To some, education is a machine. To others, it’s more akin to a biological ecosystem. Here, FE English teacher and MSc supervisor Dr Carol Webb explains how, to her, education is an ever-adapting, wildly varied ecological environment.
Why are frogs so happy? Because they eat what bugs them. Haha. Good one. What bugs you about education? Make a list. Yes, you. Do it, now. Then just eat it. Figuratively speaking. How? By engaging in pond life thinking perhaps, that's how.
How can you be an outstanding teacher in 2014, against strikes, changing school forms and new curriculums? How can you be, and why would you want to be, outstanding all of the time? I have been graded at this level several times in my profession, but I started teaching well over a decade a go. I suppose my question is… since leaving the classroom in 2011, would I be ‘outstanding’ today and what would I change?
As a school improvement coach and consultant, my heart always goes out to teachers ‘in the field’. I know of the pressures – I have been there – but feel that there is more of an edge in 2014 than there was at the start of the Millennium. Today, there seems to be a shift in morale in schools as a result of the changes in education – politically, digitally and as a professional generally. I don’t recall ever really feeling a huge impact of outside forces, nor watched the news to find out what I would be teaching in September.
So, here I am, in my not-so-new, not-state-of-the-art office with my brand new role of Digital Strategist. I need to oversee the implementation of a good Digital Strategy and in my original brief to my employer I stated that, in the first place, I would look at the teaching and learning that goes on. Now, I know that there is a great deal of good practice going on behind closed doors all round the school site. How to go about sharing it and making people open to such collaboration is another task.
For many there is a dislike and some mistrust about sharing ideas; it links, unfortunately, to the idea of lesson observation. There is nothing wrong with lesson observation per se, however, it has become synonymous with grading for staff and the dreaded OFSTED inspection. Lesson observation often sits uncomfortably in the mind-set of some colleagues. This is a small fence to overcome but I think I have the key to open the gate.
I do like my job. Of course, I do have moments when I want to pack it all in or plan myself a new career but those are normally moments at the end of term when I know that I am at my lowest point in terms of energy and creativity. It’s often at that time that I feel overwhelmed with my to-do list which I write out religiously everyday. There are even days when I have been too busy the night before to write out my plans so I will write it out after the events have happened so that I can cross out each achievement with satisfaction. Tell me I am not the only one who does this?
So, with all this negative press about teaching how could I possibly like my job? It is not easy to identify one particular thing. I enjoy many aspects of the job I do. I think most importantly I enjoy teaching and I enjoy thinking about how best to convey what I want my pupils to learn. I love thinking of ways to engage my classes so that they are motivated and inspired to learn. It’s what I feel is the creative element of my job and I know that I do have some good ideas. However, importantly, I also know that it is important not to reinvent the wheel. Inevitably, someone in my department or one of the lovely #mfltwitterati will have a great idea to share and so I never feel that the ideas have run out. I consider myself incredibly lucky in this respect. Creating is what I do when I have got all the horrid stuff out the way. Yes – there are elements of the job that I do not like. Marking. I don’t like marking. Well, I like it because I can see what my pupils have mastered and how well they have done. On the other hand, there is nothing more depressing than sitting down to a pile of marking or papers full of mistakes on the very grammatical concept you have just spent a week or so teaching. So, marking is something I do not enjoy. In fact, right now, I’m putting off marking…
Writing your essay could be a task that hangs over your head like a dark cloud. Like a forthcoming rain, the deadline approaches so fast while you are being paralysed by the doom and the gloom. This is one hurdle you need to know how to overcome. It is often the first step that is the hardest to take but when you do so, you will see that the other things you need to do will follow like dominoes going down.
Stop worrying and start working. To do so, know what you need to do and break it down to steps you can take. That is planning. It is having an aim and plotting out what you will do to achieve it. Make your planning phase a short one. It is only the first step and there are many others after it that you will need to do. One best way to do this is with the use of a monthly planner. This way, you will be able to see how the remaining days before the deadline look like.
Children and young people enjoy exploring the role of values in their daily lives because of the excitement as they begin to see more relevance in what they are learning. This awakening can help them experience the benefits of a positive mindset and how working on personal qualities, including resilience and patience, contributes to a greater likelihood of achieving their dreams and goals.
Many of us are probably not consciously aware of the degree to which we are driven by what we treasure and feel is important – in short, what we value. However, being more mindful of these influences is empowering
To help children and young people strive to be the best that they can be, they need to start with a vision of themselves.
Here is a simple framework that provides a brief and regular focus on personal progress using the VALUES letters as prompts. It helps to make each day as meaningful and productive as possible. During the course of a week the exercise captures the imagination of participants, allowing their ideas to shape their views of life and to persue high and lasting goals, both in the week ahead and in the longer term.
Keeping a journal helps with the daily discipline and enables children and young people to look back with pride on what they have accomplished.
If you find that your children are struggling to have ideas when planning a story, try this simple and very effective technique. Show them a picture or a sentence and play the coin flip game. Invite the children to ask yes-no questions about the picture or sentence stimulus. Emphasise that the questions have to be sensible and relevant. After each question, flip a coin – heads means yes and tails means no.
The technique is more elegant and sophisticated than it appears. A yes answer means that the children have a definite piece of information that can be incorporated into the story and which can form the basis for further questions. A no answer means that the children have to come up with another idea: there is a ‘positive pressure’ for children to keep thinking.