Resolutions, Targets and Aspirations

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who’s started the term with a whole load of ‘New Year Resolutions’. We make the point to the kids that this is their chance for a fresh start, and many of us do the same. A recent #ukedchat discussion was on just this topic. What I’d like to do is think ‘out loud’ for a moment on the difference between three very different kinds of aims.

Resolutions

We all make mistakes. One of the best things I found about moving on after my PGCE was leaving behind the horrendous errors in my placement schools. Each school year is a good chance to reflect on what has gone before and make something generally better. These are the things we know we really should have done already, our guilty secrets. Maybe we know we reach for the DVD library too readily. Perhaps we rely too much on oral feedback and not enough on written marking. Or we’re always forgetting to monitor our form’s reading books. Whatever it is, these bad habits are things we want to address.

It’s easy to have really big ideas about what you’re going to change. Making them happen is harder. I’m trying to get my marking more systematic; an electronic markbook, with prompts and automatic scoring, will make it much easier for me to be organised. The trick is to identify what is stopping you from doing things the way you want, and change the situation. Like we tell the kids, doing the same thing in the same way gives the same result. Saying “I’ll just do better/work harder/mark for longer” is a recipe for further failure.

Targets

There are probably some of these on your performance management already. They often involve percentage of students in a class meeting a particular standard, or attendance on a course that can feel like it is more for the school than the individual. But they’re also the chance to get professional development that you (and your mentor/performance manager) identify as useful. Whenever possible, get courses or concrete changes written in as part of your performance management review. Targets should, of course, always be SMART, just like we tell the kids. It may be useful to check out @informededu‘s new directory of education CPD when it’s up and running.

Be wary of targets that rely on other people, either staff or students. In the end, a teacher can only do so much for a class. They sit the exam, they write the coursework (in theory). In a class of 25, each student is worth 4%, so a small real difference in C grades can make a huge difference in ‘your’ results. This is the problem with school statistics – we are judged by much smaller groups, affected by many more confounding variables, than would ever be accepted in true science.

Try to choose targets that you can easily demonstrate will be useful for students, academically or otherwise. Raising awareness of science careers, keeping a ‘science news’ noticeboard up to date, and links with other departments are all useful. Perhaps someone in English could talk to students about views of science as demonstrated in fiction, from Frankenstein to Brave New World – if they were asked. Beware of being set targets, rather than setting them yourself – always arrive for the meeting with ideas and be prepared to justify them.

Aspirations

I think sometimes the targets we set ourselves are a little ambitious. It’s perhaps better to ration yourself a a small handful – perhaps one to focus on each term – and consider them as things to aspire to, not require. Ideally these will be self-chosen, and will benefit yourself professionally as well as your students. These are the things that will help you stand out a little at an interview. Perhaps your corner of the school VLE is currently a dry list of resources and homeworks set. Turning it into a place where kids swap ideas, use study guides and direct their own learning, using links to both support and extension material, will help them and sound good at interview. But it’s not something you’ll finish in a day, or even a week. Other, longer term ideas might be to start or run a science club, or to blog about teaching (to see how this benefits your students, see forthcoming blog post). But it’s important to remember that aspiations are sometimes too challenging. If you succeed every time, you’re probably not setting yourself challenging enough objectives.

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?”

Robert Browning

 

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One thought on “Resolutions, Targets and Aspirations”

  1. “Perhaps someone in English could talk to students about views of science as demonstrated in fiction, from Frankenstein to Brave New World – if they were asked.”

    The problem is that most fictional portrayals of science and scientists revolve around a variation on the theme of mad scientists unleashing uncontrollable and malign influences on the world. Frankenstein falls into this category. Brave New World is also not particularly positive as an inspiration. The message “science is cool for psychopaths” is not the right one!

    Notwithstanding the broader political message of book and author, I would recommend Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in this context. It has one of the only consistently positive accounts of the value and excitement of the process of scientific discovery. It also places scientists and engineers right in the most prominent roles of heroes. However much you might think that Reardon’s treatment of his family is unfair, the account of the struggle to invent Reardon Metal is a very positive one taking materials science and engineering away from the lab and into being a force for improving the world.

    From a non-fiction angle, I’d recommend those considering their A level options to read Richard Feynman’s autobiography – if it doesn’t counter the stereotype of theoretical physics and higher maths being for the nerdiest and most uncool people around nothing will!

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