I’m in reflective mood and have neglected the blog since the summer began but I can’t stay off Twitter, to the extent that the kids look at me holding my phone and can be heard saying, “get off Twitter Daddy”. It’s true, maybe I should but I’m happy keeping up with the discussion and there’s something nice about the lightness of the discussion and the occasional tumbleweed dusting past as people are obvious by their absence – hopefully enjoying their holidays.
There’s something nice about that feeling as a teacher too, of reaching the end of week two of the holidays, and feeling like there’s not much time left and your mind begins to direct itself towards what needs to be done for September. For me, that’s the challenge of a new post and a focus on feedback: improving colleagues’ ability to provide great feedback and allow students the chance to use it and progress – something I’ll be talking about at #TLTakeover in October in the form of feedback “loops”. As well as this, I’m turning my mind to working with middle leaders, supporting them in monitoring learning and teaching, appraisal and not forgetting a major priority: literacy. I’m fascinated by the idea of building “word power” and how that relates to knowledge acquisition, sitting alongside the mass of cultural activities we will be undertaking about creating a culture of reading and writing. It’s an exciting time and these will probably form the basis of my blog posts from this point forward.
What I have noticed as the hardcore of Twitter and bloggers continue to post is that the discussion continues and continues to be oppositional to say the least. I’d say that things have become slightly more convivial with some middle ground found, but everyone is still ploughing their furrow enthusiastically. Truthfully, the joy of the plural opinions is that it allows you the opportunity to take part or to sit back and take what you need, cherry pick and make your mind up about what you really think. That’s the joy of the blog post that makes you sit back and say “yes, that’s what I was thinking but said better than I could” and the post that makes you say “what is this person thinking?!?!”. All of it goes towards allowing all of us to form opinions that are more informed, if we allow ourselves.
For some of course, Twitter is the road to Damascus, the thing that presents some of us with a new vision of why they do what they do. The equivalent of the straight laced Sixth Former who goes off to university with a One Direction t-shirt and the Complete Works of Shakespeare and comes back at Christmas with a red streak in their hair, a Che Guevara t-shirt on, a Socialist Worker in one hand and a free trade copy of The Communist Manifesto in the other. Nothing wrong with this in theory, but it neglects the fact that St Paul started off persecuting the Christians and the student eventually has a sedate haircut, wears a tie and drives a sensible car.
The reality, after the initial storm, is often less exciting than the journey suggests it might be.
This, now that the calm of summer is upon us, is my reflection upon the long running knowledge versus skills debate that still rumbles on even since my attempt at an olive branch here. More auspicious bloggers than me have addressed this and written articulately about the position of skills as a facet of knowledge but still the argument continues, the most recent culmination being OldAndrew’s most recent post about the new Ofsted framework and its focus on knowledge acquisition within a lens of outstanding teaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I stand by the strength of the debate resulting in a better outcome for us all, I still feel however that it is far less polarised than each blogger would like us to believe. In fact, come the revolution, when I’m Secretary of State for Education, I’d like to get you all round a table – the outcome, balancing the variety and calibre of debate, would be better than anything we’ve been presented with so far. Remember though, I’m Secretary of State!
The summer opens up a teacher’s world to many things they may not have experienced in the smog of the school year. For me, that was in the form of the ITV programme, “Long Lost Family”, fairly standard ITV fare. Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall reunite people who experienced terrible childhood problems and family separation. It’s full of touching moments of siblings reunited after decades culminating with a woman, given up for adoption many years before about to meet her Mother. She had obvious concerns, nerves, baggage but the reality of the meeting was with a very normal woman, as mundane and normal as you and I, not evil, normal.
This represented the truth of a lot of education debate for me. The walk through of the best teachers classrooms will provide a cross section of Hattie’s research, AfL techniques, didacticism, teacher led lessons, student led lessons, group work. You name it, you’ll see it. The middle ground of the progressive versus traditional debate belies the “excitement” of the debate. The best teachers pull from a toolkit of approaches that suit the students in front of you. None of us teach in one way all of the time. Some days my classroom would be pleasing to the readership of the Echo Chamber and the cadre of Teach Firsters who are amongst the most active among bloggers, other days they are a flurry of student centred lollipop stick wielding “progressiveness” that they would balk at. In short, I choose what needs to be done to get the job done.
What is important though, is that we stay true to our core beliefs, bending and flexing where necessary to get the job done. Remember though, come the revolution, I’m Education Secretary.