What is ‘The Universal Panacea’, the number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime? It’s a hard question but my answer isn’t about the government or the curriculum- it is about the teacher. We know that the thing that makes the difference is the teacher- we should be concentrating our efforts on making all teachers better. This blog, part of the #blogsync project, (share.edutronic.net) ties together two of my biggest passions- developing teachers and getting teachers to work together.
When we are training, we get a lot of support: training sessions, mentor meetings, lectures, assignments, observations, opportunities to receive feedback. In the NQT year, there is more of the same. A reduced timetable offers the chance to see others teach in a range of subjects.
And then it all stops.
Suddenly, teachers go to a full timetable with minimal frees. At this crucial stage in teacher development, we increase the timetable and decrease the support. We leave teachers to ‘get on with it’. Sometimes this can be a good time for a teacher to find their own voice. Without interference, teachers can become the teacher they want to be. However, without the focused practice, teachers will often just stumble upon what works and may end up trying so many wrong turns before ending up on a correct path. Being frank, some teachers never develop any further from their NQT year because they have no guidance.
Then, sometime later, some emerge into leadership positions and gain more frees. Once you seem to be a good teacher, you teach less! Then you can become an even better teacher by observing others and seeking opportunities to learn from colleagues. Alternatively, you spend so much time on your leadership role that classroom teaching is neglected. This whole process seems a little askew and it needs addressing.
So my answer is Team Teaching. Trainee teachers should do it for every lesson and every member of teaching staff should Team Teach a minimum of one lesson per week.
Whenever I plan with someone else, my lessons are better. Today, I met to plan a Tech/English lesson and we built ideas that we could not have come up with individually and have created a project which I think will be very exciting. I am Team Teaching Expressive Arts with a colleague in Art as I know it will benefit us both. I will also work together to co-plan the lessons of the people I performance manage. The dialogue that comes from this is so important. Is it any wonder that some of the most high performing school systems in the world build in time for their teachers to plan together?
If lessons were taught on paper then anyone could teach. Just because we teach something doesn’t mean that students learn it. When I have someone directed to my lesson to see good practice, I often do what I call a DVD commentary. That is, I explain what I am doing and, more importantly, why. This may be partly because I am nervous but I do want teachers to see that there is a methodology. This is especially important when things are going wrong e.g. students don’t understand. I love talking about the craft of teaching and think the only way to understand the complex nature of subtle adjustments in lessons is to be a part of it.
Getting in the real world
If teachers are working closely together for a shared purpose, they don’t need to tick boxes* to satisfy each other. They can get on with teaching in the most appropriate way. Even though every message coming from Ofsted reiterates the ‘no prescribed methodology’ comment, you still have to be incredibly brave to resist falling back on tried and tested methods in a formal lesson observation. And let’s be honest with each other- teaching is a bit messy. We go off topic because kids are interested in an aside, we give an extra ten minutes for a task because they need it, someone starts telling a story about their little brother that has nothing to do with the lesson but will be something that helps the bond in the classroom. We should model that it’s okay to do these things (sometimes!) and teachers should see this messiness as part of the fabric of teaching.
*But just because it’s on the list for box ticking, it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Do not underestimate the power of good banter. When I taught Romeo and Juliet with my Head Teacher in the summer term, we built a cheesy repartee that students seemed to respond well to. We acted out the scenes and found the rhythm where we would be comfortable building on the points the other made. We relaxed and enjoyed it. The students did too. I’m not advocating a full on Cannon and Ball routine at the expense of high quality learning but I know that good banter=relaxed classrooms and positive relationships.
New teachers get a much harder time from students. It is an elaborate charade trying to avoid letting pupils know that they are being taught by a PGCE student and they soon work out that you are making observation notes. Teach together and that status shifts. Similarly, if students see the Maths NQT delivering lessons with the Vice Principal then they end up responding to them sooner- think of all the NQTs who struggle with behaviour management in their first year. The quicker you can get students to say ‘Miss X is alright’ then the more they will learn and the easier our time at school is.
For new staff and trainees, working with someone is going to help them get into those good teacher habits. For, those embarking on that post-training-pre-leadership phase, it will accelerate their progress and avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. For those more experienced teachers, the opportunity to coach is great. Also, we can all learn from each other. Another great thing about teaching is that each year someone comes along with new ideas. I want to be able to learn from them.
There are obviously significant barriers to this, the biggest issue being the cost. We have 80 teachers at our school so by my calculations that would mean we needed to cover 40 teaching periods- or 2 teachers worth. It is a brave head teacher who would implement this. However, this post is about a universal panacea and I can be a bit more ideological today!