Is anyone else suffering from acute Olympic withdrawal?
It’s just not the same now that it’s over. Please don’t misunderstand, before the Olympics I was as sceptical as the next person and, working in a school, the Olympics was Assembly fodder, sometimes twice a week and became the cornerstone of many a citizenship activity. I began to dislike the call to competition, the call to be better than one another and the platitudes thrown to those who may, in fact, be the losers. I began to dislike or rather became tired of the lack of a call to achieve ones personal best, which, during interviews with athletes at the games, seemed to constitute the heart of their competition.
Rather than a pseudo evolutionary display of survival of the fittest, the London 2012 Olympic Games, I think, seduced us because of the engagement. From the seven years and more of hard work put in by athletes to compete on the world stage, and not necessarily achieve a podium place, to the commitment of the volunteers who, for a short time, eradicated the view of London as a place of detachment and impersonal treatment of others.
Perhaps most of all, the games removed apathy. For a short time, we cared. For a short time we looked for and sampled the most bizarre of sports: from the hybrid of basketball, football and rugby that was handball (if anyone can explain how it works please do – I just know I want to give it a try) to the odd staccato movements of the fascinating synchronised swimmers. We did not complain that television schedules were turned over to sport and it’s discussion and now we miss the success of the mountainous men of the rowing to the young girls from the North who can beat us up in a variety of ways.
Apathy was removed. A generation was inspired? Possibly not. Television has returned to the powerful hypnotic of X Factor, for example, which still seems to suggest a form of hard work that will still, miraculously result in riches for little effort. I turned it off. I just couldn’t do it to myself and thought about what it was that I wanted to write here.
I listened to a fantastic talk on TED, if you don’t know what TED is yet, google “TED Talks” and start listening. (I will probably reference, steal and borrow many many ideas from there so feel free to leave it to me to drip feed it to you) The talk was from a guy called Dave Meslin and was entitled “The Antidote to Apathy”. Listen to it at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/dave_meslin_the_antidote_to_apathy.html . In it, he outlines how structures around us and the systems around us sometimes encourage us not to take part, get involved or indeed start something. He talks about the perception of other people as selfish, stupid or lazy but comments that, in fact, people do care and that it is the obstacles and barriers around us that provide a disincentive to take part.
This made me think a lot about teachers. I have never met a teacher who didn’t want to be better. From the best, most outstanding, talented teachers to those struggling to make it really happen, all of them are hard wired to analyse and reflect on why their practice is not better than it is. Some of them, indeed all of them, need support to do that better and then put it into practice. This is what I want to scream at the television when yet another politician suggests that teachers need to be better or make more sacrifices or get involved. From working with them, I know that teachers always want to resist the sausage factory school model that competition implies: we’re not necessarily too bothered about what goes in as long as the end product looks good. We talk with pride about the ingredients but, as long as the end product is what it needs to be, what goes into it doesn’t count.
Meslin goes on to describe how the messages that we receive, even in popular films where heroes are chosen rather than inspired, encourages us to feel that we cannot choose to make a difference. Meslin makes the point that a real heroic effort is both collective, imperfect and voluntary. To me, this is a perfect definition of what teachers have done and do.
So, in this blog, I want to appeal to the collective intelligence of teachers at both my own school but also in others across the UK and, hopefully internationally. I want to work around the obstacles that discourage us or prevent us from working together to make learning and teaching better. I want to offer practical support but also a place where other professionals, or not, can provide articles that they want to share and receive comments from others and, together, enhance the learning experiences of our young people.
I’m talking about school and lessons like London 2012 instead of X Factor.
For those of you who don’t know me (and as a virgin blogger I am taking a leap of faith that not only is someone reading this, but that they may not even be from the UK) I am what’s called an AST, or Advanced Skills Teacher. There are several interpretations of what it means to be an AST but suffice it to say that we have gained external recognition and verification of our skills as outstanding teachers. Babcock 4S (The National Assessment Agency for ASTs) estimate that ASTs make up the top five percent of outstanding teachers nationally, so we should know what we’re talking about. ASTs are supposed to have an eighty to twenty timetable split that allows them to have a significant amount of teaching but also to fulfil a role in supporting the improvement of learning and teaching within their own schools, and, to some extent, before double dip recession and the the reintroduction of mass subsidiarity in the form of category two academies, we would work with other schools in the Local Authority to support them also.
The landscape changes, and change doesn’t care how you cope with it, it just happens. As a result of a funding gap from the Local Authority in these times of austerity, my school has had to find a way to sustain ASTs at a level that allows us to do our work effectively. It remains to be seen how successful this will be. However, my responsibilities, since my appointment have centred around, particularly Assessment for Learning, but have ranged around areas that have led me to having just completed (what will undoubtedly be) a first draft of the collected supporting literature of learning and teaching at our school. It’s a hefty document that is comprised of a short policy document and is followed by almost one hundred and fifty pages of high quality supporting documents to guide teachers in creating high quality learning experiences for our students.
What I hope to do here is to begin to create a simple way of networking both amongst ourselves, producing and highlighting some of the more bite size nuggets that exist in there, but also sharing ideas with teachers, both experienced and training, in other schools and institutions, locally and nationally. I want to try to link to Facebook, in the hope that teachers being the magpies we all know they are will perhaps be more likely to notice a wall post in the five minutes at the end of lunchtime than if they were asked to attend yet another meeting that they don’t have the time or the inclination to attend. I’d welcome some comments on the Facebook idea, despite the corporate content that is out there on Facebook, I’m not certain that teachers are ready to have work-life balance put out by tips and discussion threads about teaching popping up on their “social” network.
So, there it is. The first post of what I hope to be many, from both myself and my colleagues in both my own and many other schools in many other countries. Comments are extremely welcome and look out for the extension to Facebook.
Next time I want to start unpicking engagement. What it means and how we can practically make it a part of learning and teaching.