A series of short posts about specific elements of teaching practice that I think are effective and make life interesting. Some are based on my own lessons and others are borrowed from lessons I’ve observed.
It’s an extraordinary human phenomenon that people will step up to the plate when circumstances dictate that they are needed by others to do so. As a school leader, I believe in creating strategic vacuums for others to fill. If I do things, other people will assume that they don’t need to; but if I create the conditions where they can take the lead, they will. The same goes with students. Very often I feel that people assume young people are not capable of doing things when they are all along; it’s just that no-one ever thought to find out, to ask or to expect. So they don’t. When it works, it’s a question of giving students a clear role, trusting them and giving them enough space to feel that what they’re doing is worthwhile and not tokenistic.
At KEGS, through my co-construction explorations and other observations, I’ve come to believe that students are capable of making a significant contribution if the expectations are established. The focus of this post is to celebrate the value of having a group of side-kicks to support the teaching process; it’s great for them and it’s great for you.
My most recent example comes from my Year 9 Electricity Team just before Easter. We have back-to-back lessons on Monday and Tuesday. I’d taken the Monday lesson involving a teacher demo; I wanted to model some circuit building processes and make sure that students were building good mental models for current, voltage and resistance. The next day, as I approached the lab, I remembered that I’d completely forgotten to organise the class practical or discuss it with my co-construction team. I started thinking of book-based alternatives; this was going to be an on-the-fly lesson. However, I needn’t have worried. To my great joy, the Electricity Team, Kieret, Dominic and Alex, already had it covered. The previous week, without prompting from me, they had been to see the technicians and had organised the apparatus for this lesson – it was already to go. They’d take their responsibility seriously and made sure the lesson they were due to lead was going to be a good one. It was. I’d just forgotten that it was their turn to lead. (They also had a homework activity planned and took the books in to mark them – but that’s another story.)
It’s not the first time I’ve been blown away by the ‘stepping up’ effect of co-construction. In my first GCSE class taught in this manner, we had lots of great moments. One came when I realised, late in the day, that I couldn’t attend a Year 10 lesson. I wrote an early blog about the email exchange I had with Arjun, one of my co-construction team at the time:
Basically, I didn’t set cover and Arjun and Kishen took the lesson anyway, with a cover supervisor there to keep an eye on things.
On another occasion, when this group became Year 11, we were looking at how many lessons we had remaining to cover the syllabus. It felt tight so we talked about the need for a detailed plan. Without actually asking for anyone to do this, the same evening I received an email from Taran. He’s mapped out the whole course that remained against the lessons we had still to come. Taran’s plan became our guide. He stepped up spontaneously and we all benefitted.
I could list lots of other examples when these moments have happened. I’d suggest that whilst you may not wish to get involved in the whole co-construction process, there is great value in having a team of side-kicks working alongside you at any time. They can help to get things done; they give you a good indication of the students’ perspective on how lessons are going and generally make life a lot easier and more interesting. Having a class communication tool like Edmodo, as described in this Pedagogy Postcard #11, is a great help but it’s not essential. Very often I’m in email contact with whoever is in my team at any time and that’s become part and parcel of how I teach.
In pedagogical terms, this starts to influence how you teach once it is an established, normal aspect of how the class functions. In every practical lesson, I have a team helping me trouble shoot; I have people to log the homework; I have people who can capture the notes from a class discussion and bring them back the following day or post them online; I have students to tag with when it comes to explaining the key phenomena. At all times, we’re in it together. I’m Batman. They are Robin.
So to speak.