Challenge Accepted


Imagine a world without Ofsted, or classroom observations or target grades or A*- C’s.  I know, that world is probably more commonly known as the 1970’s.   Is this a world that we would like to inhabit? No, not the flares and platforms era but the other one with no rigour and no challenge?

CHALLENGE! I hear you cry, Ofsted is no challenge it’s purgatory!  This is very true, likewise classroom observations (that are badly done) make us turn into gibbering wrecks and who doesn’t feel a teensy weensy bit nervous the night before exam results are released?   All of these can be hateful things, they are more than a bit of a challenge in many cases but the mere fact that they exist pushes us to improve, to be the best that we can be.  If none of the above were there then would we all honestly be quite so growth mindset about everything?  Honestly?

If we knew for certain that every time we closed the classroom door nobody would come checking and nobody would care about the outcome how would we react? Would we adopt a more lackadaisical attitude to work and students.  It is my belief that the mere fact that Ofsted or classroom observation exists pushes us to improve and that can only be a good thing.  I am not a huge advocate of Ofsted, I largely don’t like its methods and the pressure those methods put us all under but there are some institutions that need a good old kick up the backside and the rigour that Ofsted imposes provides them with an incentive to move forward.  There are many of us that would want to do better regardless of Ofsted but to live in a challenge less world would itself be purgatory, we all need them it’s what makes us get up in the morning!

I always say to new members of our sea kayaking club that the best time to learn how to kayak is in the winter.  The weather and sea can be unpredictable and it is these unpredictable elements that pose the challenge and with challenge comes improvement and learning.  One thing’s for sure a sea kayak beginner soon learns how to stay upright if they paddle in the winter because after one capsize in sea temperatures that can be as low as 6 degrees you won’t want to be doing it again in a hurry. In a calm sea learning stagnates sure, you can practise your skills but in order to test those skills you need “conditions.”

“The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.” – Gustave Flaubert

Likewise with teaching, we can hone ours skills on the nice Y7 class that sit there obediently and do our bidding but it is the Y9 class full of testosterone fuelled boys where we are really tested.  Certainly there are many days when we would love to not have that sort of challenge but I think it is these classes that make us.  If we can deal with Dean and his mates for 50 mins every Friday afternoon for a year then surely we can take on the world!

My current Y9 class are a bit of a handful.  They are a mixed ability class (but then which class isn’t even if you teach in sets?) and they are VERY noisy and VERY easily distracted.  I, on the other hand am a bit of a control freak for example,  all my text books are neatly lined up on the shelf all facing the same way, all my posters have to be straight and my desks too – my colleagues laugh at me!  My ideal classroom would have a lively hum of work, my Y9 have other ideas!  They need really firm direction.  They need to know exactly and I mean exactly what each element of the lesson is going to entail or else they disappear into some parallel universe.  This is not my usual modus operandi but the challenges these students have posed have forced me to adapt, even change my practice.

Teaching is, without doubt a challenging vocation, we should embrace the demands that it places on us for it is these that will drive us on to becoming better teachers, colleagues and leaders and much though we bemoan the rigour that is placed upon schools these days I believe that without it many of the current challenges would not exist and that would make us a weaker profession by far.  The challenges we face have forced us to collaborate, communicate and to collectively meet those challenges head on, surely that’s a good thing.

“It’s absolutely wrong that I don’t want guys to challenge me. And the people who say that aren’t in the room.” – Michael Jordan