Doing it all again in September…only better than ever!

In the coming week A level results will come out, followed swiftly by GCSE results. The usual pressures and sleepless nights of the conscientious teacher re-emerge after the well deserved holiday relaxation. Rightly or wrongly, our efforts will be judged by these narrow measures. Talk about falling standards and grade inflation will unfailingly surface and student and teachers alike will largely have their tremendous hard work drowned out by inanities from the CBI, or worse still, Toby Young! Regardless of these annual rites, we should enjoy the moment of our students’ success coming to fruition. We should pat one another on the back and enjoy the new beginnings for our students. We should enjoy what is left of the holiday, then turn our thoughts to doing it all again come September! We should also resolve to do it better than ever before, not for league tables or other such distractions, but for our students and their future success. More than any other factor we, as teachers, can make the difference and we should embrace this fact.

A lot of research has clearly proven that individual teachers can and do make a difference upon student attainment. Students who are taught by the most effective teachers will learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher will take a year to learn. Therefore improving teacher quality is essential and it is reflected by the imperfect measure that is exam results. In my opinion this should not create a climate of fear for teachers (it is important for Senior leadership Teams to foster the right climate which engenders confidence, encourages innovation and worthwhile risk taking), but instead it should empower us with the confidence that we can make the difference for the ultimate success of our students. In the words of Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” We should embrace this positive mindset that we can overcome any challenging circumstances and help our students to believe this as well.

What we must do as teachers is commit to getting better – to embrace coaching and to undertake deliberate practice toimprove and not settle for more of the same. Experience helps, but too often I have seen experienced teachers ossify and become hardened to any source of innovation or improvement to the nuts and bolts of their pedagogy, as if they were the finished article. Cynicism about new labels for old concepts may well have some validity, but too often that is an excuse not to put the effort in to make positive changes of any kind. If we were to expect our own students to improve we would rightly expect them to widen their knowledge base outside of the lessons we teach – we would encourage them to research independently – yet teachers, in the hectic swim of the job, can often fail to engage in the same manner of learning. I think every teacher should also be reading widely to expand their knowledge and to build upon their own learning – why wait for in-school training programmes or see these as the only channel for bettering ourselves? There are a wealth of outstanding texts, like John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ or Dylan William’s ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’, that are both rooted in evidence and elicit clear thinking; of course, Twitter has also opened doors to new ideas, stimulated powerful debates about teaching and learning and has brought together a network of skilled teachers.

All that being said, it is important to filter down the wealth of outstanding resources and hone down what you want and need to improve upon as an individual teacher (often in the context of a department working on collaborative goals). Any leader looking to coach needs to be conscious that any teacher needs to focus upon two or three strategies with rigour and deliberate practice, rather than attempting an alphabet soup of strategies. As a Subject Leader myself I am also acutely conscious that it is crucial that I am a model coach, as well being someone who is wholly open to being coached. I didn’t become the perfect teacher upon being appointed a Subject Leader, in fact, with the complexity and strains of the job I am sure my teaching has suffered. I want this year to be different and better than the last, both as an individual teacher and for the other members of the department. Having read Hattie, William, Didau and Elder this summer I have so many good ideas swirling about; however, I don’t want to be swept away by trying everything and ultimately not really embedding anything properly. I know what areas that I need to improve upon – I just need to narrow the seven or eight issues down to three! Once this is done I need to rigorously measure and test those strategies – using a range of evidence, like summative assessments (compared against a control group ideally), student voice and peer observations etc. Having read Hattie and Williams I felt it was important to not simply go for a gut feeling or reaction, which may well be a confirmation of my established habits, but rather to rely on evidence – objective evidence.

When we meet again as a department in September I want my team to reflect upon themselves and their practice, considering their individual practice and the collective needs of the department. We can then identify where we can combine our strengths and share our expertise – rather than simply assuming a hierarchical model of coaching. To start the ball rolling each member of my department will have a copy of David Didau’s ‘The Perfect English OFSTED lesson’ waiting for them on their desk on the first day back to read and digest (we will also use it in our departmental training through the year – brilliantly cheap on Amazon!) – hopefully sparking that crucial reflective state that is essential for us to begin to improve and get better…better than ever!

Luke Donald, the number one golfer in the world, tweets with a great hashtag we could all live by as teachers – put simply: #keepgettingbetter

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About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

8 responses to “Doing it all again in September…only better than ever!”

  1. kristianstill says :

    I think I would enjoy working and developing as part of your department.

    How do school leaders encourage middle leaders to facilitate such a professional, developmental environment within school?

    • huntingenglish says :

      I think school leaders need to simply set the tone and be consistent and relentless about the things at matter – positive relationships, improving teaching & learning and having the right values at the heart of everything. We train really regularly with our depts – once a month – so time has been created so we can be consistent about being developmental. A full day here and there makes it hard to embed the best pedagogy and it is about sustaining practice. My school leader is @JohnTomsett – his blog on ‘Growing Great Teachers’ explains the value of Middle Leaders: johntomsett.wordpress.com. I do think we are the crucial conduit for great teaching in any school and we have to be role models to teachers in our department.

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