My latest post for DMLcentral has been published!
Some answers to questions about how I ended up leaving the classroom five years ago.
Taking inspiration from Oliver Quinlan’s book, I exhort you to Write Your Damn Book.
Awesome stuff I saw and want to play with.
Is Michael Gove systematically dismantling state education in England?
I’m not sure.
To believe so presumes competence, intention and strategy on his part. Most of what I observe is an ill-informed sociopath flapping about at seemingly-random educational targets.
See what you think by looking at these BBC News stories since the beginning of the calendar year:
- Michael Gove: Academy school critics ‘happy with failure’ (4 January 2012)
- New yacht for Queen’s jubilee, suggests Michael Gove (16 January 2012)
- Michael Gove labels academy opponents ‘Trots’ (31 January 2012)
- Most GCSE equivalents axed from school league tables (31 January 2012)
- University-led secondary PGCEs face uncertain future (8 February 2012)
- Gove tells head teachers school reforms need to be accelerated (24 March 2012)
- Michael Gove wants universities to create new A-levels (3 April 2012)
- U-turn signalled over no-notice inspections for schools (5 May 2012)
- Schools get King James Bible to mark 400th anniversary (15 May 2012)
- Michael Gove pushes for performance pay for teachers (16 May 2012)
- Plans for O-level-style exams to replace GCSEs (21 June 2012)
- Governors hit back at Gove’s ‘badge of status’ comments (6 July 2012)
- Gove turns down group’s bid for extra education funding (14 July 2012)
- Academies told they can hire unqualified teachers (27 July 2012)
So no need to be a qualified teacher in England any more. This news, of course, was buried by being announced on a Friday in the school holidays, on the very day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Perhaps that was to avoid another strike by teachers like the one in November 2011?
From where I’m sitting, this looks like part of a wider move to centralise schooling in England. There were huge financial incentives for schools to become academies. Now, even if the money’s not there, there’s certainly political and other kinds of pressures bearing down on headteachers and governors.
Once English schools all become academies they’re outside of local authority control but under the direct control of Whitehall. Gove may bleat that academies have powers to do this or that, but when there’s no buffer between the headteacher and the all-powerful politician in control of the money, there’s no real contest.
Michael Gove is the most power-hungry, dangerously reactionary, and misguided millionaire Secretary of State for Education we’ve had a for a long time. He proposes yachts for over-privileged, taxpayer-funded families and gives out religious texts inscribed with his name. Meanwhile extra cash for the most deprived boroughs is turned down and, in the midst of one of the most sustained attacks on the profession in living memory, teachers are expected to roll over and accept performance-related pay.
Who will rid us of this troublesome beast?
Image CC BY-NC staticgirl
I was fortunate enough to meet the amazing Audrey Watters and Steve Hargadon when I was over in San Francisco earlier this year. The authenticity of the ‘Irish’ pub in which we met was questionable, but their commitment to furthering education certainly isn’t!
Steve and Audrey have a weekly podcast in which they reflect on Audrey’s (prolific) written output over the past seven days. Today I listened to the one embedded at the bottom of this post (also here). They’re both so insightful that I wanted to be part of the conversation. The only way I can do so at the moment is by adding my thoughts here.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
Steve brought up the point that companies build business models around the idea that teachers want to share lesson plans. He questioned whether that’s actually true.
Not in my opinion.
In my experience, the needs of classroom teachers (which used to include me) are on a spectrum related to interest. So, for example, I’d spend hours researching and creating resources around 1066 and the Norman Conquest. I love that period of History.
On the other hand, I tried to get the Agricultural Revolution out of the way as soon as possible, and used resources in my lessons almost entirely created by other people.
And that’s the difference: if you’re a motivated teacher, you don’t want prescriptive lesson plans for stuff that excites you. Of course, if you’re an ineffective, demotivated teacher, you’ll grab as many lesson plans as you can.
Lesson plans are different to learning resources. I used to have a huge collection of both physical and digital resources, neatly categorised, upon which I could draw. Very motivated and effective teachers within the UK History teaching community would share these – but do different things with them.
Sharing lesson plans as a business model misses the point, I think. Learning, as both Audrey and Steve pointed out, is about relationships not content-delivery.
One of the tangential conversations Steve and Audrey had was around social bookmarking. Steve ‘confessed’ to not really using social bookmarking services such as delicious or diigo any more.
I’m glad it’s not just me.
Since delicious has changed hands from Yahoo! to some randoms, I haven’t even got the bookmarklet or Firefox extension installed. I re-find things either through a search engine, my Thought Shrapnel tumblr or Evernote. As Steve mentioned, the personal (primary) benefit is more important than the (secondary) social benefit in this regard.
What I did find interesting is that Audrey uses Pinboard which positions itself as ‘social bookmarking for introverts’. I’ve got a (paid) account there, so I may give that another try.
The purpose of education
Time and time again, Audrey came back to the purpose of education. It’s not about content delivery. It’s not about power. It’s not about money.
This is something that’s obviously close to my heart.
I really enjoyed listening in to Steve and Audrey’s conversation and shall do so regularly. I just hope that as the podcast develops they summarise the stories before analysing them. What’s huge in the US (for example) is sometimes barely reported over here in the UK. I had to read between the lines of the Penn State controversy, for example.
But that’s a minor, nitpicking point. Listen to the podcast. It’s awesome.
On Thursday, Mark Clarkson wrote a blog post that started off like this:
I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.
Note the end of that sentence: a young, talented teacher with so much to offer the world feels like he has no ‘viable exit strategy’. There are thousands of teachers up and down the country feeling the same thing.
I should know. A few years ago I was one of them.
You should go and read Mark’s post. If you’re currently a classroom teacher you’ll be nodding your head at the bullet point after bullet point of bureaucratic, administrative nonsense he (and most other teachers) put up with. And if you’re not a teacher, you’ll be shocked.
On top of the ridiculous workload teachers like Mark experience each year, he notes that the benefits aren’t exactly stellar:
At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised… That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.
I’ve been out of the classroom for just over two years now. And already my wife, a Primary school teacher, has to remind me what it’s like. I consider setting off together for work five minutes late a minor inconvenience. But for her, and many teachers, it can make or break their day. I’m fairly sure teachers know what stress is.
Although I would say this, I think we need a review of what we’re doing when it comes to schools. We can’t keep cannibalising the goodwill of people in an underpaid, overworked, increasingly-attacked profession. I think we need a public debate about the purpose(s) of education.
I’ll give the last word to Mark. He echoes something I used to say repeatedly – until I decided enough was enough:
I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy.
TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.
Image CC BY-NC paulbence
My latest blog post for DMLcentral is now online: Conferences as Catalysts for Educational Innovation and Change.
A select morsel:
The face-to-face nature of conferences is, I believe, of even more importance in an extremely digitally connected world. Whilst it’s often the case that you can get to know people very well online, there’s something about embodied interaction that makes your knowledge of that person three-dimensional. I don’t think one method of interacting is necessarily ‘better’ than the other; a blended approach is best. This, I suppose, is why social media is so popular.
In addition, my opinion on Apple’s new iBooks Author was quoted on the JISC site this week. However, they mistakenly listed me as a ‘practising teacher’.
That little slip made me realise just how much I miss it…
Whilst I was enjoying the sun in Malta and Gozo last week the Guardian Teacher Network published an article I wrote entitled How to use mobile devices in the classroom. It’s a piece I wrote originally in the wake of the #govephonehome debacle and then edited for publication a couple of months ago. It links to the lesson plan and presentation that regular readers of this blog will already have seen. 🙂
I wouldn’t have used the image included in the article as I think it displays the opposite logic to the position I’m arguing; it posits a negative whilst I’m espousing a positive. I suggested the photograph above but am at the mercy of editors!
I’m speaking at the Guardian Innovation in Education event next month. There’s still tickets left and the website features an interview with me here.
Image CC BY mortsan
I’m mentioned in The Guardian today in a short article entitled How to teach using mobile phones. However, as is the case with such things, what appears and what I submitted are two different things. For a start, my emphasis was on mobile devices more generally (not just phones!)
Thankfully, they’ve still linked to the resources I was asked to produce. If the link in the article doesn’t work (it didn’t for me) just search ‘mobile devices’ at the Guardian Teacher Network. I’ve decided to reproduce what I originally wrote here:
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to be in the pocket or bag of every young person it’s some kind of mobile device. They may forget their planner or even a pen, but they’re unlikely to be without their mobile phone. This, understandably, can lead to some frustration.
From the smartphone to the iPad to the Nintendo 3Ds the range of devices that young people have access to is growing – and so is their power to connect people. However, many parents, teachers and even children themselves are unsure as to how mobile devices can be used for anything more than entertainment. Do mobile devices have a place in the classroom? Are they merely distractions to learning?
On the Guardian Teacher Network, you can find now find a PowerPoint to get adults and children alike thinking about how they can use everything from their mobile phone to their games consoles for learning. The PowerPoint gives 10 different scenarios in which mobile devices could be used to add value to what goes on in the classroom – or even fundamentally change the types of activities that are available.
The associated Cribsheet gives suggestions and links to further resources as to how discussions about mobile devices can be framed with school governors, senior leaders, teachers, parents and children. There are many ways in which the resources can be used – everything from a PSHE lesson (perhaps drawing up guidelines to responsible and appropriate use) to Staff CPD or even a ‘town hall’ style meeting with parents.
With schools increasingly having the freedom and powers to innovate around the traditional curriculum through Academy, Trust or Free School status, now is a good time to be talking through the issues involved in mobile learning. Not only will it really engage pupils, but there’s the potential for it to be used as a ‘trojan horse’ for real curriculum change!
This was the second, more objective, draft. I’ve been promised that my first, longer and more polemicised draft will be used in a few weeks’ time. We’ll see.
PS Congratulations to @colport and the people behind #ukedchat – they’re mentioned in The Guardian today as well: Twittering classes for teachers
Image CC BY mortsan