Connecting the Dots Forward…

In his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, Steve Jobs narrates the time he dropped out of college – and then started dropping back in – to the things that really interested him. One of the first courses he took was Calligraphy, a course that, ten years later, provided the basis for Apple’s phenomenal graphics. How could he have known, he asks in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, that this knowledge would one day be so valuable?

What if the point of education is to provide students with the dots that they may later connect and join up – just like the dot-to-dot pictures that we enjoyed so much as kids? Is Gove’s new curriculum allowing this to happen? Can a diet of EBacc subjects, prescriptive content and rigorous assessment driven by an education department focused on market forces, school monitoring and standardisation of provision (rather than what’s good for our kids) give today’s students the opportunity to learn in the wider sense, to learn the stuff that they don’t even know they will one day need and use?

Today the head of the CBI called for ‘GCSEs to be scrapped’ because it is narrow and out-of-date. He also warns of a false choice between academic and vocational lessons. Internationally we are the ‘oddballs’ in Europe, putting our students through major exams at 16. He calls for curriculum reform which values practical skills, soft skills such as ‘character and resilience’ and academic knowledge equally.

How extensively have we researched the value of an education driven by intellectual curiosity, philosophical challenge and practical activity rather than performance measures? An education that allows students to acquire knowledge and experience which isn’t immediately useful but can develop creative and innovative thinking, confidence and resilience alongside formal knowledge – an appropriate preparation for an employment environment which is driven by change, chance and complexity. In essence, a joining of the dots?

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

BBC News: CBI Head calls for GCSEs to be scrapped.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33190028

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Shaking things up…and off.

Seven Reasons Teachers (EVERYONE) Should Shake Things Up images

Try something new! Yep, we’ve heard it before. Loads and Loads of times. But being told something a million times doesn’t make us hear it any differently. Even meeting friends who have taken up pottery or Asian Fusion cooking and are enthusing endlessly has little impact. It takes 50 hours to change a habit or embed a new skill into our normal way of working. 10, 000 hours to become experts. Change is hard.

Schools are very good at creating resistance ‘mindsets’. Tight routines and structures give little chance to think differently –  education is almost opium to teachers. Maybe the government’s strategy is to hem teachers in so tight that we cannot change or leave. It certainly feels that way. I’ve taken up bouldering, a form of climbing without ropes, only not so high. It made me think about other aspects of life I want to change. We are quickly institutionalised by schools – trying something new is an act of rebellion against the oppression of the system. Here’s why we should:

1) Because teaching is the most routine profession. Everything is dictated by the timings of the school day. Such routine means we never miss a lesson or a meeting – my body clock even knows when it is coffee time on holiday. Disrupting the routine and the familiar is vital. Small changes – like taking a different route to school – can make a huge difference.

2) Because we need to be stimulated too! We spend our time inspiring and motivating our students and become robots when we have taught a text or mathematical concept or historical event so many times we can do it with our eyes shut. But we get very little opportunity to enrich our own imaginations and creativity, to think in different ways and do things differently. Much as I really enjoy the learning dialogue that marking invites, another batch of essays on a text I have taught fifteen times simply isn’t motivating – even when they are funny (by which I mean tragically wrong).

3) Because it’s dangerous! Trying something new is scary when you are used to the safety and comfort of the familiar. I walked into a buzzing seminar room at Ealing Studios at the weekend feeling very small and alone and learned how to read film scripts for the studios. I can’t remember the last time I did that – when I walk into a classroom or meeting room I take control of my space. But doing new things regularly makes it easier, until it’s also routine.

4) Because it’s really hard to be a student again. We get too comfortable being the experts; we forget what the students don’t know. We pitch and pace lessons every day but when were we last in a situation where we couldn’t keep up with the learning? Our students experience this regularly; we are more sympathetic to their anxieties and worries if we remember what it feels like. That makes us better teachers. No brainer.

5) Because teachers are insular. Education is insular. You know that teachers will be talking shop all night in the pub; you never bring more than one teacher to a party. If you do, they will have found each other within minutes through some kind of invisible GPS, and they will be talking shop… again. We live and breathe education;  attempting new things brings something new into the classroom – the world beyond these walls just happens to be the place where many of our students are happier, too, so making that connection for them only builds their confidence.

6) Because teachers are blinkered. We are passionate about our subjects, and we might even call ourselves experts in our fields. But when was the world all about Geography or Literature or PE? What would happen if we let teachers loose with proper CPD that took them outside their academic environments? Corporations give their staff challenge days under the guise of bonding. Let’s get a multi-disciplinary, co-curricular perspective into our teaching – a way of thinking and working much better suited to the modern world.

7) Because teaching is about growing. Building a ‘Growth Mindset’ is the big idea in education at the moment. Building grit and resilience develops out of our comfort zone – another education buzzword. But why are we preaching to our students about taking risks and being bold when we do nothing of the sort? If education is about growth, we should all be growing together.

Go on – get out there.

How Colleagues Can Help

It’s thirteen years since I applied for a job. I haven’t been unemployed for the last thirteen years, but my last application was for a classroom teacher role (in 2002) since when I have been promoted internally four times; although I had to apply for the four promotions I am fairly confident that I was given the job based on my performance – a ‘devil you know’ scenario. Bringing in someone new is always a risk; I’ve appointed staff regularly during the last thirteen years and twice I have mis-appointed, making a rod for my own back, so I can appreciate the fall-back position of trusting an already established employee.

Now I find that, not only am I going to be applying for jobs again, but they will be jobs outside teaching. To help me prepare, I’ve registered on a MOOC provided by Coursera and the University of London entitled ‘Enhancing My Employability’.

What attracted me was the title. Employment has changed beyond all recognition since I last applied for anything other than teaching, and schools are all I know. Initial reservations have been quickly quashed; the resources are excellent and class discussion forums a welcome distraction when working in isolation.

This week I had to approach five colleagues and five friends and ask them to identify my top five skills (please note, not strengths), describe a time when I demonstrated them, and offer an anecdote of when I was at my best. I’m always wary of asking busy colleagues for a favour because – well – they are busy. Asking them to get personal – even though it is for professional purposes – is sensitive, requires careful consideration and can’t be done quickly. I expected at least some to refuse, but no one did.

It has been an eye-opener. I have been deeply touched by the diligence with which my colleagues approached the task, surprised by their clear appreciation of my abilities, found their observations on where to improve insightful and humbled by their generous professional judgements. Their responses have encouraged me to pay more attention; they have crystallised my own understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and shown me my value in the organisation. I was momentarily, almost, sad to be leaving. It’s a great feeling – I recommend you try it for yourself.

The Great Job Hunt Begins

In view of the fact that I haven’t applied for a job in nearly thirteen years (though I am proud to state that I have been promoted four times in my current school) I have enrolled on a MOOC entitled ‘Enhance Your Career and Employability Skills’ being run by the University of London and Coursera. Good reputations both, so I figure a good start at forcing me to reflect on my current strengths and weaknesses. So far so good; I’m learning a lot!

This is important because in the course of a school day, I can move from counsellor to data analyst to critical thinker to social worker to strategic planner to seminar coordinator to minute taker and then back to ‘best friend’ for the marginalised and lonely. What a rollercoaster ride a school day can be (and that’s just for the teachers).

So I think I KNOW my strengths and weaknesses. But what I don’t have is the most up-to-date literacy to sell myself on paper and at interview. The job market has changed beyond all recognition and job applications are akin to a dark art, shrouded in mystery, at least to the uninitiated. Me. I plunge into the forums and leave my comments; I am reassured to see that I am not alone in feeling a need for change, a disorientation that comes with potential career change, and intimidated by the prospect of being 48 and looking for work in an environment which is unkind to older women – that’s not just a Hollywood rumour!

On Leaving Teaching

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I have handed in my resignation. I am leaving teaching. Only teachers will understand the significance of this action because only teachers understand that it’s a lifestyle rather than a profession. For the first time in 18 years I will not have the summer ‘off’; my ‘new year’s resolutions’ won’t start on September the 1st; time will not dictate when I sit, stand, eat or go to the toilet; walking down a corridor will not result in a barrage of requests from students, ‘Miss, can I ask about the homework…’ ‘Miss, is it alright if I hand my homework in tomorrow’, ‘Miss, can I have a lunch pass’. I will no longer hang out in fuggy staff rooms; there will be no more 60 hour weeks, no more three line whips for attendance at school events and no more Saturday and Sunday marking, planning and preparing.

Why am I leaving? For the first time since I entered the profession, we have reached a tipping point. Teaching has moved slowly from the noble profession – think the philosophy of John Keating in Dead Poets’ Society (yes, it’s real, that’s why teachers enter the profession in the first place) to the commodification of education. This year the NUT joined forces with the ATL, international teaching unions, NGOs and parents to lobby the annual general meeting of one of the world’s largest edu-businesses, Pearson – calling on them to cease profiting from children, for an end to high stakes testing and to assert that education is a human right, not a private commodity.

I currently work in the private sector where grades are the be all and end all – parents have the monetary power to assert their rights; more hours, more contact, more one-to-one support, more resources. And while I don’t have a problem with this as such – we have lovely parents, and gorgeous kids – I really struggle with the fact that only a minority get such excellent education. Meanwhile, in the maintained sector, the monitoring of teaching and learning is not about the student’s experience, but about the teacher’s performance – about pay, in fact; OFSTED assess a teacher’s performance based on a student’s outcome while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that ultimately only the student has the power to fail or succeed; that degree of aspiration, poverty, health, self-esteem and well-being all play a much bigger part in a child’s school performance. I’m all for accountability; but it’s not working.

Will I miss teaching? Yes. It is the most stimulating, exciting, challenging, entertaining and joyful job in the world. But it is also the most politically disputed, discussed, debated and conflicted profession today. It’s like working in a verbal and ideological war zone – there’s a limit to such an existence, and I have definitely reached mine.