For the Best Experience – Get Out!!!

educational

Thinking back to my school days, I can’t remember many lessons. I can’t remember a single Lesson Objective or Learning Outcome. I think the only classroom experiences I remember were when something crazy happened – like when a lesson went totally wrong for a teacher, or one of the more challenging students lost control and caused a spectacle for most of the lesson.

But I remember all the school trips. Most of them I remember  because they were fun – but I remember the actual learning that took place too. In many cases, they sparked my interest in the world because I saw things that a kid from an underprivileged background would never see from home.

In many schools, there is increasing pressure to deliver lessons – skills and knowledge – to students in the classroom. As schools are judged on measurable results, teachers and school leaders are feeling more under-pressure to lead this from the controlled environment of the classroom so data can be generated easily on student progress and outcomes. However, the closer we move to this model of education, the more I feel our students are missing out on what I think education should be about – engagement and enjoyment.

There has been a great deal of research on Education Outside of the Classroom. I don’t wish to summarise the wealth of research out there, except for supporting the majority of it which identified “Out of Classroom” Learning as one of the most valuable aspects of a student’s education. A summary of this research from Ohio University suggested that:

“Students who directly participate during a field experience generate a more positive attitude about the subject.” (Behrendt and Franklin: 2013)

It is clear that the benefits are far-reaching. But rather than focus on research, I’d like to focus more on my own personal experiences. I’m sure there are many teachers who will share my views and I am also sure that there will be some horror stories out there which may have tainted experiences of getting students out and about.

Some of my most cherished memories have come from school trips or sporting events. I also believe they are vital in cementing a fantastic relationship with students. Some years ago I ran a football team for a school I worked at. Much of the team was made up of some of the most challenging students at the school. Young, working class lads, disillusioned with education. After a few weeks of training and playing competitive matches, something changed. Many of these students, with some of the poorest behaviour in the school, were trying harder in my lessons. Their behaviour was improving dramatically. By the end of the year, their progress was a dream. But I was doing nothing different in this class than any other, really. The difference was – we’d bought into each other. As I coached them, I saw aspects of their characters that never came out in a classroom. I saw them pour their souls into trying to win, especially the comeback from three goals down to win the game. I saw their competitive edge sometimes boil over – and they experienced my wrath when this sometimes manifested itself into disrespectful behaviour towards a referee or an opposite player – but in the end they understood my expectations. I saw them help out team-mates who were struggling and lift the performances of some of the weaker players, and how exposed they felt when they faced a massively superior team and were turned over by a huge scoreline. The dignity and character they showed through this humbling experience was profound. A new level of respect was created that year and it stayed between us until the boys left school, long after I had stopped coaching them. Overall it was a hugely rewarding experience and I would urge any teacher struggling to find their feet in a new school to coach a sports team or a club of some sorts.

Educational trips are no different. There is a permanent bond formed between a teacher and a student when you take them on an intensive trip. Some of the best memories I have come from a trip to the WWI Battlefields in France and Belgium with a bunch of Year 9 and Year 10 students. Their curiosity was amazing and they probably learned as much in that week as running a full scheme of work about the First World War. They were engaged for the whole time – asking intelligent questions and fully immersing themselves in the experiences they were having.

Teachers should never feel guilty about creating some time during trips for “fun” stuff. Why not take some time out for shopping? Recently, a group of Year 12/3 Marine Biology students were taking time out of school for their trips, which I would always raise a sarcastic eyebrow at because wetsuits and the odd surfboard would be seen accompanying the students. But why not? They were still doing Marine Biology and from a “results and outcomes” point of view, the students are certainly heading in the right direction because they have been fully engaged with the subject. Next term, I will be running some Geography field trips to the coast looking at coastal processes and I can feel a surfboard or two coming out during those!

One of the biggest challenges for teachers on trips can be behaviour. However, in most cases from my experiences, most students have the ability to step it up during trips. I think its about giving some of them the responsibility that they maybe don’t get in the classroom. Let them out – trust them – and mostly they’ll repay that by just getting on with it. Rarely have I been let down by students during a trip. Teachers can manage situations really well by being low key. Accept that the excitement of a trip might initially be a lot to handle for some. My golden threat is that any misbehaviour warrants half a day with me – and I can be the world’s most boring human being. It usually works. Clear boundaries, easy instructions and a good sense of humour can work wonders in managing students on trips.

I would say to most teachers – do more trips! If you can find a way of getting the kids out of the classroom, do it. There are clear benefits to their learning – even indirectly. There are hidden treasures. After eating a school lunch in a French school, my students never complained about our dining room ever again!! After seeing the serious lack of litter in Belgium, my students realised how messy they really were!! But apart from the educational benefits, there is a huge advantage on returning from a trip and having that shared memory with the students. They get to see that human version of you which doesn’t come out as much in the classroom! You might find that they’re more engaged, buy into you a little more, want to give you that bit extra that was missing, and help you develop that relationship with them that makes the whole process of getting them through the tough stuff more effectively. From this angle, I think the value is invaluable.

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Should we teach “Compassion” as a new subject in our schools?

compassion

“You look like a sex offender.”

“You 12 Year Old Faggot.”

“You should drink bleach and kill yourself.”

“I hope you get cancer.”

These are some of the comments left on a teenager’s YouTube channel after posting a series of short clips. As an adult, let alone a teacher, I was shocked to find comments like these in abundance. These comments were sent by other teenagers specifically to criticise the content of a channel. Having looked at other social media, the trend is very similar, particularly on Instagram.

I don’t want to get into a debate about how we teach internet safety to our kids. In my opinion, its a no-brainer that we should be teaching kids to be more intelligent and “streetwise” when it comes to the internet. However, to me, comments like these do not simply originate from a lack of understanding of how to use social media, but grow out of a total lack of compassion for other peoples’ feelings. Worryingly, as a teacher, it seems I am seeing more examples of this complete lack of understanding of how the actions of our students impact on their wider world.

Before I start suggesting that things are worse than they have ever been, I’d first like to reflect on my own years as a teenager. At times, teenagers can be cruel. Arguably, many lack the empathy we would expect from them as adults. It is easy as a teenager to get drawn into unpleasant behaviour due to many factors – peer pressure being a big one. But I would argue that the anonymity afforded by social media has allowed the very worse elements of teenage behaviour to take route, which is more reason why schools and individual teachers need to take more responsibility in supporting their students to make the right choices, maybe to the point of formalising this in the classroom.

Homophobia has been a recent case in point. In many schools, low-level homophobic comments have largely gone under the radar. “Oh, that’s gay!” says one teenager to another when referring to something they dislike. I continue to hear about comments like these unchallenged by teachers in charge of a classroom. On the upside, I have also worked with an amazing colleague who brought this issue to the forefront of her school, becoming a leading member of the Stonewall campaign to raise awareness of the use of this language in schools. The results were outstanding as students began to really understand the impact of their actions. More of this needs to happen.

But as teachers we are facing a battle. How do we teach compassion to our kids when the world around us is becoming increasingly hostile? A case in point was an article in the Guardian today about the wearing of the “Burkini”. I was shocked and dismayed that a supposed democratic, enlightened nation could enact and enforce such prejudicial laws for little purpose other than it “may offend people” on religious grounds, and was not in keeping with a “secular” society. I wonder how many Catholic Nuns were asked to de-frock in Paris today as a result of their religious expression?

After the Brexit vote, race hate crimes in the UK rose by 57% according to some research. Yet in the midst of all this intolerance from our societies, we expect our students to be tolerant, open-minded, non-prejudicial? We are fighting a losing battle!

My point here is that in the climate of intolerance, injustice and prejudice, maybe we need to be clearer to our students on ways in which to avoid this. Maybe we need to specifically teach the values which education SHOULD be about – compassion, understanding, open-mindedness. I know teachers that do this already – they are amazing. Their kids listen to them and learn a great deal about life from them too (and they know who they are!!) But I also know many teachers who avoid tackling these issues head on. That is why I would suggest that there needs to be a more formal approach to teaching these values in school.

At the moment, our societies have a great deal of room for improvement. But if we want to start making those improvements, maybe we need to start with education and the values that this should bring to our young people and start that process in our classrooms.

Sorry Nicky, I’m out. —

Dear Nicky Morgan, Please accept this as written notice of my resignation from my role as Assistant Head and class teacher. It is with a heavy heart that I write you this letter. I know you’ve struggled to listen to and understand teachers in the past so I’m going to try and make this as clear […]

via Sorry Nicky, I’m out. —

Lose this subject at your peril!

Recently, in secondary education, it seems that there has been a shift away from some subjects in favour of others. This trend had been a global issue where certain subjects such as the arts, music, drama and languages have taken a hit in favour of the more “functional” subjects such as maths and the sciences.

Now, I am not suggesting for an instant that one subject is more important than the other. Surely, in a good, balanced curriculum, there is room for everything. The maths and sciences are hugely important in training our next generation of explorers, engineers and inventors as we hopefully move towards a more technologically advanced era.

However, without certain subjects being kept alive and at the forefront of learning in our schools, we might not even get there! This is because we are living in an age where we are now making the same mistakes over and over again. Even more worrying – many of us cannot even see it!

What I am referring to here is the subject of History and our tendency towards allowing it to repeat itself. In particular, the fuel for this article came from a disgraceful cartoon recently published by the Daily Mail which depicts immigrants as rats.

dailymailmacislamophobia

There have been several bloggers who have made comments on this and it has been pushed around the social media network avidly over the past 24 hours. Many people might agree with it’s rhetoric. But whatever your views on immigration, there is no escaping the fact that this cartoon bears a horrific resemblance to those found in Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s and those aimed at the Japanese by the Americans in WW2.

As disgraceful as this approach might be (and as ashamed as the Daily Mail should be for publishing such an image), I cannot help think that this rhetoric and imagery comes to us in our mainstream media at a time when subjects such as History are on the decline.

Surely, this serves as an argument to actually increase subjects such as history, religious education and the social sciences in an attempt to educate our young people today about how certain views are disseminated within our society and the damage they have done in the past. Moreover, history can teach us what these views can lead to. What starts off as casual racism towards a group of people turns into widespread persecution and genocide. The dehumanising of any group of people is a by-product of these views. We can look at countless case studies in history to demonstrate this.

I will save the argument about how we teach and what we teach for another day… but one thing is for sure – getting rid of subjects which help our young people recognise these types of approaches is a dangerous game and one which we play at our peril!

I only have one pair of hands!

How many times have I heard that phrase?  “I only have one pair of hands!” My mother used to say it to me all the time. My head would ring with it and I would wait in anticipation for the comment when I asked her to perform some menial task for me, which my sense of entitlement as a teenager governed my belief that she was on this planet for the very purpose of performing menial tasks for me – and occasionally my brother!

Well… now I find myself dealing with tens of teenagers, hundreds in a week, and more and more now I’m feeling that those words should be on a loop pedal usually reserved for musicians like KT Tunstall and Ed Sheerin – playing quietly in the background as the hours of my day pass along. The problem is: its not the kids in the room that I’d be saying those words to.

More and more now, I feel that we, as classroom practitioners, are being asked to do more “stuff” in lessons. Yep, its a busy old gig, is teaching. However, at a seemingly exponential rate, it feels like I’m being asked to just keep adding to the “must do” list when I deliver a lesson. By implication, does this mean that before this, I actually had the time to do this extra “stuff?

When I first started teaching, I thought, wow, teachers do a lot!! Bearing in mind that this was not so long ago… we had to prepare our lessons to a good standard, produce the resources needed, add in some differentiated materials and extension activities, take the register, hand out equipment, collect homework, do some AfL stuff such as some peer marking or self-assessment… ok, I get it… this is what we did, and I think I did it pretty well. We also had time in lessons to get the kids reflecting on their learning… sometimes, just thinking about what something meant to them. I’d even go as far as saying, at times, I found the time to inspire and motivate the kids to engage with and enjoy the topics we covered.

So what about now. It seems that we have become so obsessed with the idea of changing things that now the very bread and butter of what we do is transforming into something unrecognisable to me – and often unmanageable. So what are the expectations of today? Well, now we create “marking dialogues” with the kids. Fine. I get it… and based on John Hattie’s research, it seems a pretty good way of improving standards. But it takes a long time to get right. Now there’s no money for SEND, so I find myself with no TA support in lessons where some kids simply cannot read. They need one to one support and that person is now me… as I’m teaching another 22 kids in the same room.  This means not just creating extra resources for them, but it takes time out of the lesson, In addition, we have brought in new devices like SPaG mats to improve their literacy. And we have introduced the use of extra media devices like Twin Space and Edmodo – even Twitter and YouTube are being used more regularly. Now I’m no dinosaur… I’m a real supporter of dragging schools into the 21st century and I’m lucky to have a HoD that often takes the lead in the school with new tech. My biggest issue is time – and the number of hands I have.

At times, I feel like I simply do not have the time to implement all that I’m being asked in the classroom. I feel like I just don’t have enough hands to do all the things being asked of me. I’m finding a lot of things we’re doing is more about creating evidence to say to OFSTED, “Hey, look, over here, I’m a good teacher” instead of just being a good teacher! Maybe I don’t manage my time well… maybe that’s the problem. But I do know this… today I feel like a worse teacher than I did two years ago. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Maybe I need more hands…?

A Real Teacher? Ask them…

I had a wonderful moment in my classroom last week… one of those times that money can’t buy and you get a real sense of what this whole thing is all about.

Earlier on this year we had a wonderful trainee teacher in the school. He was a really nice bloke who fit in well with the staff and his department… and by all accounts, a fantastic teacher. Ask my son… he came home regularly buzzing on his lessons and informed me that he was one of the best teachers in the school, in his opinion.

Well… last week the trainee in the spotlight got the chance for a job interview for a permanent position at our school. I was routing for him… personally, I thought that our Senior Team would have a screw loose not to appoint him, but you never know!

So I bumped into him in our staff room about 15 minutes after his interview and he was still waiting for the verdict. I said, “Pop into my classroom and let me know…” Then I started teaching my wonderful Year 11 History class – one of the best set of students I’ve ever had! 20 minutes into my lesson, he popped his head through the door with a big smile and a raised thumb with the words, “Got it.”

At that moment, my year 11 class erupted with cheers and loud applause. I turned to him, he was clearly a little overwhelmed, and said, “So you teach this lot as well?”

He looked around the room, thanked the class humbly and said, “Yes, I do.” And with that, he was gone – hopefully for a well deserved celebration.

We live in a world now where we are judged every step of the way. We produce reams of paperwork to justify our existence, collect evidence to show those in power that we are not the wishy-washy, holiday-enjoying, 6-hour-day, unprofessionals that the media and some from the Government would lead many to believe. Our biggest critics often come from the ranks of our society that know nothing about what we do, really, but claim their expertise on our profession. Well, guess what? I had just witnessed a judgement from the real experts. And they were not cheering because this person was an easy ride, or let them get away with what they wanted to do. This applause came from a bunch of experts who had experienced the changes in the English education system first hand; that had experienced a wide array of teachers – good and not so good. They were in the twilight of their academic lives in secondary education and they knew a great teacher when they saw one and made it clear with their applause because they’d run through a wall for this teacher. This teacher inspired and interested each and every pupil and squeezed every ounce of ability out of them. This person was a teacher. There are more like this person. I should know, I work with them. The kids should know – they applaud them! Maybe we need to celebrate them more because for me, it was a great moment worthy of sharing.