Challenge Accepted

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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

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7 thoughts on “Challenge Accepted

    • Thank you for your comments. I currentl work on the Isle of Man after 10 years of working in the UK, where we have no Ofsted this is both a blessing and a curse – hence the blog post.

  1. As a white water kayaker and English NQT I have often thought of this comparison myself. Brilliantly put, and an attitude I find a lot more engaging than the many unenthused moanings I often hear from teachers.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rachel.

    I started teaching in 1980 – pre Ofsted, league tables, national curriculum, key stage tests…. There was far less accountability, though as a new, young (22) teacher it was still quite hard work and nerve wracking. I taught English and felt a huge amount of responsibility to come up with schemes of work/interesting lessons/new ideas. I used to worry that one day I would wake up and have NO MORE IDEAS at all. I was observed in my first year, as part of the process of qualifying as a teacher, but once I’d got through that no one came into my classroom for the next 8 years or so! I was never observed at interview, either. Nor did I observe anyone else teach following my PGCE year – so there was no sharing of ideas/learning from more experienced teachers. In fact there was very little collaboration at all. I felt we were all working in our own little bubbles, all reinventing our own wheels and never helping each other out with ideas/tips/resources.

    ‘Accountability’ wasn’t a word we heard in the early 1980s. I wouldn’t say that it was because there was a high level of trust. In fact it seems to me that in many ways there was quite a high level of apathy about education! The 1988 Education Act made a huge difference to that.

    I really do believe that the standard of education young people receive now is so much better, in so many respects, than it was in the early 80s (and certainly than it was when I was at school in the 70s). We know much more (and care much more) about how people learn, about how to motivate and engage students, and, crucially, about how to work together and collaborate within and across schools to raise the bar in what we can achieve. I’m no fan of the current Ofsted system and think lessons observations can be useful but if not well-handled can be a disaster. But the increased accountability and challenge we now have can’t NOT be related to the quality of what is now happening in our classrooms, can it?

    Finally, John Dunford, ex-General Secretary of ASCL, spoke at an event last year where he said that half of his time as a head was pre-1988 and half after it. He said that, without a shadow of a doubt, the second half of his time as a head was by far the most satisfying, stimulating and rewarding – even with Ofsted, league tables, national curriculum, key stage tests….

    Makes you think!

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