It makes sense before the start of the new year to review the previous year, review the lessons learnt and consider what needs changing. And so I have a few ideas about what I would like to prioritise this year.
1. Talking: One area I want to focus on is my talk in the classroom – I do it too much, so I am going to aim to stick to questioning as my main contribution to the lessons and let the students do the talking. I also need to keep my tangents in check – every so often the students would be able to avoid work for a good 15 minutes by getting me to talk about something I was interested in (‘Sir is it true our identity is purely cultural?’ or ‘But doesn’t art only make sense for that religion Sir?’). I need to make sure the students use talk to advance their learning!
2. 6th Form study skills AND knowledge: I really enjoy working with the 6th Form students but I know that I don’t scaffold their learning skills enough. I jump straight in expecting them to be fully proficent in 6th Form study skills. This year (even with my year 13s) I am going to ensure the skills are set out clearly alongside the work. This means setting Philosophy lessons around note taking skills – Plato with Highlighters. This means setting Religious Art lessons alongside revision skills – Bullet Point Dali. This even means setting folder checks of students work. In theory students should be doing this by now in 6th Form but I want to make sure – I would far rather pester them mid way through the course than have them panic at the end. Being great at the subject is (unfortunately) not enough for Exam Classes. They need to have those (soft?) learning skills which will ultimately allow them to use their subject knowledge to access the higher grades in the exam. Not exactly Plato’s understanding of learning but it is the system we have to use.
3. Reinvent the wheel. I seemingly did quite well at creating my own resources, solving various issues with my classes on my own last year and enjoyed working through schemes independently. So I’ll just do that again…
How much time do we waste doing this?
I work in a large school with around 250 staff. Yet last year I still sat on my own at times trying to battle through to a solution to a problem. The problem might have been a subject based one, it might have been a student pastoral based one, it could have been a behavioural one. If it wasn’t a problem I was trying to solve, I found myself sat on my own creating resources or writing letters for trips or planning student reports. And yet I wasn’t the only one sat in my classroom. Around the site there will have been other staff doing exactly the same. Working quietly and independently – not disturbing others so they could do their work. The same work that I was doing.
Why weren’t we talking?
My aim this year is to talk more. Talk to colleagues in my department, talk to colleagues in my year team, talk to colleagues who teach the same students as I do, talk to colleagues who teach my form, talk to colleagues who are good at behavioural issues, talk to colleagues who are great at admin, talk to colleagues who have already planned trips and have all the paperwork. Between us we must all have the solutions already – we just need to share them!
- There are staff who have taught at the school for 20 years – they will have written letters for trips.
- There are staff who have taught these schemes of work before – they will have the framework for a lesson which I can alter/improve/edit/ use as a framework to help me plan
- There are staff who have already put in place behaviour systems with the livelier students who will be able to help me form better relationships with those students because they can give me the background information.
- There are staff who will also be willing to try new techniques for teaching. They can try something new at the same time as I do and then we can compare notes/results to see how to improve the ideas again.
As I contemplate the new term I suddenly realise that I don’t have to do everything from scratch. Talking to others in the school will free up some time. This time can be then ploughed back into the job, coming up with new ideas for teaching and learning or for sharing ideas with a wider audience. Alternatively I can use some of that time to strengthen the relationship with the students – making more positive calls home, ringing parents of tutees to ensure they are happy with the progress in school.
Shout it out!
So I have created a plan of action in order to help me enact this sharing! A standard 3 fold plan!
1. More blogging & Tweeting. My aim is a post a week and a comment a day in order to be realistic. This aim though means that I will be talking to the biggest staffroom in the world every day. Someone is bound to have some advice for an issue or a problem I have. Or someone might be able to offer an innovative approach to a lesson which might reform the way I teach a lesson/topic.
2. Encourage my colleagues to share. Working in such a large school, the practicalities of dialogue can be difficult. However, tomorrow on training day I am proposing that people write up their solutions to problems or issues in the school. It might be a simple solution for making boys concentrate more after lunch. Or it might be how to motivate girls in bottom sets. Or it might be how to develop a sense of House Pride. These write ups will then be published in a journal – possibly termly, possibly yearly. All of a sudden the school is talking to each other. Maybe not in person, but we are talking to each other through collected reports on classroom practice (research by another name!). Encouraging this research then encourages staff to share both problems and solutions. The journal above all emphasises the need for staff to communicate rather than becoming little islands cut off from each other, working away through lunch time, not seeing anyone.
3. Face to Face. It is so easy to fire off an email to find out some information or to suggest an idea. But something gets lost in that communication. Taking the idea of talking to others rather than emailing from my room, I aim to head out and speak to my form’s teachers face to face if there is a problem rather than just typing our way to a solution. So much more communication happens when not staring at the computer – the little twitch as you mention a students name, the exasperated sigh when you mention David’s homework (he told me it was the first time it had ever happened!) or the grin as your colleague takes you through the fantastic piece of work Sarah did one more time. This sharing of non-verbal information is invaluable when helping you prepare for interaction with students as you share with other staff the day to day routine of teaching. You realise that you are not alone and that Barry doesn’t just play up in your lessons. You realise that Sally has been struggling in more than just your class on a Friday which means you know you need to help her. The brief chat about Stuart’s behaviour leads onto a discussion of the whole Form’s behaviour which means you offer to help by having a word with them the next morning. Not being stuck in my own classroom at lunch means I have the chance to speak to others and have the chance to share more ideas with others!
All of this communication also means that you are out and about in school – you get to see the students out of the classroom and get to see them in a new light and they don’t just see you as someone bound to their desk, afraid to go out at break time! Building this sort of relationship also helps you in the classroom
Are you in stuck in a cave somewhere reinventing the wheel?
How much do you communicate with other members of staff?
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you have to make them all up yourself?
Do you share your ideas with others – whether in your department or in your pastoral team?
Do you discuss your issues and solutions with other staff?
Do you spend time reinventing the wheel or finding another use for the wheel?