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?
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.
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.