I once heard someone say ‘You can have 5 years of experience in 5 years or 1 year of experience in 5 years it’s up to you,’ and that just stuck with me and got under my skin.
I was just starting out in teaching, shifting from a different career and I thought about my previous career and really asked myself how many years I had wasted doing the same thing over and over or going through the motions. I would guess at least 40% of my actions were a repeat, rehashing the same things and not trying new things with risk. At the same time I was beginning my career in teaching and realised that Leadership teams in any school I worked for were desperate for enthusiastic teachers to have ideas and run with them on the condition that they would be self-evaluative, critical and share their thoughts. So I had a prime opportunity not to repeat my past.
How we should educate has always been an area for debate even amongst non professionals, take some of our political leaders for example who have never set foot in a classroom but claim to know what is best. However, we are seeing a flurry of new material and research in the field. The only way to know what is and isn’t worth pursuing is to discuss it in education spheres and then try it.
This has been a thoroughly enjoyable blog to write. Casting my mind back to things that I have tried but have not worked has made me laugh, cringe and eventually feel proud at the things I have tried and tested. Here are some examples of things I have tried and may have failed depending on what we are looking at for an outcome:
NQT year, I took the hardest to reach group of girls in Year 9 with no aspirations other than to marry drug dealers (their words not mine) and did 11 1 hour sessions with them on careers. To be honest this was a pretty easy sell to the principal who just desperately wanted someone to keep an eye on them and wanted them out the corridors so he literally said ‘How much?’ I’d seen an online package for £250 and we went through it. The package failed, was clunky, boring and is no longer in circulation but I had some great conversations with the girls about their dreams. I showed them online listings of the average earnings of numerous jobs and they hadn’t heard of 98% of them. So we would discuss what different jobs did. We calculated the costs of wanting to live the lives they dreamed of. Did it change their GCSE grades, nope. Did it teach them better maths or English or science. Nope. Did it make them feel like someone at school was listening to them and invested in their future. I think so, yes. Failure or success? You decide.
Do you remember the craze with ipads in classrooms? I heard about schools giving ipads to every student in Year 7 to enhance learning. My Principal at the time was considering it. I started an initiative to train a small group of teachers to try incorporating technology into the classroom more regularly. It was a mess. To be honest in my heart of hearts I thoughts I pads could add some value but I’ve always believed in traditional teaching methods and direct instruction over snazzy apps. Failure? Absolutely and thank god for it. I’m so glad that fad is over.
On to my next IT failure…..I love screencasting (basically filming your screen whilst you talk over it and have used it to give feedback to students on their essays.) I tried to get my dept to take it on and soon realised not everyone feels that way. To be honest it only worked with my A level classes and even then only one class. I don’t know why I got so attached to it, perhaps because the idea was more effective in my head than in real life. Luckily, my dept staff telling me to stick that laptop where the sun don’t shine soon brought me back to my senses.
My first Inset to organise for the Trust. Imagine over 400 teachers. I can honestly say this is more daunting then standing in front of 400 students. Teachers are a hard bunch to please. I booked a speaker who is really popular online. Really popular. I’m not going to tell you who but you will have heard of him. I also booked another in the morning who was not even on twitter but who’s work I read and thought was brilliant. Due to the second in my mind being an unknown entity I vetted him on the phone a lot more. The blog guru I didn’t. On inset day, my unknown speaker was an absolute triumph and the well known blogger killed us with boredom. Now I vet them all equally and politely cancel anyone I don’t get a good sense from. It’s not worth the humiliation, trust me.
My very first observation as a department head was a complete failure. I was desperate to show I was a good dept head. It was the first post I had in that position. I was struggling with a few of my classes but didn’t want to show it. My first observation was with THAT class. It was terrible. When I say terrible I mean my students actually heckled the observer. I could feel beads of sweat down my back. My cheeks were so red with embarrassment I felt like I’d been slapped. In fact that seemed like a better outcome than the observation outcome I was about to get. Long story short. It was awful. I cried all the way through the feedback. I’m talking snot bubbles cried. The amazing AP helped me with the 3 students who made it impossible for others to learn in the classroom. She supported me with the parents. I have never taken behaviour like that in the classroom since. And I have never been able to thank her enough for showing me what kind leadership looks like. Failure? On the day yes. In hindsight no. And it didn’t kill me in fact the same AP encouraged me to apply for a leadership post when it came up and I got it.
I’m sure I have introduced lots of stupid ideas in my time of leading teaching and learning and made more fumbles then I care to remember. But the great thing is whilst writing this there are many I don’t remember. Maybe that is why I don’t mind failing fast. Maybe I’m going senile. Or maybe, just maybe they weren’t that big of a deal in the first place although they felt that way in the moment. I think we spend too much time promoting our successes and are too nervous talking about things that don’t work. There is real gold in that too. So my hope for you in 2020 is that you work through lots of things that aren’t working so you can double down on the stuff that does. Be brave.