I had to get up early, on a Saturday.
And I missed my train, so it was a really long day.
So in all, I had a fantastic day in Leeds. The speakers were great. The organisation was excellent. The food was good, even though I hadn’t booked anything. The company was funny, enthusiastic and friendly. The site was welcoming, although distinctly damp. The WiFi was highly reliable.
I even got a pen.
This is not going to be comprehensive, obviously. Every attendee will have been to a different conference, with different speakers, picking and mixing to suit themselves. As I did. So all I can do is give a flavour of the day, share links to my rough notes and write about how the day will change what happens for my pupils. In the end, as several speakers pointed out, this is the whole point of what we do.
(Comments in my notes and on here are paraphrases and summaries, in my words not theirs. Please let me know if you feel I have misrepresented the views expressed or points made during the sessions.)
The speakers were interesting, and in many ways seemed to be in broad agreement.
- Ofsted is a real problem, getting worse because it is being viewed as more and more political.
- We need less politics in running schools an less interference in specifications.
- Teachers work damn hard and we need to make sure it’s time well spent, on things that matter.
Differences became clearer when questions probed:
- how we could ensure high standards without some form of central organisation – I found Dominic Cummings‘ answers about a market-led approach seemed to miss the point, and his insistence that Gove etc had tried to move away from centralization unconvincing when we consider phonics as a fundamental part of teacher standards, and all authority for a school leading to the DfE. But maybe that’s just me.
- what we should do about the difficulties with Ofsted; most felt that we still need accountability but that, perhaps, a pass/fail approach would be more constructive. Dot Lepkowska was one who agreed that we need to completely remove political access and involvement with Ofsted, to avoid perception that it is being used for political motives.
Click here for my rough notes.
David Weston aka @informed_edu on Teacher Development
Chair of the Teacher Development Trust (see also: National Teacher Enquiry Network, The Good CPD Guide)
One of the main things I took away from David’s talk is how ineffective most CPD is – and for reasons that we can only change if schools are prepared to adjust their approach. He gave the example of watching bad TV, learning/confirming that we should eat more healthily – but nothing changes. A longer-term approach is needed, fewer ‘bits’ of CPD on topics that have nothing to do with student progress.
My action points:
- Every CPD session should be explicitly focused on the effect it will have on student outcomes. Reflect and ask!
- Use the idea of 3 colleagues at different career stages in the same CPD session. These are my ‘case colleagues’, and I should consider how each of them will take away different ideas; makes the concepts more ‘stract’ (my word, not David’s!)
- Spend more time on (teaching) diagnosis skills, rather than just interventions.
- Review characteristics of effective CPD and blog about how to build them into small group sessions about science teaching
Tim Taylor aka @imagineinquiry on the Mantle of the Expert
In many ways I wasn’t the right audience for this session, as the techniques have been much more widely explored in primary. I like the idea of a pervasive imaginary world that students can step in and out of; as a parent I’m very familiar with this! (I’ve a very clear memory of my eldest telling his brother earnestly, aged 7 and 3: “Quick, we need to escape from the Chickens of Doom!”). And the ideas of humans being wired to respond well to narrative approaches is one that resonates with me partly from reading about the concept of us being Pan narrans, the story-telling ape, in The Science of Discworld series.
Students taking the role of experts who are commissioned to complete particular tasks, involving cross-curricular learning, is fascinating. It will inevitably be less engaging in secondary when it can only take a relatively small part of the curriculum unless the timetable and teachers can make it work. It is something that I have used working with Year7 using the upd8 WIKID scheme, which can be great but has some very confusing sections. It’s a step up from role play as it links imagination and skills development more closely.
My main thoughts:
- Limited use across timetable in secondary without major timetable considerations and enthusiasm from management.
- It would be interesting to examine whether these ideas were deliberately used for WIKID.
- Develop role play for guest lessons, making clear need for teacher to take a subordinate role to encourage students into a more assertive one.
- Review/rewrite current roleplays using the immersive principles described – Teaching as Story Telling, recommended by Tim, would be interesting to read if money/time permit.
Dr Jo Pearson aka @jopearson3 on Research Considerations in School
I’ve done a little formal action research and I think most teachers have at some point asked themselves, “What will happen if I change this?” This was the only session in which I was asked to do something, looking at the questions that previous students had wanted to use on a Masters unit. The discussion of ethics was interesting, as Jo made the point that we should perhaps consider this kind of formalised, evidence-driven reflection as a normal and necessary part of our jobs (she still encouraged us to check the BERA Ethics guidelines though). I found myself strongly agreeing with the idea that failing to share what we learn is an ethical failure all of its own.
My action points:
- Use a wider definition of data eg pupil work decoded, recorded conversations
- Try using Cogi app with classes during discussion and planning to assess understanding
- Improved questions for research need to be much more specific, local rather than global. Teachers I work with need to be encouraged to look at much smaller aspects over a small timescale.
- Buy the book if at all possible: Inquiring in the Classroom
Dr Phil Wood aka @geogphil on Lesson Study
This session was fascinating and is something I intend to spend more time on. Phil was very dismissive of the idea of judging a teacher, or a lesson, based on a brief observation and the cycle he described seems like a much more constructive approach. Basically, several colleagues plan together, predicting how different aspects will lead to outcomes for three ‘case students’. One delivers the planned lesson, while another observes the students, and afterwards they reflect together. Ideally this reflection involves student interviews and/or a second (tweaked) delivery to an equivalent class. And so the cycle continues.
I like that this is a much more collaborative approach, and Phil described how more and less experienced staff were all able to contribute. The pressure and judgement is removed and instead different approaches are trialed in a safe setting. “An expert teacher understands wider policy, and the micropolitics of the school, so they can subvert these contexts in the interest of learning.” (my wording)
- Reading required: need to look into this topic and the varied formats of collaborative planning/deliver/reflection cycle
- EDIT: really interesting description of using this in science teaching on @headguruteacher‘s blog.
- Blog about the cycle in more detail, seeking comment on how used by classroom teachers (especially ASTs/HoDs?)
- “Once you use a ticklist, you miss what isn’t on the list.” – how can I apply this to markschemes and my teaching?
- Put together timescale – perhaps using distance collaboration tools – for ways to use this cycle in coaching.
Probably the less said the better, although the activities were… interesting… and the music was great. It was a really positive event and it was followed by coffee. Hoorah.
As I hope the points above make clear, the sessions I was able to attend (and there were three times as many I would have liked to see, hopefully some of which I’ll catch up with from the recordings) are the start, not the end. I suspect the ideas will feature in future posts and hopefully the impact on students is something I’ll be able to see.
In all, Northern Rocks was a great day and I’m sure the other participants thought so too. Huge thanks to Debra and Emma, as well as the presenters and those behind the scenes. Blogs about the day are popping up everywhere, and with 500 attendees I have no intention of trying to link to them all here. Please do comment with any thoughts about these sessions, in particular if you’ve got resources or links to point me towards. Because I’m lazy. 🙂