I teach, therefore I am.
A write-up of my keynote at Pedagoo 2015.
I am really honoured to be the final speaker today. Much like many of the people who have spoken today, I have a big place in my heart for Pedagoo and so it means a lot to me that Helene asked me to end this day.
Phil Stock spoke eloquently at the start of today about the power of this type of CPD and he also spoke about leaking roofs. Weirdly I had this metaphor in my mind about the two. I’ve always felt Teaching found me – walking into a classroom for the first time since leaving school and watching a commanding female teacher weave a magic spell over her pupils with literature – I remember feeling that I had found my home. Yet two years later, worn from an onslaught of behaviour management and an ill-balanced workload, it began to feel like the roof of my home was leaking. Seeping through were the negative images and words whether from politicians, the media or most sadly other teachers. And then my colleague, Chris Waugh, encouraged me to explore the world of Twitter. I was already online but unsure what I was doing (hence the silly Twitter handle) or what I wanted to say but with guidance I began to cut a path for myself. The next step was a TeachMeet – this one at Tom Sherrington’s previous school KEGS. Suddenly I felt that: yes the roof of my home had holes but the sun was shining! Being in a room surrounded by teachers determined to be better, to do better by their pupils was amazing but even more so was the generosity of spirit which I found there and which I find today. There is no keener example of that than Helene, who organised today, she is the embodiment of this generosity: someone who gives so much of their time to helping others in the teaching community find a voice, someone who works tirelessly to provide a space for this meeting of minds. For that I would like to thank her most deeply.
Today there has been some great sharing of ideas but, perhaps more importantly, there has been disagreement. One of the themes that has come out today is the importance of teacher autonomy. In the London Nautical English Department session they discussed the importance of this in terms of their approach to curriculum and assessment. Teachers are empowered by their ability to make choice and to therefore have a sense of autonomy. This prompted a debate about how how autonomous teachers should be – where is the role of leadership and whole school ethos?Recently bloggers such as Kris Boulton have started a discussion about whether teachers should have any say in curriculum design at all. Phil Stock provided an example of something which perhaps bridges this gap with his workshop on on collaborative teaching cycles in which there was a suggestion about the value of a framework provided by leaders but with some autonomy at department level. It’s clear there is a healthy debate to be had here, one which I have certainly begun in my own mind!
Another point of friction came through the discussion of assessment – including a continued argument about the importance of progress measures. In her session on assessment without levels Hayley Earl talked about the fear that schools have about developing a new system and called for leaders to be brave and to have conviction. It’s a concern to me that we are still discussing progress measures when we should be focused on valuable assessment systems which are driven by curriculum and by the desire to work out what our pupils know and how to help them make genuine improvement. I concur with Hayley that fear is the one thing that is holding us back. I’m not sure if it’s a hang up from previous criticisms levelled at teachers or from the accountability system and Ofsted but fear is the one thing that is going to stop us from making the change that we believe in. Fear is also what leads to some of the stupidity that still goes on in schools and results in people thinking that they can go to a PixL conference and pick up some hot trick that will make their school outstanding. There’s still this terrible culture of trends in teaching based on little to no evidence and usually ending up reducing the complex questions of education into a motivational laminated poster. If your thinking can end up in three words on a poster, I would suggest you need to think again. I think what all of the sessions shared was the importance of ethos, values and courage of conviction.
The reason this isn’t seen across school is I think a consequence of a fear of “the struggle”. We constantly encourage our pupils to embrace risk and struggle and that point between challenge and failure – yet half the time we run a mile from it ourselves. We run from the feeling that comes when you have to think about something complex and have to navigate the difficulties. Yet sitting in sessions today hearing ideas that I disagree with forces me to consider and refine my ideas. How do you know what you really believe until it is challenged?
These challenges are easier to face here because we are not alone. A number of people have talked today about the feeling teachers have of being ‘on their own’. It’s much less terrifying to take risks when you know you have this community and it also means you don’t always have to re-invent the wheel; I think we can put pressure on ourselves to always be original and be our own island of inspirational teaching. But it’s not cheating to work together, to collaborate, to use other’s ideas – with suitable credit of course. And that is just another reason why today has been so worthwhile. I lead on Teaching and Learning and after Phil’s session today I do feel a bit like he’s taken a year’s worth of thinking and work off my shoulders. Even in the divisions and differences and arguments that ensue as part of the profession we are truly united by the passion we have to do the right thing by our pupils – to provide them with the best education. Determining what that is demands argument but this can be achieved positively.
In my first ever blog post I demanded that we all face the education world with this unrelenting positivity. I now realise that what I wanted was for us to be positive activists. As the years have gone on, this positive activism has been realised through the grassroots movement from events such as Pedgaoo, ResearchEd, Headteachers Roundtable, TeachMeets, Twitter, blogging and more. We have seen curriculum, assessment, teacher training, behaviour management and even Ofsted be shaped by those within the profession. What is happening here is not only CPD it is this meeting of minds; a collaboration of ideas and an active pursual of change from the profession itself. It is the very best of what we are about.
What I also heard today was a plurality of voices. Even within the education community we can sometimes be self-limiting in terms of who we listen to. This is a problem, which we need to address. And I’m going throw in the F word now – FEMINISM. (Not a swear word but sometimes it feels like one.) 74% of the profession are women – yet think about the biggest voices in education when it comes to blogging, Tweeting and conferences. How many of them are women? How many women here today probably didn’t ask a question or make a comment out of insecurity or ‘imposter syndrome’. If we are taking charge of our profession then we need to take charge as a whole group together. We need to follow the example of Helene and work to allow a multitude of voices to be heard. In that space lies our power.
I recently re-read the book ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and there is a moment at the end of the book where the protagonist Charlie reflects on his journey over the time he has been writing. He says:
I don’t know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might
be too busy trying to participate. So, if this does end up being the last letter I just wanted you to know that I was in bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who’s gone through it you made me not feel alone, because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen, and there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen.
I know these will all be stories some day and our pictures will become old photographs and we will all become someone’s mom and dad.
But right now, these moments aren’t stories this is happening, I am here and I am looking at her, and she is so beautiful…I can see it.
This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story, you are alive.
And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder, when you were listening to that song, on that drive with the people you love most in this world.
And in the moment, I swear, we are infinite.
In the moment, I swear, we are infinite.
It’s that I feel when I am surrounded by my profession at events such as these; it is standing up and seeing the lights and it is beautiful. And everyone, every teacher, should feel this. So I urge you all to become positive activists for our profession, to contribute to the multitude of voices and to allow our passion to unite us. Together, we are infinite.