As teachers, we are all encouraged to be reflective practitioners. We look back at what we have done in a variety of ways – how did the day go overall? How was that lesson? What about the questions that I asked? Did Johnny actually understand that concept? How could I have helped Jenny make more progress?
As teachers we want to be able to look back at every lesson, every day and be able to answer, hand on heart, “That was amazing, every child made at least as much progress as I expected and they are all ready and excited to build on this lesson tomorrow.” In all honesty, I can’t say that I could ever say that about any lesson that I have taught, ever. Yes, there have been lots of “good” lessons that went really well, that the children were engaged, understood the objective and were eager for the next lesson which would build on what we had just done, but absolutely every child understood, no-one could have done better? I don’t think so.
Teachers (in the majority) want to teach so that all of their children (as that is how we see them) make progress, develop a love of learning as well as increase their skills and knowledge. Teachers are also lifelong learners, they enjoy going on courses (not just for the possibility of a free lunch) so that they can meet other teachers, discuss pedagogy and learning strategies and find new ways to make their teaching even better – for the sake of the children.
Sometimes “The Bosses” also go on courses (and get the free lunches), they return and disseminate the information in the way that they see fit – lecture, email of a PowerPoint or even a modelled lesson. Teachers then need to interpret what they have been told to do and do it. If they have understood all of the information correctly and deliver it as it was designed to be delivered then the children should improve, there would be no point in doing it if not.
These “new ways” often affect lots of schools – the new SEND code of practice, a new National Curriculum or a new way of delivering maths and literacy e.g. when the Maths and Literacy Hours were introduced (before we went back to teaching English). Some “new ways” only affect a single school or group of schools within an academy, for example, the introduction of Singapore Maths or standardised planning, timetables or environments. All “new ways” have one thing in common, even if they are wanted and wonderful, they increase the amount of questioning that teachers do.
Teachers are professionals who have been to university and have learnt “how to be a teacher”, they may have specialised in teaching A Level art or may have preferred to learn to teach all subjects across the primary age range; different specific subject knowledge but a lot of transferrable skills. Within reason, teachers, are generally used to being allowed to teach their subject/ their children in the way that they want, that they feel is best suited to the cohort and how to get the information across. Changes imposed from outside, whether that be the Government, the executive head, the head or even a head of year or phase leader initially causes resentment and questions. We all like to maintain the status quo; if we thought we were doing something consistently badly we would find a way to change it! If the “new ways”, changes, are given time to embed and become part of “how I teach” then that gradually becomes the new status quo and everyone’s anxiety lessens and we go back to just questioning ourselves to check that we are being the best that we can be, delivering the best lessons that we can.
Sometimes changes rain down from above and before one thing embeds there is another change following in its footsteps. A rapid rate of change is difficult to absorb and internalise, it leads to even more questioning and also anxiety. Questioning is then not only about whether all of the children made progress because they understood the lesson but also questioning whether they understood the lesson and if it was delivered in an expected way. If a teacher is trying to concentrate on their method of delivery how much are they concentrating on the children and their next steps?
Teaching is a bit like driving a car – when you first start out remembering the sequence and perfecting the co-ordination of changing gear takes a lot of brain power, you couldn’t even consider putting on the radio or opening a window. As a trainee teacher fitting in all of the teaching points, giving out the resources and controlling the behaviour takes up so much brain power that asking questions about individual children’s progress really is a step too far. After a while both changing gear and teaching and assessing children become far more automatic.
When teachers find themselves questioning themselves too much then anxiety builds, self-confidence and self-esteem drop, efficiency at delivering lessons decreases, children’s progress slows and good, solid, dependable, experienced teachers leave the profession. I am not advocating going back to the days where there was no National Curriculum and no accountability but as leaders, I think we need to be more reflective, we need to be doing more questioning before imposing our “new ways”. We need to think long and hard about not throwing babies out with the bathwater, we need to think about how we ask teachers to incorporate change – if they treated their classes as we are treating them would we be happy? If the answer is no then we need to be questioning ourselves and changing the changes or how they are presented until the answer is yes.
This article was originally posted at: https://sencosheep.wordpress.com/2019/05/18/questioning-ourselves/
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