Behaviour Management by Flapjack

This isn’t quite as weird as it seems. Last year I had a very talkative (but good-natured) year 9 class. They weren’t malicious, but they just couldn’t be quiet; frequent interruptions and conversations, which were irritating even though they were often on-topic. So I started to write the numbers 10-1 on the board. Each time I had to repeat a request for quiet, or they interrupted me or each other during whole-class discussion, I rubbed a number off. I explained that we would only have time for a ‘fun’ plenary if we finished above 5. Down to zero would mean a silent lesson next time – I never had to use this, not once. But if they managed three ‘perfect 10’ scores in a term, I would treat them to something, and they suggested home-baking (it seems I had a reputation through older brothers and sisters who had done DofE). I should point out that this was in addition to dealing with individuals, by all the usual methods, who showed themselves to be persistent offenders.

This was one of their favourite recipes. It’s a hybrid version using a concept from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (‘Nicola’s Zesty Flapjacks’ in the River Cottage Family Cookbook), but starting with a classic Mary Berry recipe.

  1. Preheat oven to 140 C and grease pans (2x 8inch round or equivalent) if they’re not silicone. (And go and buy some silicone pans).
  2. In a large saucepan, melt 225g butter with the zest of a large orange, 225g brown sugar and 75g golden syrup.
  3. Simmer 100g sultanas in a small saucepan with the juice of the orange.
  4. Once butter/sugar mixture is all melted, turn heat down to lowest setting and add 350g porridge oats. Mix well.
  5. Add in sultanas, simmering juice and the secret ingredient, 2tbsp lemon curd. Mix well.
  6. Tip into baking pans, pat down firmly and bake for 20-30 minutes.
  7. They should still be slightly soft when they come out – how long it takes depends on what kinds of oats etc. They’ll harden as they cool so you may want to score them so they cut easily, but don’t chop up until firm. Makes between 20 and 30 pieces.
  8. Add ‘touch and die‘ sign while cooling on a rack.

These do not count as one of your five a day. Sadly. I have a few other variants (maple and pecan, honeycomb and drizzled chocolate) which I can blog if people are actually interested. I’d also love to hear (maybe even see pics?) of anyone’s batches, variations and improvements.

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When #SciTeachJC rules the world…

Let me start by stating, for the record, that I felt no pressure when asked by @alomshaha to write up the second Science Teaching Journal Club session. No pressure at all, despite the fact that the article on the first session was written by one of the authors of the paper we’d discussed, and published in the Guardian. Oh no, I’m fine…

But anyway. The topic for discussion was the Beyond 2000 report, now more than ten years old but credited with changing the direction of UK science education. If you’ve not read it, I recommend it – although I suspect that most practising science educators will find themselves cursing at various points. @Alby has converted the ten recommendations of the report to a simple poster and handout. I have no intention, by the way, of trying to explain or recount all of the posts from the busy Tuesday evening session. If you weren’t there (or even if you were) I recommend reading through the archive. That’s why it’s online, after all. No, I have two aims; mainly to give a flavour of the evening, with a few quotes and summarised discussions, and secondly to share my own personal responses to some of the themes touched upon.

There were some questions suggested as starting points; it would be fair to say that although these may have informed people’s reading, they did not govern the discussion! Most agreed that the report had made a big difference in science specifications, although it was more about changes in policy than in classroom practice. A common theme throughout the evening was a recognition of irony. The report specifically recommends that “No significant changes should be made to the National Curriculum or its assessment unless they have been previously piloted…” This is in sharp contrast to the reality of a politically-driven curriculum which changes unpredictably and according to the whim of parties in power (and for readers now cursing a certain Michael G, it’s not as if the previous government were particularly evidence-based when it came to education either…). @AnthHard suggested that this sort of slow, evidence-based change approach made him think of The Physics Factory, something I’d not heard of before.

It was noted by several participants that there is relatively little mention of new technology in the report – something we thought would need to be addressed if it were to be revisited now. The gaps frequently identified between Science and Technology subjects are still there, which seems a shame when, as the report suggests, it is often the technological interpretation of scientific ideas that enthuse out students. I suspect I was not the only teacher to finish thinking that I should really make a greater effort with my Technology department colleagues.

Several of us did feel that the report was unduly harsh about teaching methods used in science lessons. Of course, this may reflect the self-selective nature of a group like #SciTeachJC! Those colleagues who were active at the time of the report (I for one was still at university, wet-behind-the-ears as I am) assured us that, in their experience at least, a range of pedagogic styles were being used. Many agreed that although the report had changed some areas of UK education more than others (e.g. the IGCSE was identified as less affected), the ideas were well worth engaging with. We were unsure how well-known it now was among ‘chalk-face’ teachers or school science departments.

“It wor­ries me how few LT team mem­bers respon­si­ble for sci­ence in schools have read Beyond2000.” @jo_holgate

Literacy

A central idea of the report was that of Scientific Literacy. Quite a few colleagues (both teachers and those in, for example, science communication) spent time discussing what this really meant and how it applies to our students. A related concept, and one that is addressed by the authors, is that science education actually has two parallel aims; giving students the basic skills needed to live in a world dependant on science and technology, and preparing those who want to be scientists themselves. (As I type this it strikes me that although this could also be said of, say, History, a much larger proportion of those in a GCSE science class will go on to study the subject at degree level.) It seemed odd to many of us that adults didn’t recognise the disadvantage that scientific illiteracy implied. @DavidWaldock shared a link to a report summarising US public attitudes to science and technology, showing similar issues there.

Fulfilling the first aim, it was suggested, means a reduced emphasis on details and a better understanding of ‘How Science Works’. This not only means high-quality investigative work, as Sc1 is often (mis)interpreted as, but knowing the context of scientific discoveries and the philopophy of the scientific method itself. This is not easy stuff – indeed, @alicebell suggested reading Breaking The Mould for one viewpoint of the teaching of ‘Science for Public Understanding’, and there were several comments that the uptake and teaching of HSW had been patchy, not helped by uneven assessment in exams.

“…think HSW is a great idea but we need time and train­ing to reflect on prac­tice to be effec­tive Sci teachers.” @sciteachcremin

But how can we teach HSW well to those who won’t be studying science in the future, without putting off those who will be our next generation of engineers and doctors? (Not that I’m being stereotypical here, you understand.) @alomshaha pointed us towards his article on this dilemma from 2009, showing that these concerns are not new. Personally I have doubts about the possibility, let alone the wisdom, of deciding at 14 which students belong in which category – even if the courses were not frequently similar anyway and chosen for reasons other than student suitability.

“I think the teach­ing for sci­en­tific lit­er­acy aspect has been lost as we have started to push for more kids to do triple sci­ence.” @26Tim

“Sci­ence courses need to suit those tak­ing them. Not one size fits all.” @doc_gnome

I made the point that like any other kind of literacy, being scientifically literate is important to play any significant part in modern society. This was also made in the report on p2008: “Not to have some under­stand­ing of them [sci] is to be, in a very real sense, an out­sider.” Responses were varied, but I think most colleagues agreed that we should aim for all students to know how science collects, analyses and checks data as a minimum – and this was important. It seemed odd to many of us that adults didn’t recognise the disadvantage in life implied by scientific illiteracy.

“it also defines groups which are not scilit as non-citizens by impli­ca­tion, which is exclu­sion­ary” @DavidWaldock

“Con­sid­er­ing sci­en­tific lit­er­acy, how do we make it socially unac­cept­able to ‘not get / under­stand sci­ence’?” @Alby

The problem is that when one qualification is seen as being more ‘challenging’ than others, it is immediately used as a badge of worth by those who have it, or want it. (The report recognises the issue that theory-based GCSE science courses derived from courses that only a minority of citizens needed, GCEs.) Vocational qualifications such as BTecs can be an excellent vehicle to assess students engaging critically with a wide range of contexts – but they’re frequently not respected, as current changes indicate. Of course students will need facts as well as skills, and the issue will be choosing where to draw the line.

“They need both. A basic under­stand­ing and the skills to learn new info to add to it” @jennjtaylor

(As an aside: it’s often hard to gauge the ‘mood’ of a discussion in real life, let alone one happening in/on/over Twitter. I’ve suggested that there must be some way to get everyone’s responses to a simple question; for or against a simple statement, for example. Perhaps this would work with a Google form, link shared by moderators 2-3 times during the session?)

Narratives

I’m going to digress slightly, so as to set the scene for the discussion of narratives as suggested in the report. It has been suggested that we are not ‘thinking man’, as Homo sapiens would describe us, but Pan narrans, the story-telling chimpanzee. What makes us different from our closest relatives is not living in houses, using tools or thinking big thoughts, but that we share stories to explain, model and so predict future events. I like this idea and now really wish I’d shared it during the evening. Esprit d’escalier and all that.

A second key idea from the report was that, both to aid the development of scientific literacy and to enthuse students, teachers should consider a narrative approach. There was some lively discussion about this, and we wanted to distinguish between isolated anecdotes and a more comprehensive view. There are of course several levels of ‘story’, all of which may be useful when teaching about science.

  • anecdotes and personal recollections not only show teachers to be human, but demonstrate how science affects people on an individual level. This is an excellent way to show how students use and rely on science, and on its offspring engineering and technology, all the time.
  • historical accounts and case studies show how one scientific idea developed, often challenging orthodox thought of the time.
  • science as one narrative, showing the ‘big picture’ so that students link ideas together more effectively.

Concerns were raised that we must be sure to link these smaller stories to the curriculum – and not get lost in history, rather than science. The point was made that the common view of a scientist as a maverick meant it was harder to see how so much of science builds on previous ideas, that we must emphasize the often incremental nature of scientific discovery. This kind of perspective also encourages discussion about the uses and abuses of scientific understanding, by placing discoveries in the context of the time at which they occurred. It was pointed out that if done badly this can make students cynical, as reported in the Guardian.

“I too like empha­sis on sto­ries & ‘big pic­ture’, but have some con­cern about focus on history/sociology of sci­ence.” @audm

“I like sto­ries in sci­ence too. Helps con­nect to per­sonal side of how sci­ence pro­ceeds.” @tonyperry

“My con­cern with sto­ries is that if you only give a broad pic­ture the stu­dents miss the details that may help explain a concept.” @jennjtaylor

It was suggested that using this kind of narrative approach was a good way to engage female students – those who have often become disenchanted by science. This concept was also discussed during the first #SciTeachJC, and I’ve read before that girls are more likely to prefer to ‘set the scene’ for work before considering new concepts, instead of fitting them into a framework afterwards. @Alby mentioned a report which collected data to show different preferences for male and female students, but I can’t find a link. It was pointed out that if we change the delivery to suit one group of learners it implies others, boys in this case, are less well catered for.

“I think that human­iz­ing sci­ence with sto­ries is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for get­ting girls inter­ested.” @26Tim

“Which rather links into the pre­vi­ous JC — I’d say anec­do­tally I’ve noticed the same re girls pre­fer­ring per­sonal inter­est.” @morphosaurus

The advantage of adding relevant stories and anecdotes to a big picture – rather than building a syllabus around current ideas – is that as scientific understanding changes, so can the chosen stories. The very fact that you have changed the stories is worth sharing with students, as it illustrates the evidence-based nature of scientific ideas. @PhysicsChris shared a link to some narrative-style textbooks. I didn’t share the link, but I also like these books (and I’ve lost the URL to another set, Spanish author – answers on a postcard).

“IGCSE peo­ple sug­gest you fit your own sto­ries in to their con­tent. keeps it rel­e­vant. 2006 con­tro­ver­sies don’t last.” @gwiff

Summary

“my feel­ing — report suc­cess as far as went, prob­lem was lack of polit­i­cal will and patience to wait for *teach­ers* to address.” @teachingofsci

“Report made me think about what sci­ence skills/knowledge really are useful/engaging to my students rather than what *I* think they should find useful/engaging.” @Arakwai

“Surely main prob­lem of the ‘Beyond 2000′ report is that most sci. teach­ing staff have never heard of it or read it?” @Alby

“I’d sum­marise by say­ing that we’re going in the right direc­tion, and could do with­out a mas­sive reor­gan­i­sa­tion right now” @26Tim

So the overall feeling seemed to be that the report, despite weaknesses such as lack of detail for assessment and slight lack of clarity for HSW, was strong. I don’t think I was the only person to recognise, with frustration, that the issues are often not ones that can be addressed in the classroom. Some can be – and I will certainly be thinking about displays and electronic formats (perhaps a wiki?) to show students how what they are studying fits into a bigger picture. I’ve used newspaper articles and online blogs to show students how scientific research can be ‘deciphered’ (for example by using “How to read Health News” from NHS Behind the Headlines). But the issues are bigger than one teacher, or even a group of us, can solve. They are problems that a department must consider. And more than anything, the concerns identified must be recognised by administrators and government ministers, who must then be able to listen to business and academic leaders without kowtowing to them. Above all, those who make decisions about exam specifications and league tables must be able to choose what is right, rather than what is popular.

And so we return to the title of this post; when #SciteachJC rules the world…

Bill Rogers on Behaviour (1of2)

Last week I did a one day course – called a conference for some reason – on behaviour run by Creative Education. The speaker was Bill Rogers, who if you don’t know (of) him is an Australian teacher and consultant who focuses on how teachers can improve the behaviour of their classes. You can also read some of his material on the Creative Education blog or via Google Books here.

On the whole I think I got a lot from the day. To get them out of the way, my gripes were minor – no WiFi which made it harder to check ideas and references through the day, and the books for sale were still priced higher than on Amazon, for example. The facilities in the hotel were good and there was the chance to swap ideas with colleagues over the very good lunch. I didn’t really get much from the exhibitors, which were available through the fairly long breaks, but then that’s because as a regular classroom teacher I’ve no control over budgets for things like VLEs or new equipment. I leave that to the important people.

There were three sessions with a total of about four and a half hours of lecturing fom Bill. And it was lecturing; through most of the time he was speaking from the front with little interaction from the audience, of whom there were over 100. There was some time for questions, but it was done as ‘hands up’, each of them then triggering a ten minute response. I wonder if written questions submitted over lunch would have allowed more substantive answers?

Now, I’m not complaining about the lack of Powerpoint; I must confess my heart sank when I received a booklet with at least 35 pages of content. But the material (which I’ve since been supplied electronically, to make these posts easier – Thanks Pooky!) was made up of essays, book excerpts and examples of some of the forms that Bill talked about, rather than something which matched the content of his talk precisely. I’ve since used it when reviewing the notes I made during the sessions (electronically via EverNote, if you care – much more readable than scribbled handwriting!). While talking Bill used cartoons on OHTs to illustrate his ideas, as well as a sometimes bewildering array of abbreviations and acronyms. (I had to admit to an unpleasant shiver when he talked about being a very visual learner.) I’ve tried to show a few respresentative extracts from the handouts, interspersed with my notes below.

So what was it all about? The following is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a complete record. Rather they are the highlights from my notes, matched up with my personal reflections on how I plan to apply the ideas to my own practice. I’m sure many colleagues use this breakdown, into notes and actions, for everything from inset to meeting minutes. If any of my notes differ from Bill’s original format, my apologies – the fault is clearly mine.

Introduction

What is behaviour management all about? Think about where we can be on the scale; realistically we cannot hope for Control, the kids have a choice. We should consider Compliance a minimum step, where students follow instructions (despite eye-rolling or complaining). The last level suggested by is Co-operation.

What about Collaboration? This would be where kids play an active part in suggesting avenues, setting aims and extending themselves, more than just co-operating with ideas from someone else.

We all get into habits, good and bad. This applies to teachers and students, and it takes time to set up new routines, so that better habits can be learned by all. It is easy to overreact to relatively minor issues, and once you have done this it means you must deal more harshly with more serious issues. The severity of consquences is often fairly irrelevant – it’s set by the context, both of your lessons and the school as a whole. What matters is that the consequences are certain.

What bad habits have I been in? How can I address them?

Dealing with incidents during lessons

Tactical Ignoring is about choosing which behaviours will not matter, so you will not ‘notice’ them. Where you set your threshold will vary, but a good way to consider it is to think about how it affects learning. Focus on whether behaviours are primary (what you address because it matters) or secondary (irrelevant accessories which should usually be ignored, even if they are irritating).

Where I will set levels? Issues here in terms of my choices vs school rules – when does ignoring irrevelant behaviour undermine colleagues? I spent some time thinking about this a while back and posted about my own decisions. Now to make sure I am consistent.

Describe Obvious Reality is a reminder that asking questions of students who are misbehaving is often a bad idea. “Why…?” and other motivation-based, open-ended questions, are an invitation to grandstanding and time-wasting. Instead state what they are doing in way that can’t be argued with or misinterpreted. If you need to ask a question, it should be straightforward, ideally checking recall of instructions or class procedures.

Next give students a Directed Choice, so that they are clear on the expectation and what they need to be doing. Allow them Take-up Time; it’s important that during this you continue to Tactically Ignore any secondary behaviours. If they don’t get back to what they need to be doing, Clarify Consequences with them and allow further Take-up Time before you isolate them, either within the room or elsewhere. Any point where you have to stop teaching, cue the class as well as recognising the specific issue.

My interpretation; this makes explicit that you value learning behaviour from (majority of) the class over disruptive or distracted behaviour. It also acts as a prompt that the problem is affecting the class, not just the teacher.

Timeout – in terms of putting kids outside the classroom, but accompanied – is of limited use. If the issue is a severe one then they should not be unaccompanied – send them to (or have them collected by) SMT. If it’s a relatively minor issue, then sending them out is often seen as an overreaction. Instead, keep on track with lesson and then ask them to come back in their own time. (see ‘Interventions’ below).

I think I’ve overused short time-outs by having kids stood outside my lesson too much. It makes them the focus, rather than the learning that everyone else is doing, and means I have to disrupt the flow of my teaching.

Interventions and punishments

Whenever intervening in class, try to follow the principle of Least Instrusive action. This has a dual purpose, not only reducing the effect on the remainder of the class (in some cases they will not even realise what you have done) but also allowing students to make the choice themselves.

Follow the 3 Rs: Related, Reasonable, Respect.
Lines are pointless. Any punishment should be related to the action the kid is in trouble for. It needs to be proportional; beware overreacting, even (especially?) if the student is a repeat offender. Finally students and teacher need to maintain a working relationship despite issue. This is part of offering, and being seen to give, a fresh start.

Try to avoid analysis of issues during lessons – is unfair on other students, plus there is the problem of kids playing to an audience, or still being upset. Have a chat after lessons, or as an informal lunchtime interview, when you work through these stages:

  1. Tune in – what emotional state is the student in.
  2. Emphasize the primary issue. With permission, mirror what they wee doing and explain why it was a problem in terms of learning – theirs or that of others.
  3. Give a right of reply. Use Partial Agreement to acknowledge legitimate issues or concerns, but try to avoid contradicting what they say, esp emotional responses.
  4. Return to the rules – this is what we need to happen. You are explaining/reminding, *not* justifying. It is not a negotiation.
  5. Separate amicably. (If this seems hard, remember it could always have been worse – student could have sworn or run off. Recognise this, they probably considered it.)

Sometimes we react to kids demonstrating that they have power in the classroom. If this happens then we need to ask if we are allowing students that power. What have we done – or failed to do – within the classroom that has resulted in them acting as ring-leaders?

Did ‘Fred’ and ‘Barney’ (Year 11s who have recently left) have power in my classroom? If I have to ask, the answer is yes. How did I let that happen? What can I do to avoid it happening again?

Some of this was probably about (mis)managing challenging behaviours within the classroom, some was about failing to ensure they felt they’d had a right of reply – part of the problem was perceived unfairness. In some ways doesn’t matter if it actually was unfair. I should have asked for – and will ask in the future – for more directed support with this small group of students.

Mentoring

For a difficult class, or to re-establish a teacher’s role within a class, team teaching as part of mentoring may be useful. As a first step, being observed can be very constructive. This doesn’t need to be SMT, simply having another professional in the room to give you a ‘back row view’ can be good. Grab a coffee afterwards (Bill had an interesting perspective on the difference between ‘having a moan’ and ‘having a winge’ about a class) and go through a simple structure:

  1. “Did you notice when you…”
  2. “Did you see the effects of…”
  3. “I would suggest you… because…”

Although not explicit I find the distinction between immediate and longterm consequences is useful as part of 2 – this is where resentment can build up, when a teacher enforces compliance and a student feels aggrieved.

One point made (both originally and reinforced during the brief question session) is that having a member of SMT as an ‘enforcer’, either in or out of a lesson, is more likely to cause than solve problems. Research has shown that the best outcomes are found where an experienced colleague comes in to team-teach instead.

This offers fresh perspective, and while the new routines and habits are being established it allows kids to respond ‘by proxy’, as they see that the teachers are working together. This reduces the chance for students to attempt divide and conquer tactics; these  are a problem in terms of attitude even when they are unsuccessful as far as punishments are concerned. The issue with mentoring, of course, is that to be effective it needs time from experienced staff and those who are less confident, both in lessons and for ‘debriefs’. Bill suggests that simply demonstrating that difficult students can be challenging for anyone is helpful for staff.

I’m certainly going to invite colleagues to watch my lessons, with the intention of focusing on behaviour routines. It’s far too easy to look at subject knowlesge, or teaching activities, and assume that behaviour is being effectively managed. I think in particular I’ll ask colleagues to comment on what steps they saw me taking to build and maintain a rapport, even with students who were challenging me in other ways. This small group of students is where I need to be more effective.

To Follow

This is becoming a rather longer post than planned. Rather than taking ages on it, the remainder – discussing the most effective ways to establish (or re-establish) a class, and ways to deal with students who show particularly difficult behaviour across their subjects – will follow in the next couple of days. Any ideas or comments would be welcomed below…

The First Rule

The first rule of Journal Club – is do talk about Journal Club.

Journal clubs aren’t a new idea – as I understand it, their most wide spread incarnation is within medicine. A bunch of professionals get together to argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. #TwitJC from @fidouglas and @silv24, is just like that, but on Twitter. I seem to remember reading it had been mentioned in the BMJ, but now can’t find a link. Correction – have been told is in Nature News.Html Suffice to say it’s had lots of positive attention and comments.

So now we have #SciTeachJC, run by @alby and @alomshaha. The idea is for professionals to get together and argue about an academic paper, both how it’s written and what the consequences are for their professional practice. And no, that’s not a typo – I’m deliberately putting this in the same context as that of medical professionals. This isn’t to try to start a pissing contest with medics, but to challenge my teaching colleagues to see themselves as part of a profession, not just a job. My misquote at the start is to make the point that the more people are involved, the better the outcomes will be. We need to tell our colleagues about it – maybe even look at the same papers ‘in-house’, before or after the sessions – and encourage professional organisations to take part. It isn’t something that needs huge budgets or large amounts of time, but what better way to demonstrate that teachers are engaged and enthusiastic than taking part in their discussions? (All welcome, even Michael Gove.)

Two Purposes

From my point of view – and I’d love to hear alternative perspectives in the comments below, or via twitter if you’re feeling lazy – there are two main reasons to be involved with something like #SciTeachJC. One is to provide a prompt to the bigger ideas that are so easy to lose sight of in the daily routine of lesson planning and marking – perhaps it’s a way to ‘reprofessionalise‘, as @informed_edu puts it? And the second, if course, is that you finish the session, or read through the archive, and pick up things you can apply pretty much instantly to your own practice. I guess that most CPD, if it’s going to be worthwhile, should aim to tick both these boxes. Any readers with military experience (other than being outnumbered 30 to 1 on a daily basis) will recognise this as a distinction between strategy and tactics.

Big Picture

A teacher could get their planning down quickly and easily by doing the same old thing all the time. Of course kids vary, but after a few years you do tend to see a lot of the same attitudes, hear a lot of the same complaints and questions. You could ignore the exceptions, if you chose to. I try not to, but we all have bad days and busy weeks – I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we claimed to always be working at 100%, because we’d kill ourselves. Engaging with more challenging ideas, thinking about our professional practice, is really valuable for it’s own sake. It makes us ‘conscious teachers’, in the same way that we want our students to be thinking about the how and why of their learning, not just the what. There are many ways to trigger these ‘professional attitudes’ – perhaps get involved with Purpos/Ed, start blogging or just run a weekly ‘ideas swap’ in your workplace. Or you could try reading a challenging academic paper, and then spend some time discussing its implications with colleagues, near and far. Hence SciTeachJC.

Takeaway

This is – and I hope nobody takes this as a criticism – how I approach #ukedchat and #asechat, when I can make it. (That pesky real life thing.) I want ideas that I can use pretty much straight away. It’s always good to get a fresh, often contrasting perspective. That said, it’s great when people tell you that they like, and intend to steal, your ideas; there’s nothing like a little validation!

I’ve babbled for longer than I planned – but I think it was worthwhile babble. This post was intended to be just about the ideas I’ve picked up from the first #SciTeachJC (full archive and participation graphic also available). So my actions and ideas to takeaway were:

  • A reminder that girls often don’t see themselves as having potential in science, or careers that depend on it. (Also covered in the IOP Girls In Physics report of course.)
  • Made me wonder (and since then, check my reports) – am I guilty of seeing boys high marks as indicative of ability, and girls’ (equal) achievement as reflecting hard work?
  • Plan to do work in class contrasting the action of ‘doing’ science, with ‘being’ a scientist. This will give me a new way to use the ‘Spot The Physics’ worksheets I did as well as getting kids to look at the Hidden Science Map or the IOP’s Once a Physicist feature (behind paywall). Aim will be to help them to realise that scientific skills are widely applicable.
  • Get myself organised to apply for I’m A Scientist… and Cafe Science to allow students to meet ‘real’ people who use science in their careers, overtly or more subtly.
  • Several discussions flagged up the difference between ‘science for (future) scientists’ and ‘science for citizens’ – not sure what influence a humble classroom teacher can have, but still! Should we be considering ‘being science literate’ as a skill that can be demonstrated across subject areas, like ICT techniques?
  • Need to emphasize to kids that scientists are creative in suggesting hypotheses to test, methods to try, approaches to investigation.
  • Consider writing or organising a regular review (book, film, TV) to go on the VLE/noticeboard which will look at the science used or abused in something kids may have seen or read.

And Finally…

I really enjoyed the session, and plan to ‘attend’ the next one. I’ve even printed off the next paper, although I’ve not read it yet. I wonder if we’ll all get more out of it if we can be a little more focused – although giving useful feedback and ideas in 140 characters is obviously a limitation of the medium, not our span of attention. I’m going to look more closely at the suggested questions list, and perhaps even be organised about finding some references online beforehand to make it easier to keep up.

And this brings me to the final advantage of something, anything, like #SciTeachJC. It’s easy as a teacher to stay in our comfort zones. This means it’s easy to forget how our students might sometimes feel. I found the first paper challenging – I scribbled in the margins, checked my understanding, had to go back and reread some parts. Feeling a little out of my depth made me appreciate how our students sometimes feel. Even without the ideas, the discussions, the chance to ‘meet’ other teaching professionals, that empathy would have made it all worthwhile.

So remember the first rule of Journal Club… and maybe I’ll catch up with you next time?

Whose Role Models?

I seem to have been writing a lot more about political issues than classroom practice recently – my apologies. This post is a quick response after I read this recent article from a Year 12 student, as published by the Teacher Support Network. One sentence in particular caught my eye:

“Teachers are role models and should act in a way where there is no room for criticism.”

Now, I have two major concerns about this attitude, separate but linked.

Role Models

Yes, we are role models. We demonstrate, hopefully, good attitudes and behaviour. We show our students what it means to be an adult. Of course, all adults do this, deliberately or accidentally. When we vote, and explain why it matters. When we attend a church for a faith we don’t have, to get our kids into a school we think is ‘better’. When we tap a stranger on the shoulder to return the coin we saw them drop. When we slow down for a safety camera, then speed up again. When we are wait politely in line, ignoring aggressive behaviour from others. Each of these actions, these moments, teaches something about the ‘right’ way to behave. In the classroom, this is part of what is referred to as the ‘invisible curriculum‘. I think of it as an extra subject area, one called ‘Civilisation’.

So yes, teachers are role models. But teachers are people too. I don’t spend my life planning to be a bad example. But equally, I’m not going to spend every waking hour wondering whether I’m being watched by a student. Why shouldn’t I have a life? Why shouldn’t I do the things I choose to do, out of school and off the premises?

Is a teacher being a bad role model if they smoke? What about when they have a few pints at a wedding reception and dance really badly? Or argue with their spouse in public? Should they be obliged to put money in every charity box they pass, simply to play the part of a good role model for any pupils who happen to see them do it? If I choose to hold my partner’s hand in public, or have kids before I marry, is this anything to do with my professional life?

Of course, the other things about role models is that they can inspire change. Sometimes the behaviour we model for pupils is something their parents don’t like – and this time I’m not talking about simple bad habits or minor errors. An openly gay teacher is a role model, but it’s one that some parents might see as unwanted. Homophobia means that lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers still often conceal their sexuality from kids, and sometimes even from colleagues. I would never criticize a colleague for doing this – but equally I feel that telling them to do so, so as not to ‘influence’ children, is ignorant bigotry at best.

I tweeted about this article yesterday and had several interesting responses. @alomshaha pointed out that in questions of faith, or the lack of it, defining a ‘good role model’ is also tricky. I’m sure that the religious parents of some of my students would think my atheism means I’m a bad example to their children. Does that mean I shouldn’t answer questions from kids about my beliefs? Or that I shouldn’t challenge children who tell me that the universe is 4000 years old, that evolution never happened or that human beings are made out of clay? (No, I’m not making that last one up, and no, he wasn’t speaking metaphorically.)

No Room For Criticism.

“I’m not saying that teachers should not have a life outside of school, but just in case of meeting a pupil in a neutral area they should conduct themselves in an appropriate manor.” (sic)

Actually, that’s exactly what you’re saying. Who chooses what is appropriate? If you’re suggesting that there should be no room for criticism, you’re giving all the right to those who choose to complain. Whether it’s smoking, drinking or wearing a bikini, somebody somewhere will object. Who gets to choose the standards teachers are expected to live up to?

I totally accept that there are some actions which cannot be accepted. I happen to agree that teachers who don’t guard their FaceBook accounts are being careless – I choose to blog and tweet discreetly for similar reasons. I don’t think many people would argue for criminal behaviour to be ignored, or actions that represent a risk to the children in their care during the working week. But like everyone else, teachers are entitled to a private life. Nobody cares if a group of shop assistants have a night out and wander into a strip club, or if a bus driver likes to gamble, or if a bank manager takes a life drawing class. So why should teachers be accused of unprofessional behaviour if they spend their own time doing their own thing? Their actions might incite comment, and people will have their own opinions – but that’s not the same thing as saying that criticism is okay.

I really don’t think many Year 12 students would really expect their teachers to be perfect role models, every hour of every day. (Those who have a teaching parent would probably have a particularly interesting viewpoint.) I’d love to see how students expect us to behave, what they would see as acceptable, for teachers as opposed to other careers. Maybe this is a discussion that needs to be had, but the questions should be; “Why do you expect teachers not to be human?” rather than “What would you allow teachers to do in their own time?”

A line needs to be drawn somewhere about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Fortunately, we already have that line. We don’t need every individual parent, or each newspaper editor greedy for sales, telling us what is and isn’t okay. I make my own choices, in my own life. I’m happy to commit to being a role model in the classroom and on the school site. But my private life is mine, and just because I’m a teacher doesn’t give anyone the right to tell me what I can and cannot do.