I Am A Sea Kayaker And This Is How I Roll…

Last weekend I had the pleasure of reading some fabulous blog posts but 2 of them really struck a cord with me. The first was from Alex Quigley and the second was from Kenny Pieper both talked about self improvement and plateauing as a teacher and you can read both of their excellent blogs here.   I had a short twitter conversation with Alex after having read his post and it prompted me to write this one.

As many of you know, I am a sea kayaker.  I paddle every Sunday come rain or shine.  I have to paddle, it’s my release from the stresses of work and family life.  When you are on the water, you simply cannot think about anything else either because the landscape is so jaw dropping or because the sea may teach you a lesson that you won’t forget in a hurry!

I have only been sea kayaking for 3 years but from the very start I wanted to get better.  I love learning, I am a teacher after all, and I really want to become more skilled in my chosen sport.  Of course, in order to reach a certain skill level you practise  and you practise some more and some more still but how do you know how far you have come  or what mistakes you always make and can you really remember all the weather conditions and sea conditions that you have been out in?

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I began to discuss my performance with my coach in order to try and embed some learning and establish progress and figure out what to do next.  This helped greatly, I had someone who was more skilled than me who also loved the sport who became my sounding board, all in all it was great but to be frank, it still wasn’t enough.  I was still making the same mistakes and not grasping some concepts.  My coach suggested that I keep a kayaking log and for the past 2 years I have religiously filled it in every time I have been on the water.  It’s not  a long copious piece of writing it is merely an aide memoire that records the sea conditions and the skills we practised.  It has however become a very powerful tool.

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Let me explain.  One thing in kayaking that is fairly important to learn, is how to roll your boat.  This means that if you capsize you can right yourself with ease.   I say ease, but actually I have found this a really, really tricky skill to master.  Looking back at my kayak log I know that this time last year I could pretty much always roll my kayak in a calm sea, however I was doing a “2 part roll” which can put pressure on the shoulders and can feel like a bit of an effort.  My coach told me that I needed to aim for a one piece roll that’s so smooth and clean, that works with your body and your boat. I had a new goal but in order to achieve this I effectively “lost” my previous roll, I simply couldn’t do it any more.  If I look back at my log, I know that I have practised my roll pretty much every time I have been on the water since September last year. It has been a steep learning curve that has frustrated me and pleased me in equal measure but I’ve not become disheartened because I can look at where I have come from and where I am now.  I can see the tiny, tiny incremental steps that I have made towards being able to do a smooth roll. Two weeks ago I spent a good 40 minutes with my coach just rolling and failing and rolling and failing I could barely bring myself to stop because I knew I had almost got it. When I finally got off the water I was on such a high and I hadn’t even successfully done a roll that feeling of elation came in part because of my efforts but also because I knew exactly where I had come from and exactly how many teeny tiny steps I had taken to get to a point where I was essentially failing better!

All of this  seemingly has nothing to do with education, yet for me it has everything to do with it. I love teaching it is why I chose  it as a career.  As another kayak coach once said to me at the start of a training session with him ” This is your sport, you chose to do it, I expect to see 110% from you today” It’s so true, this is my career I chose it and I should be willing to give it 110%.  Yet unlike kayaking I used to think that I was already skilled at teaching and that although I wanted to improve I never really sought out how to achieve those improvements.  As Alex said to me in our conversation on Saturday ” we typically attribute better practice  to other things when we don’t necessarily see ourselves as ‘experts’ ”

When I kayak I have;

– a critical friend in my coach

– I regularly put in hard practice in tough conditions

– I log every paddle that I undertake

– I seek perfection

– I read around the topic

– I attend sea kayak symposia in order to meet other like minded students and coaches

– I practise the same thing over and over again in an attempt to get it right”

Yet, in my career I do not do all of these things and to be honest a couple of years ago when I was in the teaching doldrums I did NONE of these things.

I think it is essential that as teachers we develop reflective practice, not because of OFSTED or because SLT say we should but for ourselves.  We all want to improve, we all want to be the best that we can be and yet many of us think we are already there and that by incorporating the latest teaching fad into our classrooms we are on top of our game, I can assure you we are not.

So next academic year, I will be starting my own teaching log, just like my kayaking log it will not be too onerous but it will serve to remind me of what happened in each of my lessons.  I want to make a note of what I felt went well and more importantly what went less well.  I want to be able to see the tiny steps which I hope will take me closer to being a better teacher.  I will find myself a critical friend with whom I can discuss my teaching and my pedagogical philosophy. I will open myself up to being regularly observed and practising the same thing over and over again.  I will continue to read literature on education and educational blogs in an attempt clarify and solidify my own teaching philosophy and despite my island existence I  will attempt to attend teachmeets and conferences in order to meet like minds and hopefully some of my teaching heroes 🙂 In short, I will no longer see myself as the expert but the lifelong student who constantly strives for perfection. I want to have that feeling, that buzz that I had in my kayak 2 weeks ago, where I don’t want to stop practising because I can feel that I have nearly made a giant step forward.  I want myself and my students to feel that in my classroom.

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A Year Of Tweeting

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About a month ago it was my 1st Twitter birthday so I thought it was an appropriate time to write a blog post about my Twitter experience.

As I have tweeted on many occasions now, 2 years ago my life in teaching was not a happy one.  I was disillusioned with my job and was having a difficult time at work and I was on the verge of quitting altogether.  I had lost my va va voom and I quite frankly, had now idea how to get it back.  One Friday night in May 2012, requisite glass of sauvignon blanc in hand, I was reading a short article in the TES about tweeting teachers and I have to admit I was intrigued by the concept so I took the plunge and joined, little did I know how much of an effect this single action would have on my teaching career.

Twitter can be quite a confusing place, particularly if you come into it completely cold like I did.  I was bemused by hashtags and retweets and just couldn’t get my head around it at all but I was determined so I found a Twitter beginners guide on the Internet and took the advice given;  I filled out my profile stating that I was a teacher, I added a photo of myself and I started to investigate hastags. The very first hashtag I tried was #mfl this was of little use but another hashtag was suggested and that was #mfltwitterati and that is where it all began.  My first proper tweet was to the wonderful @joedale who encouraged me to join in the conversation and not be bystander; I took him at his word and began by tweeting educational news stories and titbits that I found online.  This in turn, lead to  “meeting” other MFL teachers and by and by to “meeting” other inspirational teachers from all areas of the curriculum and across all continents.

Unless you are a twitter user you cannot comprehend the incredible amount of information that is shared each hour let alone each day.  Virtual friendships are formed, ideas are swapped, and support is given, as are virtual hugs when it doesn’t quite work out the way you’d like it to!  The thing that I couldn’t quite get over was the ideas, they seemingly poured out of every tweet, and overnight my classroom practice was transformed.  I had so much new stuff that I wanted to have a go at it was overwhelming and exciting.  In short, my va va voom was back.

It’s not just the ideas though, thanks to twitter, this year I have attended my first educational conference (I have been teaching 15 years!!) in the form of ILILC3, which took place in Southampton in February.  I have presented at my first teach meet.  I have, with the help of the very lovely @amandasalt, written a proposal for iPads in the MFL classroom, which recently resulted in our MFL department being the proud owners of 20 brand spanking new iPads. I have been invited to another secondary school to discuss the use of technology in the classroom because they’d “heard about me”.   I have trialled iPads in my classroom.  I have created a website to help my Y11 with their reading and listening exams and last but by no means least and after a lot of encouragement from @teachertoolkit I started blogging.

Even as I read over that last paragraph I still find it amazing that all this has happened in a year but how has all this impacted upon the students?

In August I hope that I will see the benefits of all my efforts (not forgetting the efforts of the students) when the GCSE results arrive.  Early indications are encouraging but after poor results in the past I do not want to count my chickens.

My Y7 students have definitely benefited from the new me. After attending a workshop at ILILC3 lead by @bains_1 I totally revamped how I teach my KS3 classes I blogged about this here https://musingsfromtheisland.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/spoon-feeding-no-thanks

My KS3 classes recently wrote an extended piece of writing in French.  The quality of the language, the use of connectives and opinions are all far superior to any other Y7 work that I have marked in the past and all of that is in no small part thanks to the ideas and conversations that I have had over the year with my PLN.  I also teach bottom set Y9 and have used a variety of ideas with them this year too.  I can’t say that it has been wholly successful and they have been very hard to motivate but some things have worked really well especially the use of ICT but it is with this class that I feel I have had least impact.  However, this week they did declare that they liked me as a teacher but they did not like my subject, which is hardly what I would call a victory!  I will however continue to try and build on the success of this year with future Y9 groups.

What next?

I of course intend to continue on my twitter journey it is a great source of CPD and to my mind every teacher should be using it.  Next year I am teaching A level French and I am very much looking forward to using some of my new found skills and ideas with the KS5 students.

Our department now has a set of ipads and I have been asked by my HOD to take the lead on using them in the classroom.  This will take a great deal of thought and preparation but I already have a few ideas brewing…

The thing that I would most like to do is put on a teach meet.  Island life can be very insular and thus, I feel it is really important for us as teachers and for our students that we get together to share good practice. It is a work in progress but progress is slow however, hopefully by the time my 2nd Twitter birthday comes around I will have achieved it – I’ll keep you posted!