Today I can no longer introduce myself as “Maths Teacher” as I leave the classroom. Though I might still use my former job title for introductions at parties to make things simple.
I move from the classroom to take up a training and consultancy role supporting schools looking to implement change and embed technology for the benefit of learning. That is less snappy isn’t it!
As I move on from the classroom after 13 years I thought it worth taking a moment to reflect. Telling other teachers you are leaving the classroom was hard, not just the ones you are leaving your tricky classes with! My own reasons were varied but an opportunity came up at a time I was traveling 54 miles to my school. I have also come to the decision that the way schools work can improve for the benefit of teachers and students. I don’t see myself as someone who would necessarily implement this change from within by moving up so I have another route to take. I have had great feedback from my educational technology (edtech) training and speaking events so I am going to embrace this and work to support schools with change.
In my first classroom after PGCE training I had an overhead projector to project notes and develop diagrams on. However, don’t be fooled into thinking I am that old. Within a year I had a Smartboard installed and smartnotebook was my lesson planning tool for years. My own view on interactive whiteboards is they are not a cost-effective resource for schools to invest in, despite replying on mine for many years. It proved invaluable for demonstrating concepts but I feel sure that £2000 per classroom could be spent more effectively. I never had a chance to try out my ideal scenario of whiteboards (normal dry wipe ones) on every wall and surface but I must take this opportunity to apologise to the classroom cleaners who removed dry wipe pen from my desks every day. If there is one legacy I have from my time in Maths classrooms it is writing on desks.
My embracing of technology for learning was due to two factors. Firstly the summer I tried out twitter and discovered teachers sharing! The second factor was a teacher called Dan File who joined our Maths faculty as an advanced skills teacher (AST). We could be found in school beyond 6pm most of the week getting excited about ways we can change learning in our lessons that didn’t work the way we wanted. He joined us having pioneered instructional videos at his last school and we both set about populating our youtube channels with videos. Exam paper solutions to avoid that boring lesson when you go through the exam paper… instead “watch the videos of the questions you got wrong”. Then children started requesting videos so we moved to revision videos. We tried our own versions of the flipped classroom with classes too.
One part of our work which was most important was our efforts to get parents through the doors of the school to see what we were trying and why we were trying it. We we trying to get their kids more excited about maths and make them achieve more. We were willing to fail infront of our classes trying something and take the feedback on board to improve. We had some of the best results in the school’s history over those years but that wasn’t because of technology, it was because we had a dedicated department open to trying things out. And in subsequent years the politics of education has made it hard to hit those results again… so a bit of luck and timing too.
Trying new things in schools take effort, determination and a bit of nerve to seek forgiveness instead of ask permission.
It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.
Grace Hopper, 1986
Good culture is easy to break and hard to build, however the school’s culture is critical to success. What makes it possible for teachers to walk through the doors in the morning with a spring in their step instead of dread? Many teachers are going into work with dread, fear, stress and concern. I have been fortunate to work with teachers who are so committed to their students they put phenomenal hours in and take incredible pride in doing all they can to help students achieve. However, in some schools the culture is such that even working at their limit teachers feel they are not doing enough, failing or letting someone down.
Culture is the difference between a teacher spending an evening planning an parental engagement activity or just marking another pile of books.
Culture is the difference between teachers choosing to spend their Saturday at professional development events or sipping on a Lemsip (other medicinal products are available) so they can be ready for next week.
Culture is critical and every school leader will agree, but their words, actions and emails contribute to a culture that doesn’t bring the best out of their colleagues or leaves them unable to manage the workload.
Get the oxytocin flowing and your school will improve more rapidly than you could ever dream. Avoid your school being cortisol factory!
I have spent time in head of faculty roles, working within a school leadership team and alongside school improvement partners in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). There are things you learn in leadership and things you discover you bring to it. You learn more about your leadership skills when you leave a role (because that is when people choose to tell you), and the weaknesses… come on, we all know our weaknesses don’t we? The challenge is whether to hide them or address them and I think I have done both at times.
If you read anything else on this blog you may spot my interest in deign thinking. I was aware of the term for a while in passing on social media but it was something I understood better and its place in education first via Tom Barrett and Ewan McIntosh. Sometimes referred to as user-focussed design, design thinking is a culture and set of tools that schools can use to super charge their improvement. Get empathy and find the problems you need to be solving before any ideas get thrown around. Develop a culture where ideas are not precious and owned by individuals. I strongly believe that schools who embrace a design thinking culture could reap profound results in the way their staff think and work. Design thinking provides an empathetic view of the way your school works (or doesn’t) and gives the chance for democratised decision making to prevail. Earlier I mentioned making your school oxytocin rich… this is how you can do it.
I wrote abour the results of our maths faculty a few years back. These are sometimes attributed to me as head of faculty. It is easy to let that stick (with good results) and accept #fakenews. The reality is very different and something I have learnt to be more honest about over the years. I was lucky. We are often judged against our best moments, which are often lucky. I had great teachers in the faculty who came to work and worked hard with integrity every day. I had good leadership who asked me direct questions but let me try things. I preceded some of the changes that have taken place to GCSE’s and A-levels in the last few years which have taken measures to make the qualifications more rigorous. My point is, think team. I see some teachers coming into the profession with an expectation that they should be ordained with promotions and more pay too quickly. Teaching is a fickle beast so take your time to tame it before you put your head in its mouth.
To give a clear understanding or my own view of education’s rate of change in relation to other industries consider the London Marathon. If the elite and club runners represent the nibble industries able to change and even lead change then I see education as Lloyd Scott (look him up), well intentioned, honourable, hard working, but so very slow.
The challenge I am taking on, leading schools to embrace technology to support learning, is a backwards problem. I hear “We need to use more technology” but I have to ask “Why?” and the answers are not convincing yet. Here is another reason to utilise a design culture of finding problems worth solving; attainment gap, accessibility, aspirations are all worthy causes and we haven’t even reached the b’s yet. A teacher in US will have his class voluntarily arrive at school 2 hours before school starts to come to his lesson. The reason? He has arranged a video call with someone on the other side of the planet as part of their current topic. Technology made it possible but is not the reason he does it.
Would your kids arrive at school for 6am for your best lesson? This has resonated with me and I pass the baton on to you… but let me know if you want help making it the case!
Here are some of the people who have helped me enjoy, survive and even thrive over the last 13 years… (Making a list like this is dangerous but hey, if you are not on it there are two possible reasons…)
Jeff Place, Jon Chaloner, Jack Mayhew, Hugh Proctor, Dan File, Pete Taylor, Tom Barrett, Ewan McIntosh, Allison Mollica, Jon Neale, Dean Stokes, Oli Trussell, Mark Allen, Donna Tueber, Ashcroft twins, Christina Dimitrantzou, Matt Duffield, Evan Scherr, Dan Taylor, 10a1, Asiq, Glyn digital leaders, Keri Cloete, Martin Giles, Simon Brown, Tom Able Green.