Awards

I got nominated by somebody (thank you, whoever you are) for the #ukedchat Favourite Educational Blog award. Which is nice.

But

It’s all very well being nominated. And I don’t mean to sound grumpy, especially when someone else is doing all the hard work. But it’s difficult to see… well… what the point is.

I love getting feedback on my blog, via twitter or (even better) as actual comments. It’s like when kids leave the classroom arguing about the ideas they’ve just been studying; you’ve made a difference and there’s no better feeling. I’ve recently started asking readers to take a moment to add comments via a Google form so I can build up evidence of any impact I have beyond my classroom. (Thank you so much to those who have done so.) So applause/thanks/suggestions are all welcome. So is coffee. Or used fivers.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a nomination for something I’m never in a million years going to win doesn’t really make much difference. (And I should add, don’t deserve to win.) That’s the fault of how we see awards. Maybe we need to move on a little bit.

Popularity Contest Or Judged?

This award is a straight system: one email address, one vote. (I presume duplicate votes will be picked up anyway.) This means that popularity, or notoriety, will make as much a difference as quality. Putting a shortlist together, itself often based on popularity, has its own problems. Back in 2012 many of the originally nominated entries for the Education Blog Awards had every student or colleague in their school voting for them. That’s kind of missing the point. And if you’re getting people to judge it, who are they? How can you show that they’re both expert and unbiased?

Best at What?

What’s your favourite food? I like chocolate. And coffee. BBQ flavour doritos. Bacon sandwiches. Lemon mousse. Peanut butter biscotti. My own spaghetti bolognese (roasted peppers and a few spoonfuls or porridge oats make all the difference).

Like choosing a favourite book (impossible!) I’d find it hard to pick a favourite education blog. Categories would make it much easier; science teaching, teacher-led, class blog, education policy, sharing resources… how could I compare ideas from a colleague on practicals with reviews of political implications for teachers UK-wide?

There are loads of blogs on loads of possible topics. This means some excellent blogs will be missed because people can’t possibly have read them all, or in some cases have a meaningful opinion on them.

Formative, not Summative

What matters isn’t whether somebody likes what I write or share. What matters is the feedback I get on it. That helps me make it better. It picks up my typos, fixes broken links, gives better references or improved examples. And that means my students get a better education. If they listen, that is.

I don’t care whose blog is the ‘favourite’. I’m pretty sure it won’t be mine. But I do care about why people might choose to vote for me – and why they wouldn’t. I’ll always listen to criticism, and where possible respond. I might ignore the suggestions, but it’s my blog and my choice. But if I can do what I’m trying to do better, I’ll thank you and try to put it into place.

Constructive criticism and praise are the best ways to improve. Those are worthwhile. But a gold star is applause, not feedback. And is that award for a particular post? The last three? The response to comments? According to many views on performance management, I’m only as good as my last observed lesson. Does that mean my blog is only as good as my last post?

How about a project looking at what makes a blog worth reading, then people submitting their recommendations according to those categories? Votes only count if accompanied by comments, all of which are published afterwards. A list of the top five in each category, stripped of numbers of votes, practically writes its own article in the TES/Guardian.

Enlightened Altruism

Blogs aren’t in competition with each other. The whole point, as I see it – maybe you think differently – is to cooperate. When I write and you read, we both gain. And that’s true when you’re the writer and I’m the reader. So instead of voting for me – or as well as if you’re that committed – why not tell me, through a google form, how my blog has helped you.

 

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A Day in The Life

So I tweeted…

…and then I got some replies. It wasn’t a survey. It wasn’t particularly scientific. But I did think it cast an interesting light on the variety of science teaching. The joy of Twitter is that I was able to check permission (and Yes, I agree it’s a public medium but it also seemed polite) and invite longer comments by email. I’ve not had any of those, completely understandable as everyone’s busy with the end of term rush, but here we go anyway.

I suspect mine needs little explanation. Surely we’ve all used ‘martian landers’ to get kids thinking about forces and parachutes? Lots of great videos as starters and many briefing sheets, like this one from TeachEngineering. Before introducing momentum as a term I get kids to consider how unstoppable moving objects are, as they find that language much more accessible. And giving them the two contradictory facts that beta particles are electrons and there are no electrons in the nucleus is always fun.

 

I wonder how @90_maz changed the teaching of the EM spectrum to suit different classes?

That is indeed varied! I always find classifying an interesting topic to teach but find myself getting bogged down in (fascinating) detail about bats and dolphins if I’m not careful.

The joys of behaviour management… trying to pay attention to potential issues without them feeling they have to play up/down to your expectations.

I find this a really useful approach, but would be a lot easier if I had wifi access or a webcam of some kind. Preparing three paragraphs in advance and asking students to identify strengths and weaknesses, and which belongs to the teacher, is often worthwhile. If I was brave enough I’d record audio of me talking myself through the problem so they can hear/see me ‘thinking out loud‘.

Another varied day – sometimes I wish I was immune to yr8. I’ve never taught the EMPA but would be really interested in viewpoints. Of course, it won’t be long before it all changes again; you might have seen the letter from SCORE on practical assessment, but I’ve not tracked down anything published by OfQual yet.

A great example of how teachers do extra work – effectively unpaid overtime – which is effectively invisible to the wider world. We’re all familiar with working in the evenings, weekends and through holidays, but how many of us have also worked while off sick or on maternity leave?

A really interesting snapshot and I’d value any further detail, from the above or anyone else.

 

 

Numbers Game

Now, before you groan, we’re not just going to ‘do’ maths. We’re going to use maths to solve a problem. Or at least define a possible problem. So don’t give up just yet, okay? And no, this isn’t about data tracking, important as that is.

Let’s imagine that a school has a half dozen members of SMT. Let’s presume they all have a keen interest in teaching and learning, keeping up with CPD in their subject and so on. They’re in a position of power/responsibility, and they want students to learn more and their grades to improve. All fair assumptions so far? (Stop sniggering at the back.)

Between government initiatives and their own ideas, let’s assume that each half term every member of this notional SMT has to try something new in their classrooms. I don’t just mean a different kind of starter, but trialling or testing something that might have a wider impact.

It might be the latest DfE-endorsed SPAG marking policy. It might be a new behaviour tracking system. It might be something they’ve picked up at ResearchEd or NorthernRocks. Whatever it is, it gets tried out and the member of staff reports back to their fellow senior colleagues. Let’s say only one in six of these changes – all intended to make a difference – are rolled out more generally. SMT meetings correctly minute that ideas a b and c have been rejected due to lack of impact, that d and e from the local authority can be done in a way that doesn’t affect classroom staff, and only idea f will be actioned by so and so.

Each member of SMT tries one idea at a time with their classes. If this takes an extra ten minutes per class over a fortnight timetable, that’s a rough average of an extra half-hour per half term per class. On a fifty percent timetable, that’s maybe five or six classes. This is perhaps 30 minutes extra per week, but the teacher can see the difference and believes, honestly, that the time is worth it. They are sincere. They might even be right.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Six members of SMT. Over a year, each supervises one new intervention (in their management time, because this will end up being part of their TLR performance management). Oversight gets added to the school calendar, it’s listed in agendas and discussed in emails and INSET.

For a classroom teacher with a full timetable, each of these six initiatives adds an hour per week to their workload – but it’s cumulative. By the end of the year this would work out as six hours extra every week. It’s arrived gradually, and in many schools the cost is concealed by reduced timetables due to study leave and the post-exam lull. But in September…

Time is a limited resource. If we work hard – and I really think we do – then adding more jobs can only work in three ways:

  1. Do less of something else
  2. Do other things less well
  3. Take more work home

This last option – effectively invisible overtime – is often what happens.

An Alternative

Each term, based on my approximations above, there will be twelve proposed initiatives. It shouldn’t be too hard to work out what the impact would be for a few ‘generic’ staff members :

  • Mr Lower-School (mainly KS3, some KS4 teaching)
  • Ms Olderkids (Mainly KS4/5 teaching)
  • Mr P. Art-time
  • Mrs SM Tee with 30% timetable
  • etc

Now, it’s likely that these will show who is affected most. For example a colleague with mostly sixth form classes won’t necessarily appreciate the effect of mock exams. If each of 120 scripts (that’s the rough total of yr10 and yr11 papers I had to do) takes 10 minutes, that’s 20 hours – and that was the second set of mocks this year. On the other hand, I don’t teach much KS3 so a colleague who has lots of yr7 and yr8 classes will suffer much more from something changing our reporting system for them.

I hate to use reality TV as a model for schools, but there is perhaps something to be learned. Every new initiative is supposed to be examined for impact on workload anyway. So how about we make this assessment – which is done by SMT anyway – open to colleagues, with voting and comments from the people who will have to put them into practice?

Now, sometimes it’s not a question of whether we change something or not – it has to be done. But surely this will give more information about how and when we put a new demand into place? Listing existing interventions, and the time each of them takes, would also be interesting. Obviously marking loads, coursework deadlines etc vary between subjects. But at least we can then have the discussion about what will be removed to make time for the new approach. What are SMT prepared to sacrifice so that we can fit this latest demand into the zero-sum game of our time?

I’d be really interested in ideas and comments from colleagues who have been part of this process. Maybe I’m being unrealistic – maybe my numbers are miles off. But until I’m part of SMT (roughly a week after flying pigs are sighted over my school) it’s as close as I’ll get without your help.

If this post has been useful for you in school, please add to my ongoing testimonial via GoogleForm (as described in an earlier post).

 

An Argument Worth Having?

A student doesn’t have a pen. You loan them a pen. Next lesson, the same student doesn’t have a pen. Now what?

Let’s assume – because I’m a professional teacher and, if you’re reading this, probably so are you – that we’re not talking about a student who (a) has specific needs making pen recall a problem or (b) a student whose family/carers can’t supply a pen. In each case of course it’s our job, as a school, to sort them out. Let’s ignore the students who usually manage it but, like everyone including me, sometimes forgets. No, this is a student who habitually fails to bring a pen to school.

This is a choice.

This student has learned that not having a pen somehow offers a benefit. Perhaps it means they can demand attention, trying to pick a fight at the start of a lesson. They can start conversations with classmates about borrowing a pen, reinforcing friendships or subtly exerting dominance. It means they can waste time and disrupt the starter. Maybe they’re doing this to avoid writing. It’s hard to know.

Of course their motivation is important, but in this case we also have a choice.

  1. Refuse and see them waste more time, complain that we “don’t value their learning,” and perhaps refuse to write.
  2. Give them a pen, without consequences.
  3. Give them a pen, with consequences.
All of these take time. Enforcing consequences takes more time, either within the lesson eg recording names or afterwards for short detentions (or both). This time is increased if we actually expect to get the pen back (in which case our colleagues will face the same dilemma).  Because this is not an ‘and’ situation. Like so many other examples in teaching, this is an ‘or’ situation. Doing this means less time to do something else. There is always a price to be paid, something the government forgets whenever they have a new initiative to promote.
This is learning time. Wasting learning time is not okay.
If a student says they care about their grades, but actually spends every evening on their XBox, then we can reasonably suggest they don’t care that much about their grades. If we say we care about learning, we have an obligation to spend time helping our students learn. Whether you favour group work or teaching from the front, ‘progressive’ or ‘didactic’ methods, inquiry-based or core knowledge, I think we can agree that learning takes time. Less time means less learning. This is not rocket science. (Rocket science is more fun.)Teaching is not just about our subject knowledge. Students come to school to learn about life. To be, for want of a better word, civilised. The same as we’re not born knowing how to use a knife or fork, we’re not born organised. If students learn that they will be provided with equipment that they could reasonably bring themselves, they are learning dependence. We are teaching them to be needy. We are effectively preventing them from becoming self-reliant. We are giving them an incentive not to be responsible for their own pens and, by extension, their own learning.

Of course having a pen doesn’t automatically make a student a good learner. But not having a pen definitely makes it more difficult. Compare this with the things we so often pick up on, such as uniform. Now, I’m not starting the argument about whether having a uniform at all, or a blazer, or whatever, makes a difference. But I think most teachers, asked whether they would prefer students to have a pen or a tie, wouldn’t see this as a difficult choice. So why do we make a lot more fuss about uniform than equipment?
Of course I address this within my classroom. Of course many students learn to bring basic equipment most of the time. There are many lines in the sand we could draw, but this has the benefit of being one most adults wouldn’t really argue with. Even most teenagers find it hard to justify once they’re away from an audience. But like so many other things in school, it needs a united front. I don’t really care about my colleagues’ policies on group work, homework schedules or underlining titles. But if they’re loaning pens out freely when I make a point about the problem, they’re making my life more difficult.

When I rule the world, schools will check equipment instead of uniform at the start of the day. In fact, imagine a school where uniform rules only apply to those kids who have gained three or more debits the previous week. If they want to wear their own clothes, they have to behave. Imagine what that would be like…