How do we encourage teachers to nudge their practice beyond the outer limits?

I’ve been involved in Guerrilla activity for sometime now, and the slides above were used to support a talk at Durrington High School’s TeachMeet.  These are very much thoughts in progress and I’d welcome your thoughts and comments.  This post is rambling and an attempt to tie a number of threads together.

I’ve been struck by the importance of character and in the need for schools to become better parents for certain types of student. A main part of my role over the past two years has been to work with Pupil Premium students.  I may not like the term, or qualifying criteria as schools should be focused on all students doing the best the can all of the time, but it has brought home the fact that education is not a level playing field and that there is a need to support these students better.

The thing is, I think that too many of us are waiting for Superman  to arrive.  It’s time to take matters in to our own hands.  We have to be driven by the needs of young people rather than by accountability. (I have no issue with accountability, but it does strike me that the Government have a very narrow focus, in effect, micromanaging schools)

If I think of my own classroom practice, I am certainly guilty of being unconsciously competent at times, and perhaps this isn’t always a good thing.  How reflective am I really? I’ve been influenced by a number of books lately, and some of the ideas conveyed in Bounce have struck a particular chord.  Teaching is a complex task, and therefore there isn’t a ceiling to how it can be done better and in order to create a culture for innovation.  How do we take advantage of the deep immersion in teaching and learning that teachers build up every day? I’ve been teaching nearly 11 years and so I haven’t built up 10,000 hours of practice in the classroom, it’s around 8,000.

How do we encourage teachers to nudge the outer limits?  How do we encourage them to innovate and take risks?  One way is surely to reduce the micromanagement within schools – to demand less, but better.  To increase true accountability – to be tight but loose.  We can’t hold teachers accountable for poor performance if we are telling them how to perform.

How can school leaders encourage a culture of problem solving and ‘fuzzy thinking?’ As it happens, I was reminded of a good example by Facebook about an event four years ago:

In a well worn story now, I was asked to create a mobile device policy for my school.  More importantly, I wasn’t told how to do it.  I was given permission not to ask for permission.

We are blessed at my current school to have innovative teachers, but I am left with the nagging question:

One of innovations introduced last year was the Pupil Premium research Bursaries.  These were aimed at encouraging classroom teachers to look inward and create the environment for deliberate practice.  In other words, to break the mold of being on autopilot and really think about teaching and learning.  The bursaries were linked to our whole school priorities and focused on accelerating the progress of our pupil premium students – especially those who come to use with a priory attainment of Level 5.  The great thing is, these bursars received coaching from our external school coach and started to form a research culture with very little input from me.  In fact, I’ve been deliberately fuzzy, much to the frustration of the bursars.

The bursars have been engaged with research and focused don classroom practice. They are finding out, through deliberate practice and plenty of mistakes, how we can ensure that the ‘mundane’ everyday experiences of students are the best that they can be.  You see, it’s not about performance lessons, but sequences of learning.

Now, as the team begin to pull together their thoughts and recommendations for staff, an even better thing is starting to happen: we are being challenged by some truly powerful questions about our school. Questions that demand answers:

These questions are not driven by a Government agenda, but by the desire to do the right thing.  It’s simply created a culture whereby teachers are able to talk about teaching to teachers. This has thrown up questions and allowed us to be sure(ish) that character is an important factor in the success of  at least some of our students.  We have reduced our focus to Grit (to me a ‘passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.’) and self management.  You see, we have to reduce the number of messages and we feel that a focus on too many character traits would be confusing, at least to begin with. We are really interested in what happens to our students when they leave us for the outside world – it’s just not good enough to furnish them with qualifications won through scaffolding and support when they drop out from college. A narrow focus on qualifications is not what education is for. We need to make the beautiful struggle for learning harder.   Learners need to struggle more and be supported less.

Furthermore, it has led to use examining our Year 10 cohort further.  Using the Duckworth Grit and Ambition test and have been able to classify them in to the following:

In order to move teaching and learning on, we need to give permission to teachers to be more Guerilla.  One way to do this is to let them loose with a mission, with intelligent constraints. we need to encourage conditions where by teachers aren’t merely reflective, but really examine their own classroom practice, engage with fuzzy thinking and fail so that they can deliberately practice. Teachers need to be:

1. Highly Qualified
2. Start with questions
3. Opportunistic and able to improvise.
4. Patient.
5. Full of perseverance.
6. Willing to subvert the system
7. Willing to delegate and not be heroes
8. Not afraid to prove people wrong.
9. Act with humanity.
10. Relentlessly positive.

I look forward to sharing the findings of our bursars and our thinking about how we can put in some structural systems to enable fuzzy thinking.  My thinking if very fuzzy and a little hazy, but it is coming into focus.

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