Northern Rocks 2015

Today was Northern Rocks 2015, slightly over 1 year since Northern Rocks 2014. Last years event was very enjoyable and included lots of opportunities to be reflective and question things so I was hoping this year’s would be the same, and I was not disappointed.

Panel Discussion

The conference opened with a few words from organiser Emma Ann Hardy (@emmaannhardy) who set the scene and the tone for the day. She then passed over to co-organiser Debra Kidd (@debrakidd), who chaired a panel discussion involving Kevin Courtney (@cyclingkev), Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney), Melissa Benn (@melissa_benn), Jonathan Simons (@pxeducation), Michael Cladingbowl (@mcladingbowl) and Mick Waters. The discussion was great and covered topics including “how can we ensure creative subjects aren’t marginalised by Ebac?” And “To what extent is Government rhetoric responsible for the problems we have with teacher recruitment?”

Creative Subjects

There were many salient points made within this discussion. Kevin stated that he believes it is time schools take back the ownership of the curriculum and start doing what they think is best for the children rather than the league tables. Jonathan proclaimed that there’s actually nothing to stop creative subjects being taught as there are 3 free “bins” on the Ebac. Mick Waters suggested that English and Maths shouldn’t be taught distinctly but within other subjects, which made me think a bit and I think will be the subject of a future post. I was left at the end thinking “but Maths IS Creative!”

Government Rhetoric and Teacher Recruitment

Laura made the point that if prospective teachers were going to be put off by things Gove said then they’d not last long with a tough year 9 class. Jonathan claimed the government had never knocked teachers (I guess “the blob”, “Enemies of hope,” “dealers in despair,” and “enemies of promise” were meant as compliments?). Kevin put forward the view that perhaps government rhetoric couldn’t be blamed for the recruitment crisis, but it could be blamed for retention rates which are low on the main due to the massively overwhelming workload faced by teachers which is driven by government rhetoric.

The whole discussion was lively, invigorating and all panel members made me think.

Martin Illingworth (@MartinIllingwor) – Think before you teach

Martin is a former teacher who now works in teacher education. His presentation style was brilliant and left me thinking that he must have been an inspirational teacher. He started the session by reading an excerpt from his new book which describes a satirical academy made up of all the strange policies he has encountered in his time. It was amusing and made me think I might enjoy the book.

He then moved onto his presentation, he posed a series of questions about learning which got me thinking. He seemed to strongly hold the view that we shouldn’t be teaching anything other than how to learn. This seems a bizarre idea to me. His argument is that we live in a digital age and we all have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips so don’t need to remember anything. This goes against the research into long term and working memory that suggests holding knowledge in long term memory allows more working memory to process what we are doing.

He suggested that we shouldn’t teach prescribed knowledge because we don’t know what people will need to know in 15 years. This seems a redundant argument, Michael Cladingbowl has spoken in the panel discussion on creative subjects about the common curriculum that has run for years. That there were many things taught to our parents and grandparents that we still teach today.

I think the biggest argument against this idea comes when I think of the innovators of tomorrow. How will we cure cancer if we have no knowledge of cellular biology? How will we make the links into the unknown if we don’t know the known?

Alastair Arnott (@Alastair_Arnott) and Mick Waters – Positive Psychology

The main theme of this session was one I could certainly get behind, that learning from your mistakes is key. I strongly believe that by failing and learning from your failures you can make the best improvements. Alastair spoke well on this from a psychological perspective and I’m interested to read his views in more depth. I try to create a culture in my classroom where learners feel they can get it wrong without ridicule because this is a key part of learning.

However, the main thing I will remember from the session was perhaps a throw away line from Alastair that irked me no end. “Knowledge is becoming obselete.” NO IT IS NOT. As mentioned above, we need knowledge to live the world forward. We need knowledge to move us forward, he’ll we need knowledge to live, to eat, to have a conversation. It is not, and never will be, obselete.

Jo Pearson (@jopearson3) – Teaching schools, supporting teacher development from the inside out.

This was an excellent session, Jo started by explaining in depth about teaching schools and their nature. Then went on to discuss some of the work her own teaching school alliance (TSA) has been up to. It’s an interesting topic and she said some worrying things about the system as a whole.

Her TSA is one that encourages collaboration and increasing outcomes for all no. She spike about aristotellian friendships and the mutually beneficial nature that can be garnered by these partnership. But she also warned of the sharks, the TSAs out for themselves who could consume rivals in a sort of municipal darwinism.

She also spike of some of the challenges she faced with funding. It seems that the funding dries up a little after three years and puts TSAs into a negative incentive systen where they can make considerably more funds from one day conferences with little effect than they can by deploying SLEs to have real long term effects. This is something that I feel needs addressing.

Phil Wood (@geogphil) – Initial reflections on a slow research approach

I think I enjoyed this session most. Which is good, because it was the hardest choice of workshop fir me with 5 speakers on that I would have really liked to have seen. Phil spoke about slow education and slow research which looks at the process as being as important as the outcome.

He highlighted a view that all teachers should have been involved in at least some small scale research to enable them to be more able to critically evaluate the wealth of edu research that is thrown at them. I can see how this would be effective.

He also highlighted the importance of discussion. Giving examples of innovation stalling in schools with no shared staffroom as there us nowhere for spontaneous pedagogical discussion to take place. This was a large focus in a recent masters assignment I wrote and had been a topic of discussion for me with a former colleague earlier in the day.

Phil also spoke about how some teachers find themselves in a position when engaging in research led to them holding views that differed from senior leaders, and that the best schools were where leaders were open to being part of a wider debate.

Phil’s session, as all the sessions, gave me plenty of food for thought. The day was great and I’m already eagerly anticipating next year’s event.

This post is now part of the June 2015 #blogsync on Northern Rocks. The other posts can be found here.

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