From my recent experience engaging with schools and teachers in person and online – as I discussed on a recent podcast interview with James Mannion – I truly believe there’s never been a better time to get into teaching. The whole community of teachers, leaders and supporting professionals seems so energetic and dynamic – I love it. And this is despite Covid19 and lockdowns, despite excessive TAGs workload, (and despite having Gav as Sec of State..but the less said about him the better.)
Perhaps, short-term, it’s the sense of light at the end of a tunnel… the possibility of a fresh start in September – people are looking ahead, keen to do things right; to do the right things. But it’s deeper than that. What I sense is that we’re in a really healthy place on numerous fronts. (I say ‘we’ as a supporting professional, a cheer-leader working with teachers and leaders. But I know my place! Everything in teaching is easier said than done.)
Everywhere I go I see real changes happening across the system, in all phases; real culture shifts that seem to be genuinely profession-led, reaching the ‘healthy, wise and measured’ phase of implementation – and, for those at the early stages, I really feel the platform is there for a great teaching career ahead.
The level of enthusiasm for engaging in discussions about how learning works and what effective teaching might look like is wonderful to behold. It’s never been easier to engage with these debates – reading books and blogs, engaging in twitter exchanges, listening to an incredible range of podcasts, attending online webinars – with the return to live events like ResearchEd on the near horizon. I feel we’re into a really healthy phase now where, after a predictable rush to implement quick fixes and make checklists, people are exploring the nuances of research findings and learning models, sharing more examples of how things might work in practice, weaving strategies into something holistic and coherent. It’s a process – from initial awareness and engagement through an exploratory phase, to embedded practice – that so many teachers are engaged in. Of course there’s ‘more to teaching than Cognitive Load Theory and Rosenshine!’ – but isn’t it great to be having these discussions!
A great recent example is Nimish Lad’s forthcoming book ‘Shimamura’s MARGE In Action’. Here’s a dynamic teacher-leader, taking ideas from research and exploring ways to deploy them in practice – supported with a foreword by none other than Daniel T Willingham. All of this came about because of social media communication and the ever-increasing inter-connectedness of our community. Everywhere I go find new groups of teachers eager to get onboard with ideas from cognitive science and wider education research, looking for insights to explain the learning challenges their students face alongside some possible solutions.
Sustained curriculum development
The range and depth of discussions about curriculum is magnificent. Just today on twitter I’ve seen Chris Such (@suchmo83) posting links to his primary history curriculum plans and resources following similar work on science and geography. It’s amazing work and just wonderful to be in a community where this is shared freely. I could write a long list of similarly enthusiastic and knowledgable bloggers I admire for their curriculum insights. A recent example is Dr Jo Costelino and her superb Dr C’s Science Classroom blog. I’ve also just finalised some more Curriculum Thinking masterclass line-ups for next year including Christine Counsell, Ruth Walker, Josh Vallance, Rich Kennett, Angie Browne, Hywel Roberts… and many more…. there are just so many people sharing ideas about curriculum, both at a general conceptual level and a subject-specific level; we’re spoilt for choice.
The great thing is that, right about now, I feel we’ve turned a corner from the slightly mad rush prompted by Ofsted’s Intent, Implementation and Impact framework. Schools have realised the limited and short-term value of time spent making a detailed Intent statement and most schools I know are settling into a rhythm of rolling review, taking time to explore details of curriculum at a more sustainable pace. There’s been a wave of output from Ofsted – lots of interesting stuff on science, geography, languages – and publications such as the DFE’s Model Music Curriculum or UCLPress’s What Should Schools Teach? We are not short of detailed guidance but lots more schools are taking stock of priorities over a decent timeframe to make things manageable.
I think it’s exciting – this is all out in the shared community domain, not buried in the workings of insular subject communities remote from schools. We’re in a good place – teachers talking about what to teach and how to sequence it all, recognising the scope they have to make decisions whilst drawing on expertise. And in the mix is the issue of a curriculum that embraces diversity and supports anti-racism. For some that’s an issue they’re only just starting to grapple with but it’s happening; there’s a fresh dynamic wave of people debating and sharing ideas about what to teach and how best to tackle racism and usualise diversity through the curriculum.
Changing attitudes to CPD, appraisal and quality assurance
Increasingly I’m hearing of and talking to schools working out how to implement the best available CPD systems. Even though the worst top-down top-heave practices are still there in the system, more and more schools are moving away from graded lessons, judgements on a few high stakes lesson observations, ‘all in the hall’ CPD as the main driver of training; they are ditching long lesson evaluations and easing back on SLT-led scrutiny-heavy processes. Instead they are looking at more embedded ways of delivery CPD, looking to co-construct feedback and action steps as part of a move towards instructional coaching. They are developing more sustained and focused CPD processes with teacher teams driving more of the inputs in a healthy iterative fashion across the year. Even where schools are still bogged down in top-down accountability driven systems, they’re looking to make a change… I’ve seen this a lot. There might be a great deal we can still improve but it’s wonderful that the delivery of excellent CPD programmes across a school year is so high on schools’ agendas.
Most exciting of all is that instructional coaching is now firmly on the map across a wide range of schools. So many teachers and leaders are talking about it. A recent document produced by Matt Stone brought together key messages from various books – and bloggers like Josh Goodrich are providing excellent guidance about how to get started. I’m working with 60 schools in Haringey and Enfield as part of a Walkthrus hook-up with Haringey Education Partnership and the discussions I’m having with leaders about their various CPD processes are wonderful – so many ideas; so much enthusiasm.
Added to this is the arrival of the Early Career Framework. From September, schools across the country will be delivering training and mentoring provision for early career teachers that goes far beyond anything we’ve had before at this scale. It’s supported by a detailed framework guided by an impressive group of practising teachers and leaders, with a range of strong delivery models from the various providers; once those inevitable implementation niggles are ironed out, the landscape for professional learning in schools will be better than it’s ever been.
I could go on – there are other exciting developments and debates around assessment for example. What I love is that the community has so many ways to share ideas and they are using them. I know there’s a twitter bubble – but I travel to lots of schools – physically and virtually – and I’m meeting more and more teachers and leaders who are not on twitter and they’re fully engaged in the same debates about curriculum and research-informed teaching. There are other fabulous tools at our disposal like @TeacherTapp or Teachers Talk Radio or the Chartered College of Teaching Impact magazine.. all of which serve to fuel the buzz, the dynamism in the profession. It’s fabulous. I don’t think it’s ever been better.