What is pedagogy?

I’ve just returned from a very interesting meeting at the GTCE on pedagogy, innovation, assessment and pupil participation. There was a really interesting mix of people there, with academics, union representatives, teachers, consultants and school leaders.

Something that became reasonably clear early on was that nobody seemed entirely clear what pedagogy really means. Some of the GTCE papers seemed to imply it meant:

  • Teaching and Learning, or
  • “What goes on in the classroom”

Interestingly, Dictionary.com defines it as:

ped·a·go·gy:  [ped-uh-goh-jee, -goj-ee]  Show IPA

1. the function or work of a teacher; teaching.
2. the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods.

Not quite the same! In fact the interesting publication Professionalism and pedagogy, a GTCE commentary led by Professor Andrew Pollard of the Institute of Education, say that pedagogy is “the art, science, and craft of teaching”.

I think we can all agree that:

  • Teachers should cause learning.

However it seems to me that in order to do this effectively:

  • Teachers must constantly review and reflect on their practice,
  • teachers should collaborate and discuss their practice with other professionals, and students, and
  • teachers should be constantly creative, innovate, and have fun with their teaching.

For me, these things are at the heart of pedagogy, but there is far too much of an emphasis on just measuring learning with narrow statistical tools.

In the world of IT, programmers discovered that constant, immediate and richly detailed feedback on their work results in much better products than the old methods, where customers wrote a specification and then waited two years until something got delivered. (This is the idea behind agile development).

I think teaching should be the same. Professional collaboration would enhance teacher strengths instead of enforcing minimum competencies through tick-box inspections. It would foster innovation which would be motivating for teachers, and this would result in better learning for students.

Every teacher on Twitter knows how collaboration and discussion has enthused them. I now need to put my money where my mouth is and push this approach at my school. Watch this space…

Prompting discussion about improvement

Effective teaching is the hot topic at the moment, and with such fantastic discussions such as those at purpose/ed and the interesting (although controversial) Measures Of Effective Teaching project from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, there’s a lot to come.

I’ve been asked to develop my own tool to encourage some really good discussion and collaboration between colleagues, prompting a good hard look at the ways we teach, and what is going on in our classrooms. This is for a pilot project with a teacher training organisation.

So what do you think is a good set of data to prompt that discussion? I need your help! My initial thoughts are:

  • How much students test scores have improved (from initial formative assessment to final summative test)
  • Student levels/grades compared to target grades (based on prior attainment)
  • Student enjoyment survey/ratings/opinions
  • Teacher enjoyment survey/ratings/opinions (including assessments of behaviour etc)
  • Small portfolio of linked work that class are particularly proud of
  • Student self-assessment of how much independent learning went on – how would they rate their ability to improve in this topic without further assistance?

I don’t think this is exhaustive, and I certainly don’t think you’d measure all of these for every topic. However, a selection of these different approaches would prompt some very interesting discussion, and feed back nicely into upgrading schemes of work and resources for the next time it is taught.

What do you think?

Failure is not an option

Every school is passionate about getting their students to succeed, and some are more successful at encouraging, nurturing and supporting than others.

For me there seem to be two distinct approaches to this.

Option 1 is “We will not let you fail”. These teachers will put huge amount of time and resources to ensuring their kids do well. They’ll lay on extra classes, support, and encourage. Teachers will pour in hours of time, and buckets of effort to help their students succeed. Nerves may fray as they see students taking advantage, but through sheer dedication and professionalism they’ll make it work for the kids.

Option 2, however, is “We will not allow you to let yourself fail”. These teachers will have incredibly high expectations, and put in hours with the kids. They will encourage and nurture the students to develop a work ethic. They will model the hard work necessary to break through problems. They will work hard with students to help them diagnose their own problems and learn the tools to improve. Frustration may grow as they try ever more ways to get kids to see the light, but through sheer professionalism and determination they’ll teach the kids to work it out for themselves.

I would never condemn option 1, but I don’t know how sustainable it is. I think students genuinely appreciate both, and when they’re really down they’ll need some direct intervention to pick themselves up.

Let’s inspire our students to dream, and teach the tools to realise them.

Taking offence

I’ve heard of teachers taking offence at Jamie Oliver’s new TV show, about the British Humanist Association’s Census Campaign, and about a variety of political points.

Surely there is a line to be drawn between giving offence and taking offence? If I criticise your beliefs and practices and say that I think there is a better way to do things, that you may be misguided, and that I offer an alternative, then I have not given offence. I am engaging with you, and debating with  you. You may choose to take offence, but surely only because you are not confident enough in your beliefs to listen to debate.

However, if I generalise and abuse and say that all people of one faith are unpleasant, that all people of one sexuality are uncaring and unfit to be parents, or that a politician is evil and deliberately doing wrong, then I would argue that I am giving offence. I am setting out to be offensive to a group of people in order to appeal to others.

I welcome different viewpoints. It may be uncomfortable for me to hear them, but I should not choose to take offence if they are given in a spirit of cooperation in order to engage me in debate. If the points are made in order to belittle me, if they make assumptions about me based on generalisations about a group I belong to, or if they set out to demean me in order to make others feel better about themselves, then I would still try and either engage or turn away rather than ‘take offence’ and hide behind that, even if offence is being given.

‘Taking offence’ is a state of mind. It is something people seem to do in order to defensively draw themselves together, instead of challenging and reflecting on their beliefs. Politicians do it, unions do it, you and I both know people that make a habit from it. I suspect it relates to ego and insecurity. I can’t imagine the Dalai Lama takes offence very often.


Jamie’s Dream School

I loved this TV programme. Jamie completely gets these kids. He knows just how they were turned off by their school experiences, how they have low self-esteem, and how they lack self-discipline. You could see that he really related to them, that it made him think deeply about his own school experiences.

I was relieved that, unlike Monday’s Panorama, he didn’t go over the top and cherry pick very rare examples of classroom violence and claim it was the normal everyday experience for British students. In fact, he just bluntly stated the facts, and then expressed a wish to do something for kids, as he wished someone had done for him.

These kids were fantastic people. They didn’t need, or appreciate, anyone lecturing them with what their problems were (as David Starkey discovered). Quite the opposite – they could recite their problems to each other, and were totally self-aware. What we heard were endless stories of lack of respect, lack of discipline for them leading to lack of self-discipline, and a terrible lack of aspiration, hope, and engagement.

They were given amazing people to learn from, but none of them were teachers. What you saw were fairly unruly kids being engaged but not self-disciplined. It clearly showed how these celebrity teachers lacked the understanding of classroom management, planning, and psychology, but that they did their best with genuine enthusiasm, respect (in most cases), and fantastic resources.

Of course, the average teacher has more than one hour of lessons per week. They have one twentieth of the time to reflect on each lesson, adjust their plans for the next, and recoup their energy. They have more paperwork, more assessment, massively prescribed curriculums that ensure they rarely get to follow the students’ own interests, and far fewer resources to work with.

This programme clearly shows what heroes teachers are, day in, day out. Resilient professionals, caring and engaging, raising aspirations. When David Starkey got angry and disappointed he lashed out at students, blamed others, and expected someone else to fix it. As a real teacher you just can’t do that. You have to take it all, work tirelessly to raise standards, with every child, every day.

Jamie’s Dream School has inspired me to keep challenging and engaging my students, to keep reminding them how much potential they have, and to be disciplined with them so that they can learn to discipline themselves. It’s given me a stark reminder that belittling students achieves nothing, and that they will only respond well to people who believe in them.

I look forward to the rest of the series. Well done Jamie.

PS A mini quote from me, on this subject, was published in The Guardian on Tuesday 8th March.

UK benchmarking

There seem to be so many people talking about school benchmarking in the USA, but not so much in the UK. I have a feeling that it would be a good idea to have some sort of meet-up to start setting the agenda in this area – in order to make sure the focus stays on collaboration, sharing, and mixed data sources, instead of competition, league-tables, and a results-only blinkered view.

I think that a decent system of benchmarking in different areas such as finance, staffing, pupil satisfaction, results, teacher satisfaction, leadership, governance, etc. would start some fantastic conversations between schools, encourage sharing of good practice, and foster a culture of reflection, review and collaboration.

Do you think this would be a good idea? Or does a forum like this already exist?

Resources I’ve found for benchmarking so far:

I’m also aware of some other large organisations looking in to this area. What have you heard about?

Are you a standards parasite?

Standards of achievement and behaviour in schools take constant and relentless effort to maintain. Every member of staff and every student has a duty to act in the way that improves the quality of the school.

Teachers in particular are responsible for setting and maintaining boundaries, modelling good relationships, and stretching students. Every teacher has good days and bad days, but today it occurred to me that every school has some particularly outstanding staff who are even more visible, even more relentless in applying, maintaining and raising standards.

If you look at the last few weeks at your school, I’m sure you can think of times where students behaved well without you having to put in much effort. Thinking back over my years of teaching, I know there were days when I took classes like this as a great reason to relax a bit, and let a few lapses go by without comment. Similarly there were students who may have not done some work where I just let them be.

However, it occurs to me that at those times I was being a standards parasite. I happily accepted the results of my colleagues’ hard work while eroding those same expectations. The recent discussion about Troops to Teachers seems to be very pertinent to this – there seems to be a suggestion that former troops are less likely to let agreed standards slip than the average teacher, which of course makes it easier to raise standards in challenging schools.

I have no doubt, as with any ‘magic fix’ in education, that this is not a panacea: that not all former troops can make the transition to great teachers, and indeed clearly there are many non-ex-military teachers who are outstanding practitioners in this area already.

However, anyone who is a high-standards exporter, anyone who is an aspiration-raiser, and anyone who can combine the magical complexity of teaching with a relentless drive to raise standards for all must surely be welcome in the classroom.

Do you raise standards, or are you a standards parasite? It’s something that has certainly provoked a lot of reflection about my own everyday classroom practice.