A return post after ages away from blogging... In the time since I last posted I’ve been working on a book about teaching and finding a good work/life balance, it’s now finished and on the way to publication (Possible to order a copy here: bit.ly/TeachLYII). So now I’m back, one way or another and plan to do a bit more blogging again now the book is done, though perhaps not quite as prolific as I might have been - for more on that see the book....The first thing I want to reflect on in my return to the blog is something that occurred to me recently while in Girona, Spain. I was on a cycling trip at the start of half term and happened to get the chance to chat to a professional cyclist for a while and amongst various thing I was just blown away by his focus and the attention to detail that the teams go into in chasing after victory. While chatting a fellow amateur asked Tom (the pro) what advice he could give about training to help us amateurs get the best from it and get faster. Tom’s key advice was “make sure every ride has a purpose.”Every ride has a purposeIn cycling you can get reasonably fit and fast by just riding your bike a lot, however this will eventually reach a plateau where improvements do not come without some more specific thought. If rides are unstructured they can easily become “junk miles” they may well count as miles under the wheels and hours in the saddle but do not actually improve your fitness as they don’t challenge your limits enough. Tom’s advice is to know what each ride is for. It could be a hard workout to stress a certain type of muscle or body system, or it could be a deliberately easy ride to allow recovery from another effort, it could even be just a gentle spin with family or friends. The important thing is to know what you are aiming to do with each ride so that you get the intensity and type of exercise right and therefore get the changes you want in your body.Every "thing" has a purposeIt occurred to me that there are some parallels to Tom's advice that could easily be applied to teaching. It is easy to plough on through a term counting down lessons to exams or ticking off weeks before a holiday, as part of that it is all too easy to lose track of what each lesson, day, week, or term is “for”. Lessons normally have objectives so it is clear what the aim is, but perhaps it is worth reflecting why that should be the aim.
- Is it the right aim for your students or is it just the aim that happens at that point in the scheme of work?
- How does it fit with progress to date?
- How does that link to the bigger aims of the current unit of work or for the year?
From a whole school perspective what is week 18 “for”? What needs to be accomplished in that week to make sure things are on track? How does the activity in week 10 differ from week 20, or 30? Is that a deliberate difference that targets a particular outcome, or is it a difference that is purely accidental that depends on the energy levels and recent inspirations off the staff involved?Beyond all of this it’s worth a thought about what a particular year in school is "for"?some years have a clearer, more obvious purpose...
- Reception, where the purpose is to settle the students into school.
- Year 6 is where SATs are completed and the transition to secondary school starts.
- Year 7 is about settling in to secondary school.
- Year 11 is about successfully completing exams and choosing the post 16 routes.
- and so on...
However what are the other years “for”? Are Years 1-5 essentially waiting to be Year 6? Are Years 8-10 just biding time until Year 11? With reports like Ofsted's "Key Stage 3: the wasted years?" it is clear that there is the potential for this time to be the educational equivalent of Tom's junk miles.
In these intermediate years what are the consequences of having a good or bad Year at a student, teacher, department or school level? How do we measure or assess successes in these years? Should we measure purely academic progress or is it more about engagement and inspiration? With the direction that Ofsted are taking for 2019 in terms of the primacy of curriculum breadth and opportunity it is probably time for us to consider whether we are doing some of these things deliberately or not. Digging deeper there are the other things we do in school, sometimes just because its what we do, not necessarily to fulfil a firm purpose. Some examples:
- What is an assembly “for”?
- More specifically what is this assembly for?
- How do we know it has the impact we want it to have?
- Is there a better way to get the same or even more impact?
- What is a particular meeting “for”?
- Is a morning briefing "just another briefing" or does it have a purpose beyond the mundane?
- Does the parents' evening have a purpose beyond just something we always do?
I could go on and on with this list... For each of these and all of the other things we do I think we should ask ourselves whether it is done with purpose or just done. Do we really need to do it? Is there a way to get more from the events so that the routine becomes something that delivers real added value for very little extra effort?
A reflective start
I suppose this is quite a reflective return to blogging - I'm not necessarily offering any great ideas or innovations here either. It's more about questioning what we do and why we do it. Pro cyclists advise against junk miles, we need to guard against junk days, weeks and years.
Keen to hear your thoughts - it's been a while!