Tag: schools (page 2 of 5)

10 things educators forget to do after teacher training.

proud of my profession

At the start of July I’ll be submitting my Ed.D. thesis. It’s an outgrowth of work I did towards an M.Ed. before transferring to my doctoral studies. That, in turn, was a continuation of the PGCE in Secondary History I completed at Durham University.

Such transition points leads one to reflect upon changes and continuities. Recently I’ve been prompted into thinking about underperforming teachers as a result of a findings in a widely reported survey. Instead of debating the ins-and-outs of whether employment law relating to teachers should be changed, I want to consider the things that cause complacency and rot to set in. I don’t think anyone sets out to be a poorly-performing teacher.

No, instead, it’s a slow process of decline. The ten points below are those I’ve witnessed colleagues struggle with, and a couple (especially number 6) is something I’ve found difficult to remember to do myself. If you’re not on top of your game it’s easy to do things to ‘just get by’. And that’s a difficult and dangerous situation in which to find yourself.

I’d be interested in your reflections on the following as 10 things educators tend to forget to do after their teacher training and NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year:

  1. Read academic journals.
  2. Greet students at the door.
  3. Write about their lessons – what went well/badly.
  4. Mess about with technology for the sake of it.
  5. Rearrange their classroom regularly.
  6. Phone parents/guardians for positive reasons.
  7. Active learning – role-play, etc.
  8. Observe good practice elsewhere.
  9. Maintain a professional development folder.
  10. Ask for help and mentoring

What have I missed? With which of these do you agree/disagree?

Image CC BY-NC-SA snacktime2007

PRINCE2 for schools (or, why don’t schools have project managers?)

I spent last week studying for and taking my Foundation and Practitioner PRINCE2 examinations. Programme and project management is an expected part of the world I now work; in fact, funding and facilitating projects too risky for institutions to take on individually is pretty much what JISC does.

PRINCE2 logo

PRINCE 2 is a project management method standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It’s generic and applicable to everything from painting and decorating your house through to the machinations of multinational corporations. Granted, at first the rather abstract concepts seem needlessly convoluted (‘dis-benefits’ anyone?) but the commonality of language and ability to tailor a workable organizational structure make sense in the end.

What I can’t understand is why most schools shun formal project management methods? More than any almost any other type of organization, schools have to deal with constant change: personnel, curricula, buildings – so many different elements! Whilst it would be overkill (and the cost prohibitive) to have everyone within an organization PRINCE2-ceritified, I would definitely recommend the following:

Senior & Middle Leadership – full PRINCE2 Practitioner status

Teachers, Learning Support Assistants and Site staff – PRINCE2 Foundation status

If tied to professional development activities, the 7 PRINCE2 principles could really make a difference to organizational efficiency:

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

The three I’ve highlighted would in particular benefit schools and make them much less frustrating (and much more productive) places to work. To explain those three:

  • Continued business justification – at the end of each stage the Executive (usually be the Headteacher) decides if the ‘business case’ is strong enough to continue the project.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities – project roles are based upon the ability of the person’s role within the school to allocate resources and carry out the task (and not on personalities).
  • Manage by exception – once each stage plan is agreed with specified tolerances, the project manager gets on with it, only raising exceptions to the Project Board if the tolerances (time, cost, scope) are exceeded.

I’ll explain more about PRINCE2 if there’s enough interest. I may not be qualified to give the training, but I am qualified to write explanatory blog posts. 😉

Effective learning and the physicality of the classroom.

Royal Marine Recruits Rope Climbing at CTCRM

Like many teenagers not-yet-able to drive my main mode of transport before the age of 17 was my trusty mountain bike. As soon as I had the use of my mother’s car, however, the bike stayed in the garage and the tyres stopped being topped-up with air. McDonald’s Drive-Thru’s was in! Cycling to a friend’s house to play Playstation was definitely out.

Upon returning to my parents’ house after my first year at university, however, I decided to ride up the Northumbrian coast, a trip of around 25 miles. When I got back to my parents’ I had to drag myself up the stairs to go in the shower. I can remember being half-way up the stairs on the phone to my then-girlfriend (now my wife) moaning that I’d used muscles that had evidently atrophied through lack of use. The moral of the story? Different activities use different muscles. Physicality is context-dependent.

This week I’ve been in a classroom environment whilst learning about PRINCE2 and have found the experience physically draining. It’s a magnified and time-compressed version of the situation I found myself when I started at JISC infoNet last year: sitting down for long periods of time requires a different stamina than other occupations. Teaching involves, or at least can involve, a range of physical movement that I took for granted.

It can be a different story for students, however. Traditional classrooms, with their constraints on movement and sometimes-random demands on attention, magnify issues around stamina and physicality. One thing extremely noticeable to me this week has been the amount of glare caused from hour after hour spent looking at Powerpoint slides featuring a white background. Granted, I suffer from migraines so the combination of fluorescent lighting and bright projectors isn’t great for me, but by the end of the week I was drinking strong coffee and popping ibuprofen and aspirin in preparation. No wonder many pupils arriving for lessons at the Academy I used to work would be downing energy drinks on their way in!

Counter-intuitively, then, it seems that to stay still for long periods of time can be more physically taxing than moving about often. Coupled with randomly-timed demands for attention (“What was the question?”) and artificial environments (bright lights, desks in rows, little movement) it’s no wonder that many young people decide to vote with their feet and do something more fun.

I’m still in formal education as an Ed.D. student at Durham University but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom environment where content is the focus and will be tested in an examination situation. Although this week’s course hasn’t been too bad, it’s reminded me of just how disempowering it was at school to be faced with random interruptions to learning. Whether because of poor behaviour, a pedant’s endless questioning or unspecified amounts of time for activities (and between breaks), traditional classroom learning is frustrating. I’m used to more ADHD-friendly environments.

What I’ve taken for granted in my adult life is being surrounded by good design as a consequence of deliberate choice. I spend money on the things I deem important. If I were (heaven forbid!) Head of a school the two things I’d be focusing on would be the physical environment and the diet of young people – two things that Michael Gove (UK Education Secretary) has no clue about. As Levitt and Dubner explain very well in Freakonomics, ‘people respond to incentives’. Modifying the physical environment is one of the easiest ways to Nudge people towards more effective learning.

Finally, and at the risk of pimping the (albeit free) resources of the organization for which I work, JISC infoNet has a number of infoKits, including one on Planning and Designing Technology-Rich Learning Spaces. This is in addition to Futurelab‘s excellent resources (such as the Thinking Spaces workshop resource). Definitely worth checking out.

Image CC BY-NC UK Defence Images

You don’t ‘build’ better teachers.

Teachers are not robots. You can’t add new modules, reprogram them, or expect them to work regardless of context. These seem to be facts completely alien to Elizabeth Green, writing in an article for the New York Times which appeared in March 2010. It genuinely surprised me that she’d actually set foot in a classroom, never mind being a ‘fellow of education’ at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Whatever that means.

It’s far from a logically-structured article. But an article doesn’t have to be logical to be dangerous – the Daily Mail is proof of that. To summarise, Green seems to be advocating, through a clumsy juxtaposition of quotations and roundabout argumentation that:

  1. Teaching is a science that can be taught.
  2. We need ‘better’ teachers (and the only way to measure this is through student test scores)
  3. Doug Lemov is awesome because he published a book highlighting basic teaching techniques.
  4. Money is probably the most important factor in recruiting better teachers.
  5. Classroom management and specialist knowledge are key to teaching.

Number five is obvious and the other four are obviously wrong: teaching is more art than science, teaching and learning are about much more than examinations, Lemov is just another author, and no-one goes into (nor would go into) teaching for the money.

Simply writing a misguided article isn’t dangerous. It’s dangerous when the author confuses and conflates several different issues to create an ambiguity in the sixth way defined by William Empson:

An ambiguity of the sixth type occurs when a statement says nothing, by tautology, by contradiction, or by irrelevant statements; so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own and they are liable to conflict with one another. (Seven Types of Ambiguity, p.176)

By neglecting to state explicitly what makes a ‘good’ teacher, Green fosters an ambiguity that, by the end of the article, she seemingly wants you to resolve by believing in the following howlers:

  • She criticises “proponents of No Child Left Behind” for seeing “standardised testing as the solution” but later quotes with approval findings that show “the top 5 percent of teachers” being able to “impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one year, as judged by standardised tests.” (my emphasis)
  • By constructing a narrative (through the juxtaposition of third-party quotations) the article seems to show that paying teachers more leads to an improved ‘calibre’ of teacher. Measured by? “Standardised test scores”. These quotations, it becomes evident by the end of the article, merely mask the author’s opinion.
  • Green snipes at constructivism, “a theory of learning that emphasises the importance of students’ taking ownership of their own work above all else”. No it doesn’t. Do your homework.
  • She assumes that there is one way to be a ‘good’ teacher, that this is unchanging, and that it is independent of context. Quoting with approval Lemov’s assertion that classroom management is as “learnable as playing a guitar”, Green turns on the hyperbole (in what quickly turns into a puff-piece for Lemov and his book) with phrases such as “he pointed to the screen, their eyes raced after his finger.”

Usually I would ignore this as just another article written by another just another American in just another country. However, it would seem that the even-more-dangerous Michael Gove, a man against whom I tactically voted, is determined to bring the education system in the UK to its knees by a slavish aping of the worst parts of the American education system.

I despair.

‘So… what do you do?’ (v2)

Pigeon-holes. Not those, of course, of the physical variety in which you might keep racing birds, but those of the mind. That, and people’s seemingly-innate desire to find areas of common ground in any given situation. Combined, they’re a potent, but potentially destructive force in society.

“So… what do you do?” is a question I try not to ask. It’s only one step removed from, “What do you do for a living?”, asked explicitly to answer the implicit question “Are you of any value or interest to me?”. I have a three step strategy to answer such questions:

Questioner: So… what do you do?

Me: I work at Northumbria University

That satisfies 80% of queries. Sometimes that’s followed up by:

Questioner: Oh really, what do you do there?

Me: I work for an organization called JISC that’s based at Northumbria and deals with educational technology.

This deals with a further 15%. Only about one out of every twenty people ask for the full details:

Questioner: What type of things do you do?

Me: I work for a part of JISC called JISC infoNet. We’re funded indirectly by the taxpayer and provide guidance on digital technologies mainly to senior managers. We produce ‘infoKits’ which are detailed online briefings to get the further and higher education sectors up-to-speed on relevant topics. I’m currently working on  some giving guidance about Open Educational Resources and mobile technologies. JISC saves the taxpayer more than thirty times what they cost to fund.

If all three questions have been asked, this usually leads to a longer conversation where we both get to talk about what we enjoy and find interesting in life. I am, of course, slightly more loquacious than the above, but you get the idea. :-p

Apart from my absolutely most-hated phrase which I will no doubt write about soon – a phrase banned in our house since the birth of our son – apart from that particular phrase, the one I revile most is the one which asks what you do for a living?. Every action and utterance has a symbolic element. In this case, the questioner not only assumes, but serves to endorse and reinforce, societal notions that what a person does to earn money is necessarily the defining feature of their life.

I’m currently reading a book about Greg Mortenson called Three Cups of Tea. Whilst I’ve only devoured the first six chapters, Mortenson has already attempted to scale K2, been kept alive by the hospitality of a tiny, remote, and very poor village, worked as a emergency-room nurse, slept in a car to make ends meet, and returned to Pakistan to build a school after raising money through the writing of 580 letters. How would he have answered, “So… what do you do?” at this point of his life, I wonder? I’m guessing he would barely mention what happens to pay the bills.

I do enjoy working at JISC infoNet – how could I fail to? It’s a flexible occupation where I’m surrounded by great people doing work that the sector respects and deems worthwhile. I didn’t enjoy my previous job, however. I was constrained and cajoled into doing things against my better judgement. Refusing to sell out, I changed jobs (and educational sectors) and took a pay cut, despite having moved my family to a different part of the country specifically for the previous position. I write this not to self-aggrandise, but to make a point:

Your mission in life is bigger than your job.

So what’s my mission? I’ll find the specifics later but I’ve got the broad brushstrokes: improving user outcomes. Let’s just check that back against what I wrote 14 months ago, shall we? Does what I said then still hold water?

So what do I do?

  • I blend digital and physical worlds.
  • I tell stories about how learning can be.
  • I show people stuff.
  • I research.
  • I find the best of the best.

My job’s what I make it. I can live with that.

Is that still true? Absolutely. 😀

Weeknote #20

This week I have been mostly…

Attending the Scottish Learning Festival

I attended the Scottish Learning Festival last year when I was Director of E-Learning at the Academy. It was very different going from an FE/HE point of view!

To be honest, I was there as much for the TeachMeet as I was to find out other things. My conference blog has further details about the TeachMeet and the awesome games-based learning stuff I found out!

Volunteering my services

Suitably enthused by the Scottish Learning Festival and a couple of things I’ve read this week, I’ve volunteered my services to the Headteacher of Ben’s new school. I wrote him a letter explaining how much Ben’s enjoying school nursery, my background and that I’d like to help however I can.

I managed to meet the Head shortly afterwards and he said he’d like me to come in. We didn’t have time to talk details, but I’m optimistic about great things happening!

Counting my blessings

The Telegraph leaked a list of quangos at risk of government cuts yesterday. JISC isn’t a quango but is funded by HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England), which is. Thankfully, the latter’s deemed useful and safe. Phew!

Given the stimulus of attending the Scottish Learning Festival in a different role, I’ve been reflecting on my life and counting my blessings. I’m very fortunate to have flexible working arrangements, a pretty secure job and a wonderful family. 🙂

The sublime and the ridiculous.

There’s a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. Take the following in response to a retweet I made about potentially giving learners Google-like ‘20% time’ to pursue their own interests:

My initial response?

Ridiculous. That would never happen!

And then…

But perhaps as a vision statement for 2020 that could work.

Which got me thinking:

So what would we need to do to make that reality?

Perhaps:

  • Mobile phones seen as learning equipment.
  • Availability of secure GPS-enabled school environment.
  • Learner autonomy.

So actually, an offhand statement can serve as a vision to work towards. It’s good to mix things up sometimes. :-p

Is it time to get rid of secondary schools?

One of the really interesting things that’s coming out of research I’m doing at the moment is just how increasingly irrelevant secondary schools really to the lives of young people. There’s loads of great stuff going on in Primary schools. Really innovative, pedagogically-sound stuff. There’s also awesome things happening in Further and Higher Education.

I don’t see it in Secondary schools. Pockets here and there perhaps, but not to the same extent. And, more to the point, nor do the researchers and innovators to whom I’ve been speaking.

So what’s the problem? What’s holding back innovation in secondary schools? Well…

  • Teachers blame senior leaders
  • Senior leaders blame the curriculum
  • The curriculum was, up until recently, the responsibility of the QCDA
  • The QCDA blames the examination boards
  • The examination boards blame the government
  • The government blames lack of innovation in schools.

Now that the QCDA has been given its notice, this is a massive opportunity for secondary schools. People talk about the ‘crisis in higher education’. That’s just a funding crisis. The real crisis is 11-16 year olds voting with their feet.

What can we do about it? Take a stand, for a start.

So I’m not really proposing that we just let anyone over the age of 11 wander the streets. Of course not. But I do think that the organizations that form the secondary ecosystem have a whole lot of work to do to win hearts and minds.

The post-Becta, QCDA and GTCE future.

These thoughts are my own and don’t represent my employer’s, my wife’s or the those of Father Christmas. 😉

On the one hand, the Conservatives’ education policies heavily (and negatively) influenced my vote in the recent General Election. On the other hand, now that we’ve got Mr Gove, at least he’s had the courage of his convictions to get rid of three bodies:

Becta

Probably the most useful of the three to go, Becta was the government’s advisory service for educational technology. I was part of their Open Source Schools project and attended events such as BectaX. Unfortunately, they became less relevant, increasingly unwieldy and seemingly more subject to internal politics as time went on.

QCDA

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency advised the government on the National Curriculum, assessment and qualifications. The new coalition government believe that its functions can be discharged more effectively in other ways (e.g. Ofqual). I didn’t have much dealings with them, but never really knew why they were there.

The QCDA’s sample National Curriculum schemes of work were unfortunately taken as gospel by some Heads of Departments and Senior Leaders – rather than as a basis upon which to innovate. Sometimes it is your fault if the tools and resources you produce are used as instruments of repression…

GTCE

I have never hidden my utter contempt for the General Teaching Council for England, noting how ridiculous their ‘code of conduct’ for teachers was. The fact that they took money off you and then gave it back if you were employed as a teacher seemed utterly pointless. Their only purposes seemed to be to send out glossy magazines and discipline teachers who take drugs. I found their lack of proper consultation, their arbitrary stance and their waste of public money shocking.

The future?

I’m really pleased that these three organizations have gone together rather than in a piecemeal fashion. I think it signals a bright future for schools in England – so long as the Academies programme isn’t used just to shuffle the money from quangos to consultants. I hope that getting rid of these organizations means that money can be channeled more effectively to schools, partnerships, federations and authorities who in a position closer to the ground to gauge its impact.

Grassroots innovation and sharing of practice through online networks should now take centre stage. Instead of people being able to hide behind (their readings of) recommendations made by quangos, they’ll have to actually engage and think about their particular context. That can only be a good thing.

A note of caution, however. Just because a tool such as Twitter is open and decentralized does not make the networks it facilitates open and decentralized. We need to be careful not to fall prey to the age-old “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and gatekeeper-ism. 🙂

I’d really like to hear YOUR views on this. Are you a teacher in the UK? What do you think? If you’re not, what’s your take from the outside?

Education is easy – in theory! [visualization]

I can see now that it takes more than having passed through school as a student to understand the education system.* After all, it looks something like the diagram below, right?

Of course those who have worked in educational institutions know that the above is far from the truth. Instead of, for example, research being the bedrock of all that goes on, it is marginalized and distorted. The issues** along the lines linking the elements together show how it’s a messy picture – not in itself a bad thing – and it’s distorted by politics (which is a bad thing) :-p

* Not that you’d know that from talking to your average member of the general public! 😉

** N.B. The reason I didn’t add ‘time’ as a factor in the second diagram is because, as I’ve said to a few people this week, time itself isn’t an issue. It’s priorities – which is a different matter.

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