Consistency in all things seem to be the holy grail of education currently. Sounds very laudable. Educators doing the same thing as other colleagues to provide the same learning opportunities for our students. Collectively, we can raise standards and inspire our pupils together.
However, the profession should be very clear about when monochrome uniformity is warranted and the majority of situations when it is the very last thing that is called for.
Every teacher has a unique skill set and brings a bespoke learning experience, environment and ethos. It’s vital that educators realise their weaknesses and take measures to improve it. But because not everyone can be the best at everything, is it possible to ensure consistency of provision without ‘dumbing down’ our teaching to the lowest common denominator? I’ve seen this mentality first hand. When working in a north Essex island community school the head told me to stop teaching such advanced computer skills to my year group, as the other teachers couldn’t teach to the same level. Needless to say, I no longer teach at that school. Team teaching and subject specialisation can in part plug the gaps, but the fact remains that if every teacher is performing at their best, there will always be inconsistencies in provision. Concerns over consistency should never stifle innovation and great teaching.
Attempting to uniformly provide CPD training on a whole staff may not be beneficial in many cases and educators should seek their own learning opportunities, utilising social media and un-conferences to further their skills and expertise, once again diverging in from a shared skill set and knowledge based. Teacher must be the main driver behind their own improvement and this may take a myriad of directions and forms. Furthermore it is much more difficult to move a whole staff forward than individuals, and schools can easily fall into the destructive cycle of “We’ve always done it this way.”
Every class of students is different from every other and will continuously change and evolve from day to day and moment to moment as the individual students walk through the door with new ideas, moods and social interactions. It is easy to say the students should conform to the expectations of the teacher, but every teacher knows that they adapt aspects of their lesson to tailor them to the needs of the pupils. There is also a danger that a focus on consistency can hinder differentiation which can maximise learning opportunity through optimising the level of challenge.
As educators, we plan lesson and attempt to foresee every contingency. Yet it seems that some of the best lessons arise from welcomed surprises which we didn’t expect. A student asks a superb question. A digression leads to new learning. A pupil brings in an artefact from home which makes the learning real. As educators we should not be afraid to seize upon such surprises if they are deemed to be advantageous, without worrying whether your colleague’s class had the same opportunities.
There is a vast range of schools in the UK – some follow a National Curriculum, while others create their own. But beyond this, a curriculum of any shape can be delivered in a multitude of different ways even within the same school. The teacher has a duty to explore the educational research, know their students well, and use their knowledge and set-skill and many other variables to deliver the content of the curriculum to maximum effect. A consistent approach across a school or every a year group is not necessarily the best way to teach for the students nor the teacher and the curriculum must be interpreted and co-constructed by the teacher and students for whom the curriculum was designed for.
Behaviour management is often hail as an area when consistency is all important. But this simply isn’t the case. What students and teachers want is a fair system, not a consistent one. Individual differences should never be used to allow poor behaviour, but a teacher dealing with a behaviour management issue needs to assess what is poor behaviour for that child. What you sanction a child with Tourette Syndrome for calling out in assembly? Would you sanction a child for interrupting the teacher to alert them that their friend was having an asthma attack? Once again, the teacher needs to know their students and make a professional judgement of what constitutes poor behaviour and the situating in which it has arisen.
Then there is the question of whose consistency we follow. I am an optimist …