Disagreeing with myself

I have spent quite a lot of my time recently working on our school’s teaching and learning magazine:  the last minute edits, page order revisions and the ridiculous process of naming the magazine have taken their toll.  Copies were handed to staff on Tuesday and I breathed a sigh of relief.

One of the biggest issues that weighed on me was that when I printed the copies, my views, ethos, ideas etc were final.  More than this, the school name was attached so what was written in there almost instantly became part of what the school stands for.  While the electronic copy could be edited, that version I gave to staff was physical and unchangeable.  Therefore I had to ensure that I could stand by what I wrote.

But…I have no idea how my views on teaching will change.  I guarantee that if I read the magazine in a year’s time, I will disagree with myself on some specific ideas. I find some of my earlier blog posts naive and they were only written 6 months ago! However, I hope that my overarching ethos, that of collaboration and developing teachers doesn’t change.

One of the things that makes a great teacher is clear confidence that you are right in what you do.  You can’t second guess everything.  However, disagreeing with yourself is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you are open to new ideas and able to change your mind when evidence or experience leads you down another path.

So, on this theme of changing beliefs, below are 5 occasions when I have been absolutely sure of something, but where I disagree with myself now.

“As soon as ‘they’ come in, do a mini plenary”

‘They’ in this case being Ofsted.  I have said this on many occasions in recent years as I was convinced that ‘it’s what Ofsted want’.  (I wrote here about Ofsted not prescribing a teaching methodology)  The idea around demonstrating progress is sound, but creating fake opportunities to show progress which in fact hamper progress is a real issue.  Oftsed actually went to steps to decry this in their report on English. (I recorded a podcast on this last year.  Nobody listened to it.)  Now I stand by the fact that the progress is evident to see in exercise books that are marked well.

“If you plan good lessons then the behaviour will be good”

I have said this so many times.  While I still believe the reverse of this to be true and pretty obvious- If you don’t plan well then there may well be poor behaviour- I have been in situations where students disrupt a well planned lesson and I have observed lessons which have been destroyed by factors outside the teacher’s control.  Sometimes the lessons are great but the behaviour management is poor.  Behaviour management is different from lesson planning and this shouldn’t be ignored.

We know students like certain things and there are activities etc which may well lead to better behaviour.  We know that you must take into account the needs of individual students when lesson planning.  However, behaviour management is a skill that needs to be developed too.  I rarely observe badly planned lessons.  It is an unhelpful piece of advice to give someone after they have struggled with poor behaviour.

“Teacher talk is bad”

It can be but isn’t always.  I have seen teachers engage students with passionate talk and skilful questioning.  I have watched as teachers model the writing process.  I have also had really active lessons myself with minimal teacher talk where the students may well have had a nice time but they didn’t learn things.  I wouldn’t encourage it as the only method, and it is a poor method when it is just a teacher lecturing students, but if it works then why shouldn’t you do it sometimes?

“You should always share the learning objective at the start of the lesson”

I have been scathing in the past of teachers who don’t have the learning objective written on the board.  Nowadays, I’m just sick of students interrupting at the start of lessons to ask what the WALT is.  My lessons always have clear learning objectives, but I’ll share them how I want and when I want.

“Kids will get what they deserve”

In my first couple of years in the profession, I was a poor teacher.  One of the reasons was very low expectations of students.  I believed that students got what they deserve and this was rooted in the culture of the department.  Students routinely handed in incomplete coursework folders and there was zero intervention.  We just taught them and ‘they got what they deserved’.  What I later realised was that ‘what they deserve’ is different to what they can get and that my job was to make the difference.  Students actually deserved the teachers to care about them even if they didn’t seem to care enough themselves.  Now, our English department gets outstanding results with the same broad pupil demographic.  (I am still in the same school).

Now, I wonder how long until I disagree with this blog post…

4 thoughts on “Disagreeing with myself

  1. Thanks for this Mark, and for some of your comments on this on twitter. I agree entirely that there is a need to follow those who you disagree with, the problem with “like minded teachers” is all you get is agreement, and not discussion or debate.

    Regarding future disagreement with yourself, this is something (hopefully) that we all do. And if in six months tine you look at issue 1 and see something you disagree with, then you should count that as a victory. It’s an every evolving profession in an ever evolving world, and it is when we stop evolving as teachers that we need to start worrying!

    Your six points really hit home, they are things you are taught as “gospel” when training, but once you start to grow as a teacher they are things that change. I was saying to Dunk the other day that it is necessary to train teachers this way, as coming in cold there are no guidelines and it you need something to hold onto, but the movement from trainee to good/outstanding teaching comes when you have the confidence, innovation and skills to be able throw off those shackles.

    • Thanks for the comment Cav. I read a quote on Twitter: “tighten up to be good, loosen up to be outstanding” which I agree with and I think teachers need to have a toolkit of things that work but which can be put aside with confidence when necessary. I know that ‘the basics’ have helped me become a good teacher but I also know that playing with these rules will help me to be outstanding.

  2. Honest and true. Thank you for this useful series of correctives. Your remarks on behaviour for learning are spot on. Too many struggling teachers fobbed off with the direction to plan more engaging lessons.

    • Thanks for commenting. I can’t be a hypocrite as I have given that advice on numerous occasions and definitely been one of those doing the fobbing off! We can’t ignore the fact that if you haven’t planned your lesson, then you can’t expect good behaviour but I think planning good lessons is actually the easy bit.

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