Monday, 24 September 2012

The What, How and Why of it all

We are hypocrites, most of us. We don't mean to be, but we are.

Bold words, I know, but I am not attacking us with venom or unreal expectations.

This line of thought started when I went on a child protection course as part of my new role I am SDP (senior designated person) for safeguarding. It's not a role I relish, but it is vital. I realised over the day that there is an awful lot of that I am ignorant of. That got me thinking of conversations I've had with people about pedagogical practice. I've said things like, "How did you hear about the child-led learning? Was it based on anyone's work?" To which the response it, in an often patronising tone. 
"You know a lot about things, don't you?"

No, I really, really don't. 

The worry for me is we, as teachers, follow government guidelines because we have to. We teach because we want to. We don't always learn why we do things because we haven't got time to.

I recently watched a video about leadership, through iTunesU. It talked about the three zones of marketing and how the conception was backwards. People were looking at things the wrong way round. This was called, The what, how & why. This model can be applied to us as teachers and educators.

The most common zone is 'What'. 

It's the first zone most people focus on. What are we doing today? What is our learning objective? What is 3 x 5? Etc. what is a safe zone to sit in, because when people ask you about 'what', you are able to give an answer. 

The next is 'How'. 
How comes next because it's the process of delivery for the 'What' section. How do I translate my paper plans into practice? How did you know 3 x 5 was 15? The 'How' part is our stock in trade, the bit we do, for the most part, pretty well.

The least investigated, is the 'Why'. 
Bizarrely, this is the area we are most interested in the children using. Why did you think you did well? Can you explain why 3 x 5 was 15? Why did you hit him with your shoe? All these questions can, and probably mostly, have the answer of "I don't know". 

In terms of pedagogy, I don't know enough to spout whether this has been said before. Like the title suggests, I'm a hypocrite. I think it's better to know what you are and want to change than to not know what you do and seek to preach.

In terms of change, What am I asking for? Do I want to know the theoretical underpinnings of each individual style of teaching, perhaps for the teachers to include reference to which practitioner has influenced the plenary for Tuesday's lesson on word problems? No, I don't. I want them to hone their craft by having access to people who have had great ideas. People who, when we describe what they do, we get giddy and want to try it ourselves.

I want them to focus more on 'Why' they are doing something and less on the mechanics of what and how. I want them to feel free enough, trusted enough and confident enough to take a tangent and understand the potential for learning is everywhere. 

I will be using this model for appraisals, lesson observations and general discussions, starting, always, with a 'Why'.

How about, "That was a great lesson. Why did you choose that particular approach? How can you adapt it next time to better suit the needs of your boys? What do you feel went well?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Effective Behaviour Management starts with consistency.

Every classroom I've been in has rules. Some are phrased as a positive statement "we are good listeners", others are more clear cut, "Don't rock on your chair". Teachers view these are the backbone of the classroom. Their proverbial rod of iron, so to speak. In one class I went into, they had a full display board of rules. 15 of them. In my opinion that's way too many.

As an NQT my main focus was to be a good teacher by ensuring my teaching happened. I needed rules that allow me to teach the lessons I'd planned. Nothing  unusual about that. But the interesting thing was, one year, I didn't put up my class rules display (I had 7 rules on my display and I think it's probably lurking on TES resources or primary resources or somewhere) and the strangest thing happened... The class did as I expected them to do without the big list of things they had to do.

Instead, I invested in them. I created private spaces in class that they owned, that I wouldn't go in unless I asked them. These were nothing more than a tray with their name on, but the simple act of explicitly making it private meant there was significantly more value attached to it than a normal tray would  have. The other staff also respected these spaces and as a result, they had ownership (physically) of the classroom and also the beginnings of respecting a shared space.

So what has this got to do with rules? Lots actually. It prompted me to look at the need for rules. Why did I no longer need to refer to a definitive list of rules? What had changed? What was I doing that was different? The answer was nothing had changed. I have always set my stall out and stuck to my word. 

It is actually the act of being consistent in your approach, coupled with clear expectations that ensures good behaviour management. I know this all seems common sense and it's nothing new to those of us in the job, but here are my tips for effective classroom management.

1. Be consistent: if you say you don't accept that type of behaviour, there had to be a consequence for the offender's actions. Don't move from your position, but also, don't put yourself in untenable situations. Similarly, praise will be valued, not when it is lavished upon them, but when it is hard earned. Praise the small things, they are more important. The big things will follow, I promise.

2. Care: obvious, right? But vitally important. If you care, they care back; it's human nature. 

3. Embody the values that you want them to value. If you ask them to say please and thank you, do it too. To everyone, without exception. They will copy you.

4. Create a class identity. Don't say 'my' class, say 'our' class. Talk openly about the classroom being their space as well. Perhaps create a class parody of a popular song, or a poem that includes them in it.

5. Value their work. Display it. Get parents in to see it. Photocopy it and send it home. 

6. Don't tell them lies. Even when you want to. 

These are some of the things I do. I now have two rules in my classroom. Always try your best & be honest in all things.

That applies to everyone, teachers and pupils alike.

Friday, 29 June 2012

It depends where you start....

When I was fourteen, I went to Ireland with my dad. We stayed at one guest house and, while walking up a few flights of stairs to the room by the owner, he gestured left saying, "The breakfast room's there." A few more flights of stairs later and I couldn't remember which floor the breakfast room was on, so I asked him to tell me. He looked at me, thought for a moment and said, "Well, I guess it depends where you start." I never thought about this as a educational point before, but it's a thinking one. As educators we are stuck in a rigid system where numbers, levels and data indicate position, both within class and league tables, yet that can inhibit thinking. His approach to answering my question was to remove what we naturally perceive to be the obvious absolute: the building is rigid & therefore we must move around the building. He put me as the rigid element and moved the building to fit my requirement. To him, the problem wasn't confined by the framework within which I had posed it, based on my accepted view of the world, he manipulated his response based on a different set of parameters, ones which I am only just beginning to understand. That got me thinking about the new draft curriculum. It mentions the word practice a lot. An awful lot, to be honest. So much so that I started to think about changing my approach to teaching and it didn't seem to fit at all. Then I remembered Kilkenny man. So, I would suggest we do practise things. But not quite the way the lord Gove intended. when practising a skill or setting a task, ensure the viewpoint is changed from time to time. Make the children uncomfortable by removing things that are familiar. Then practise figuring out why things are the way they are. Thinking skills are integral to empowering independent and lifelong learning and underpin successful, employable and engaging adults. It is though experience that we improve.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Leaders of Learning

Today, a group of Year 9 students from Hodgson Academy, came in to run a 90 minute session with my Year 5 class. They were self-penned "Leaders of Learning". I like that. A lot of schools, mine included, have digital leaders or similar, but in a way, it restricts the good work they can do to one educational avenue - digital/technological based stuff. I think I'm going to steal the Leaders of Learning thing. I like the multi faceted nature of the title, implying that their role is to be a broad and informed tier of leaders - much like schools are trying to implement with management structures. Why not make use of children's abilities in a much more efficient way? I think digital leaders just expanded for me.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Thank You, Mr Maloney, for helping my child to fail.

From the title, I expect you think this post is all negative. That's logical, based on the failure element of it, but it's wrong. This was a magic moment that happened with a parent the other day.

Her child - a bright girl - has done really well with me this year but, as I keep saying, I've not really done that much, it was all her own efforts. Her mother responded by saying something really interesting, in my opinon, which is paraphrased below:

Every year we've been told how well she's doing, how she's brilliant at everything and is top of the class. You've told us how she's all of those things, but also how she can move forward and what we can do and why we should. You've put her in positions where she'll fail, where she can't rely on her academic intelligence and watched her struggle and then explained why it's okay to feel that frustration and how to overcome it. Thank you, Mr Maloney, for helping my child to fail.

This comment came off the back of a lot of work about the importance of coping strategies for higher ability children, but all children in general. The root of this was started by a quote which I was introduced to by Dawn Hallybone, a teacher in London.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett

That's up on my door and I make the meaning of that quote tangible in every activity I do. I purposely plan opportunities for failure as it is not the great demon that children historically are told they should avoid, but a companion on their learning journey towards a successful and invigorating future.