have a life outside of school?
I know you cannot turn up to lessons with books unmarked, lessons not planned, refuse just one more students in your class and not enough resources to go around but what can we do about getting the work life balance sorted? Sorted in a way that means we have a chance to recharge the batteries, to socialise, to have a life outside school and for us to be learners once again too.
“Am I the best person to be doing this?”
Having worked with teachers who are tired, who have no work life balance and who are struggling to be effective in the classroom I have one question I always ask. It is a question you should always ask yourself before starting something, before taking on something extra, before saying “Yes” instead of “No”. That question is “Am I the best person to be doing this?” and you need to be brutally honest with yourself. It is no good saying “Who else would do it if I did not?”
“The Secret of Time Management”
Of course you need to ‘unpack’ the words “best person” and there is a contextual aspect to the words more than I can go into here. I have written an in depth look at the this question with the catchy title “The Secret of Time Management” and you can find it here. In the article, which is spread over several posts, I look at three elements, 1) the task 2) the person and 3) the resources at hand and work these into what I call the “Not Enough Time” or NET equation. I believe you will find it helpful if you can find the time to read it!
We end up saying “Goodbye” instead of “No”
We know the plus side of going the extra mile, of giving a little more but here is another side I want to draw your attention to too. Things are unlikely to get better if we keep perpetuating the current approach of giving more and more. In many ways teachers, by not saying “No”, are ‘masking’ the serious issues that are affecting our education system. It is difficult to get a true picture of the resources that are needed or the systems that are fundamentally flawed in education if we mask them. What we do see is people who do not say “No” eventually saying “Goodbye” to teaching. I would suggest that until we understand the NET equation and we accept saying “No” is a good thing the teaching profession will continue to risk recruitment and retention of those who want so much to teach. Teaching will become, if it has not already done so, a ‘toxic’ environment.
One final observation regarding time. When we are refreshed and focused we achieve more in a shorter amount of time, we are more effective. It’s worth thinking about this next time you are asked to do something! Perhaps you should reply “What do you want me to stop doing in order to do what you are now asking me to do?”
*How to say “No” nicely – A link to another article looking at ways to help address the workload issue in teaching.