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Working Together

April 8, 2016 Leave a comment

This post was originally published here, on Labour Teachers 11th April 2016.

The other day I was out with a friend of mine and he was regaling us with stories of when he spent some time in Finland as a teenager. He was there as part of an exchange programme and said his experience meant he was not even the slightest bit surprised when a few years later the world media were hailing the Finnish as the world leaders in all things education.

It was a different part of his story on the Finnish that really got me thinking though, one not explicitly linked to education, but one which may tells us some things about the culture and certainly one which has applications within the education sector.

“I nearly got fined for Jay-walking” he said. “There were no cars visible so we just crossed the road, to the horror of our Finnish hosts.”

“Bit keen on it over there are they?” I asked.

“Yeah, but they explained why and it makes perfect sense. They look at it this way, all it takes is one car to slow down and that can lead to a traffic jam. Most cars slow down because some has run across the road when they shouldn’t have, so if nobody does then the whole system works much better.”

He was right, it does make perfect sense, an d the fact that apparently the whole nation buy into it perhaps gives an insight into why they seem to get other things right, or certainty did in the past.

It made me think about the systems in place within schools – and how they are limited by their weakest link. If you have a strict policy on no headphones in the classroom,  but some teachers allow them, this leads to other teachers losing lesson time because students argue that “Mr Jones in IT let’s me.”

If you have a system that escalates from a warning to being send to a removal room for a lesson,  to spending the rest of the day in isolation if you either refuse or mess about in the removal room, but then the behaviour manager who you call out when someone refuses to go to the removal room don’t place them in isolation it undermines the system and gives those students a perceived free pass.

If you are lenient to a student because they have a tenancy to kick off when challenged the other students will pick up and this and it will cause issues when you aren’t as lenient on them.

If established teachers don’t get on board with a new stricter behaviour system because they feel the old system suits them it causes all sorts of problems for newly qualified teachers who are trying to implement a system. Students pick up on this and argue that “Miss Thornley doesn’t give me a warning for that.”

Systems can work very well, but if they aren’t used properly they won’t work at all. A badly designed system that is used well and consistently will have more impact than a perfect system that is used haphazardly and only by half of the staff.

Perhaps the Finnish faith in their transport system is indicative of a culture that is build on everyone following structures that are aimed to benefit the whole, even at the expense of a short term gain for the individual. And perhaps that shows us a glimpse as to one of the reasons why historically their education system has been successfully.

Even if this isn’t the case, and their is no link between their road awareness and their educational prowess, that doesn’t mean we can’t take these lessons and apply them in our schools. We should be working together to follow the policies and ensure that we implement them as a team.

If you don’t agree with the policy discuss that with those in charge of putting them in place and express your feelings, try to get them changed. Don’t undermine them as that will hurt your less experienced colleagues, and your students,  the most. If you are working somewhere with a policy you feel strongly about and can’t get it changed, then the sensible option is to look for alternative employment, as it’s likely to be an ideological difference between yourself and the senior management and you are never going to happy with the way they run the school.

Great teaching leads to student progress

October 31, 2014 5 comments

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Today the Sutton Trust report “What makes great teaching?” by Rob Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major was released. It’s a report I’ve eagerly been awaiting and I very much enjoyed reading it. You can download the report in full here free of charge. It’s only around 50 pages long and I’d say read it, but if your lacking in the time or the inclination I would say you should definitely still download it, and read the executive summary which is only around 3 pages long. This executive summary is a brilliant summary of the report, so I feel no need to summarise it here, but there are a few points I’d like to comment on.

Above is a screenshot of the start of the executive summary which includes the quote:

Great teaching is defined as that which leads to improved student progress.

That, to me, seems the most obvious thing in the world. If the pupils are progressing well in your subject, then the teaching is great. If the students aren’t progressing, then you need to look at what’s going on and put things right. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

Last year I was discussing the progress of my NQT with the SLT member in charge of the department. He had completed the penultimate NQT observations on those in the department and had graded one as outstanding and the one I mentored as requires improvement. We discussed this and he said that there were things missing from the lesson, the sort of things you would expect from all singing all dancing lessons – one example he gave was “he didn’t use lollipop sticks”!!! I found this particularly bad as the class he’d seen my NQT with was his year 9 class and I knew that the class in question had made significant progress throughout the year. More progress across the year, in fact, than any other class in year 9! Which to me proves that the teaching they were receiving was great. This points to an issue highlighted in the report:

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I also had a discussion with a HoD at another school who told me he didn’t understand how his AS results had been so poor when he’d had a “consistently outstanding” teacher teaching them all year. My advice was simple: “you need to redefine your conditions for outstanding. If the students aren’t making progress, then you need to try something else.”

I’m glad that this report, and recent ofsted guidance, is signposting a move away from the idea of preferred teaching styles and single lesson judgements. Different things work for different teachers, and different things work for different classes. Context is key. There’s a wealth of ideas and things research suggests works in this report, and I’d suggest trying it out, I will be, but you need to always bare in mind that things that work elsewhere won’t always work for you.

Another key point I noted was the strength of evidence to say that Pedagogical Subject Knowledge was important, especially in maths.

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This is something I’ve written about before, and again something that seems obvious. Yet I’ve often heard people say “If you can teach, you can teach anything.” I’ve experienced in my own education teachers that were one page ahead in the text book and it wasn’t effective. We need to ensure our pedagogical subject knowledge is up to scratch, that we know the links between our subject and the misconceptions likely to occur. This is particularly important now, as we are in the middle of massive curricula reform which will see a large amount of teachers teaching topics they haven’t taught before, and we all need to make sure we are prepared.

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Teacher observations

A strong theme throughout the report is around observations. The report seems to favour heavily the idea that they are most effective when done in a formative developmental way.

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They also have some pointers as to how this development can be helped:

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These are ideas I like. I think all teachers should be constantly developing, and striving to improve. Hattie’s research suggests that there us a massive positive effect on outcomes when teachers see themselves as learners and this backs that up. I’ve noticed an uptake in the number if teachers I know undertaking further study, and this can only be a good thing.

The model of formative and development observations seems to oppose the recent move to performance related pay, and the report has this to say on it:

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The report talks about creating a culture where teachers are comfortable discussing their shortcomings, and working to improve them. But if they are tied to pat progression then teachers may not feel comfortable owning up to them.

I was worried to see in the report that apparently 90% of teachers still buy into learning styles

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Which is terribly worrying given the weight of evidence against then. It’s easy to find a bucketload but here’s one to start you off.

As you can see, there’s a wealth of fantastic stuff in the report, these are just a few key themes I’ve picked out that interest me. The mainstream media seem to think the main theme is about “lavish praise” but that’s just a tiny part!

If you have strong views on any of this, or anything else in the report, I’d love to hear then.

I’ll leave you with an interesting page on effective teaching of numeracy:

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