Keep calm and carry on.

It’s only a game so put up a real big fight.

Big Break theme tune. circa (probably 90s when Saturday entertainment was at its lowest – then again I watched ‘Take Me Out’ last night and nearly wept myself into a dry husk)

The world of education spins at a relentless pace. Being inside the world of education can occasionally feel like you’re in a washing machine that is refusing to stop: swirling around getting bashed about and tangled up with whatever washload of edubabble that has been put in the drum with you; outside beyond the glass it all looks lovely and calm but before you can see what they’re actually doing out there you’re whisked away again as Gove’s trouser leg tightens its grip around your neck.

Why are we moving so fast and why is it all so complicated? Sometimes I blame Twitter. There are days when I can’t get through a single swipe on my Twitter timeline without reading countless contradictory opinions and analysis on effective teaching methods or government initiatives. Normally I would say that this is a positive thing: free speech, the ability to argue, the opportunity to reflect. But occasionally it all seems a bit much and my poor little noggin gets confused. (This probably explains why I’ve started following @FacesPics – nothing eases my confused mind better than occasionally looking at inanimate objects that look like they’re frowning.)

The problem with Twitter being such a rich source of information and opinion is that it constantly reminds me of the million things I’m not doing or simply don’t know about: I don’t know what ‘dichotomy of teaching’ actually means! I also couldn’t honestly tell you what teaching style I prefer…I don’t think I have one: one that works? Or is that too vague?

Don’t get me wrong, I love reading everything that people put out there and it makes me think but therein lies the danger. It often makes me want to try EVERYTHING! My deputy and I had to make an agreement at the start of this year or rather I had to make a promise: any fabulous idea that I had stumbled upon I had to keep to myself. This was because our morning conversations often went like this:

Deputy: Morning, how are you?

Me: Oh fine, fine. You?

Deputy: I’m fine. So today I’m meeting with the support staff to go through how to use numicon.

Me: That’s great. I read this blog last night and I think we should be teaching maths through role play!

It just wasn’t helpful anymore. So now I still read Twitter and blogs but when my head starts swimming with ideas I close my eyes, say my safe word and find a picture of a stapler that looks like it’s laughing. And everything is OK.

Now to the game. This is a cliché isn’t it: it’s all a game. Lesson observations are a game, ofsted is a game, learning objectives are a game, PE is a-well that sort of is a game isn’t it. I don’t know why we label everything that we feel we have to do as being a game. By doing so what are we actually saying? Are we saying that we don’t value a process but are doing it anyway? If so aren’t we then removing ourselves from any accountability? (I did it, I didn’t do it well because I didn’t believe in it and therefore it hasn’t worked but that’s not my fault because if you remember I did say at the beginning that it was just a game?) Or are we becoming conditioned to feeling like we do not own our profession anymore but we lumber on because somewhere we can remember why we chose this profession in the first place.

A week doesn’t seem to go by when a new rule isn’t added to this game. Many schools are pressured/advised into doing things in a particular way or focussing on a specific element of teaching in order to show progress: mark like this, write learning objectives like this, differentiate this way, structure lessons like that, challenge pupils by doing this not that. Many of the ideas will be perfectly valid and if it genuinely helps why not but this isn’t the game is it? The game has now become the evidencing of it all. The evidence that we are required to show in order to prove that we did it…the proof, it seems, is no longer in the pudding.

For example: a senior leader and I were discussing a work scrutiny focussed on differentiation and marking. We couldn’t see clear differentiation three ways. We talked about it and started to focus on what this teacher needed to do – and then we stopped. What were we suggesting? Were we suggesting what the teacher had to do in order to meet the needs of the pupils or what the teacher needed to do so that we could see ‘differentiation’ when flicking through the books? If it was the latter than sadly, we would be playing the bloody game. And what would be the real point in that? I spoke to the teacher a couple of days later and I can honestly say that they know each and every pupil like the back of their hand and they know exactly what they need to do in order to get there. I think that is good enough for me. As I said earlier…I think I like whatever works.

I think it is time to pause the spin cycle. Ignore populist and current ideas. Put to bed systems that only demonstrate what management did during non-contact time. We must be brave and focus on what we know our pupils need; not what we are told makes a generic good school. If we do focus on what our pupils need and work hard to make sure they get it, how can we fail in becoming a good school? Then hopefully, others around us will see the value in what we’re asking them to do and will support us in doing it consistently every day. Maybe more importantly,  they won’t fear or be suspicious of our methods or involvement in their teaching.

Education: it is not a game but it is worth fighting for.

7 thoughts on “Keep calm and carry on.

  1. supportingmaths February 2, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Thank you, this is refreshing and a much needed reminder for any in leadership. I recently read Mick Waters’ book ‘Thinking Allowed: On Schooling’ and he has a great chapter on how so much of education has turned into a game. Well worth a read.

  2. JdV February 2, 2014 / 4:00 pm

    And we all have to play the game. I find myself creating worksheets with slightly different contents just so that the differentiation is apparent to anyone looking at my books. The actual differentiation is in my dialogue with those children though, not the fact that they have a sheet that looks a bit different. But I have to jump through the hoops!

  3. Julia Skinner (@TheHeadsOffice) February 2, 2014 / 5:46 pm

    For a moment, I thought my head spinning was down to me being old so I’m glad to see that it all part of the spinning that is education at the moment. I’m not reading as many blogs as they are. It helping so it is down to the title whether or not I read further. It is all a game & to a certain extent we try to play by the rules rather than being sent to the dug- out or sin bin or whatever it’s called. Maybe we need to be certain of any amendments we’ve made so we can have the best of both worlds.

  4. annahalford (@anhalf) February 2, 2014 / 8:51 pm

    Well said! There are so many different ideas out there; many of which are brilliant , some of which are food for thought and some are just bonkers! We were having a discussion recently about how to record times tables now that the children need to know them to x12. I said I didn’t need a sheet to record each time we practice them because I know exactly who can or can’t do what…That’s one of the (many) things teachers do best- know their children. Here’s to more plain sense talking. I’m all for change and for embracing new ideas, but also agree with the “..if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” adage.
    If it is in the best interests of the children ( and staff) then I’m all for it. If not…

  5. Alison February 2, 2014 / 10:19 pm

    Having recently left headship I can reflect and recognise how much game playing Was happening in my school. It is important that all decisions are made with the children at the heart, but when your school is being observed under a microscope it is hard not to feel the pressure to join the game.

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