Returning to School

There are some kids who would not have picked up a book in half a year.

There are some kids who would not have held a pen for six months.

There are some kids who have had no art of drama for 180 days.

Remember this, and more, as many of us return to school for a new academic year.

Not for Sale

You see, human bodies aren’t for sale. They never have been. They never will be. Even if you think they are, you are wrong. History will judge you. The people will judge you. Never is it okay to behave as if you own someone.

If you are an employer, treat people in a way that does not dehumanise them. If you are a colleague, do the same.

We are all responsible for speaking out against injustices in the workplace and society.

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Zora Neale Hurston.

The Art of Practise

*An ethic of practise: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaican sprinter and Olympian

The lockdown struggle is real. In between sampling my kids’ baking experiments, bread with no yeast being one such interesting delight, I’ve been trying to teach them at home so that they don’t experience too many gaps as a result of 6 months without formal schooling. This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my firstborn child- my 9 year old daughter.

The practitioner’s practise

I had been trying to explain the difference between practice (the noun form) and practise (the verb form). Lord knows it took all of my teaching repertoire to get this across: analogies, mnemonics, worked examples/modelling. It kind of felt like being on the ropes with Year 8 period 6 on a hot Friday afternoon. Maybe even on the last day of the summer term. I explained that a medical professional practises medicine in a health practice. In that magical moment when learning happens, something finally clicked and she begun to understand. Not completely, but enough for the distinctions to make sense in her brain.

But something more interesting happened. She said “so do doctors just practise on people until they get better?”

“Well, sort of” I said hesitantly. Her response was naively insightful. Of course that’s what they do! That’s what everyone does. We are mere practitioners just trying to get better at what we do. Everyday is a chance to practise again and again and learn from our mistakes and failures. We are perennial practitioners.

“All the world’s a stage”

Shakespeare wrote this line over 400 years ago in ‘As You Like It’. He clearly understood the concept of the practitioner. The opening line to this monologue continues with “And all the men and women merely players”. Player is an archaic name for actor. It wouldn’t be wrong to consider actors as people who are practising their craft right in front of us: much in the same way a doctor, teacher or lawyer would practise. The ends are different, but the concept is the same. We are combining together a set of tools, props, skills and aptitudes in a perfect synthesis to create a desired outcome. Whether the outcome be treating a patient, defending someone in the court of law, or teaching someone algebra, the way of the practitioner is the same. We are grasping at the edges of success where every moment is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Final thoughts

What’s beautiful about this idea is that there is no ending. The practitioner never actually arrives at any particular end-point because you are essentially forever a student. It’s humbling. It’s full of hope. And so I remain a perennial practitioner.

*I chose a picture of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as she, along with many other great women and men, is someone who embodies the ethic of practise:

  • she is one of only 3 women to have won 2x Olympic gold medals
  • she is the only woman to have won 4x World Championships (which also surpassed her fellow countryman, Usain Bolt’s record)
  • She is the fastest mother in history

And here’s what she had to say about her success: “My secret is just staying humble…know who you are as a person and athlete and just continue to work hard.”

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Like any teacher who cares about their classroom craft, you would have asked yourself this question at some point. I’d even go as far as to say that most teachers ask this of themselves quite often, irrespective of the number of years in service to the profession. It’s a fundamental one which, at its core, reveals a deep seated desire to get better. To want to be more than what one is currently. After all, why pose a question one is not even willing to wrestle with? Because if we can know the answer, we can be it, right? If not, at least aim for it and perhaps land somewhere close to the mark.

A good teacher or good teaching?

A friend of mine recently recommend a video on YouTube of an interview with Thomas Moore, Professor of Education at UCL. Moore was asked the question ‘what makes a good teacher?’ His response was brilliant and demonstrated insight. He essentially explained that this is a static question for an ever evolving and developing set of traits and behaviours, consequently rendering the question somewhat inadequate. Instead, he suggested, we could better answer the question, ‘what makes good teaching?’ I’m sure your own responses to that question would include the typical things such as: good planning, effective behaviour management, strong questioning etc. However, the answer to the question of what makes a good teacher is more complex. He explained that the traits aren’t about being, as if one magically arrives at a particular destination after setting out on a particular course. It’s more of a question of becoming. What I find apt about this description is that the path is almost never ending. It’s a journey. And the most exciting thing is that we all get to tread the perpetual path to mastery over a lifetime.

This path towards master craftsmanship involves continuous self-reflection and disciplined self-observation, something I’ve written about here. There is something quite meta about this process, which should culminate in a course of action. After all, it’s no good reflecting and then staying the same. We have to set a goal in order to get better. But this process doesn’t take a rocket scientist to acheive. Just a genuine commitment. But perhaps the commitment part is hard because it involves some ardour and a willingness to look inward.

As I reflect on how one becomes a good teacher I’d like to share some practical tools and ways of thinking (dispositions) to assist with this. First the tools:

  1. Iris Connect, a video recording tool where you can see yourself teaching and conduct self-critique. If you’re bold enough, you can invite other colleagues to watch you and get their feedback. This is an incredibly humbling experience as you soon realise you are not as good as you think you are. So, well done if you manage to do this!
  2. Peer observation by inviting a trusted colleague to watch you. This is similar to the first option, just without the technology. Choose someone credible and whom you can trust to be honest with you. The last thing you want from this exercise is your ego stroked. I’d advise on setting an agenda before the observation. (I have a checklist if you would like me to send one).
  3. Post lesson written reflections done by yourself. A very powerful, introspective method for self-examination. Just grab a journal or exercise book to write your thoughts down.
  4. Student surveys. Err on the side of caution in terms of the types of questions you ask students. You don’t want to come across as pandering, or risk gathering data which isn’t useful to your purpose.

Secondly, I think there are a number of traits, or dispositions, say, which are conducive to becoming a good teacher. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Conscientiousness- a desire to do a good job with due care and attention.
  2. Humility- knowing that there’s far more you can learn.
  3. Resilience- an ability to carry on after failure, or in spite of any hardship.
  4. A good work ethic.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject of good teaching and becoming a good teacher. Feel free to email me or comment on this blog. You can also find me on LinkedIn where I make an effort to respond to most comments.

Here’s a link to the interview with Professor. Thomas Moore.

Don’t be that Chronically Tired Teacher

Former UK Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said: “A tired teacher is not an effective teacher. Nor is that teacher allowed to focus on what is most important – teaching.”

When you say this out loud, it sounds really bizarre. The fact that a teacher is expected to do so many extraneous things outside of their primary role- teaching! The sad thing is that these ‘extra’ duties detract from the primary purpose of educating young people. Teachers suffer, and in turn the students suffer.

Your wellbeing is paramount. If you aren’t healthy and strong, neither will your teaching be. Your ability to teach is predicated on your own sense of wellness. Stressed out and overwhelmed teachers only make stressed out and overwhelmed classrooms.

As educators wind-down for the summer break, I ask you to consider how you will manage your wellbeing when you return to work.

Here are some things to focus on to get you started:

  • Maintain a routine of physical activity
  • Schedule your time, both in and out of work
  • Learn to say no

Have a restful summer break.