Every Christmas my husband and I watch have a tradition of sitting down with a nice bottle of wine to watch the film Love Actually despite it’s girliness and sentimentality I love this film. My favourite part is the opening scene which is voiced by Hugh Grant and yesterday I was reminded of this as I stood observing the hubbub in the foyer at #TLT14. Have a watch of the clip but every time you hear the word love substitute it for friendship. This was “teacher roar” at its greatest; no moaning, no winging just positivity from the outset to the bitter end!
My day started very well as I met someone that I had long wanted to put a voice to (I already know what he looks like thanks to Twitter) and that was Tom Sherrington I have been an avid reader and admirer of his excellent blog for many years and he was as I had hoped he would be humble, unassuming and he didn’t take himself too seriously! Tom opened the conference in which he excellently demonstrated that we should take the lid off learning by showing us all this amazing clip of fleas. The scene was set and we were off on a day of learning, self improvement not forgetting fun, laughter and friendship.
My first session was lead by the ever lovely Keven Bartle whose beautifully written blog is another of my personal favourites. In his session Keven wanted to debunk the myths about Ofsted. To be honest, Keven was a little annoyed as OFSTED had stolen his thunder the day before in their statement clarification for schools however, in his own inimitable way he went on to debunk the 7 myths of OFSTED.
Keven explained, with great clarity, that if you watched 6 lessons of any one teacher in a year you would be seeing less than 0.6% of their teaching for that year and yet, on usually less observations than 6, we make judgements about teachers, some of which are false. After all, we all have lessons that even with the best intentions, bomb. Thus, are observations valid? He also made the point, why do SLT, who teach the least, do the most observations? Subject specialist need to observe each other. He continued by stating that if you look for people’s strengths they will recognise their own weaknesses and he rightfully noted that most teachers are in education for the right reasons and that most of us want to improve, observation should support this. Kev talked total sense to me and I have long be banging on about making observations less stressful, more helpful and supportive to anyone who will listen at my school. We still grade our lessons along the lines of OFSTED in spite of the fact that OFSTED does not exist on the Isle of Man. We are independent in so many ways on the island, it defeats me why we feel the need to follow this awful system of grading lessons. I can’t wait to get back to school and engage in further debate on this subject.
My second session was lead by Chris Hildrew. I’d never met Chris before but have followed his insightful comments and tweets for a while so I was interested to hear how his school had got rid of levels and had implement a growth mindset. Chris was a really engaging speaker, I loved the notion of X Students, those that held the X factor. He posed the question how can we make all students have the X factor? He got us all to think about why our subject should be in the curriculum. I was sat next to Debbie of Debbie and Mel fame she gave a compelling argument for the inclusion of English in the curriculum I hope she was equally compelled by my argument for the inclusion of MFL. Chris urged us to challenge students in our lessons and aim high, make the students think and work hard. You won’t hear many arguments against that in a room full of teachers!
Lunchtime saw me running a Genius Bar stall all about using QR codes in the classroom. I have created a haiku deck of my bar here. I love QR codes, they are so versatile and I really think that they are helping my students move from learned helplessness to independence.
Session 3 was with David Fawcett and was all about feedback. I was particularly keen to hear David speak as not only have I read all his blog posts on the subject but last year at my school I was given a TLR3 to look into homework at our school. Feedback became a big part of our research.
David provided us all with lots of hints and tips about how to make feedback work. Good feedback requires the teacher to do little and the students to put in the work. He talked to us about how it was essential that all students had the same amount of feedback, in his classroom it was one question per student, this question enabled them to rethink misconceptions and correct mistakes. David was clear that feedback should be part of the classroom culture it should provide stretch and challenge and thinking for all students. He also highlighted that if we provide too much feedback students can become dependent on it thus defeating the object. Feedback is all about closing the gap on where the students are now to where they are going. David was very clear that we should remember the core purpose of feedback, keep the main thing, the main thing and that is the students and their progress.
My final session of the day was with John Tomsett who talked to us about his growth mindset school. I was in John’s session last year and I loved his sincerity and humble enthusiasm about his job and his school. To be honest, he could have read the phone book to me and I would still have loved it. In spite of the fact that John is a southerner, Yorkshire has clearly rubbed off on him, he calls a spade a shovel and I like that. My takeaways from John’s session were this; that uniformity is rubbish. I couldn’t agree more.
Many years ago I was observed teaching a Y8 class at a my previous school by an LEA advisor. I was graded requires improvement because my lesson didn’t have all, must, some learning objectives and it wasn’t in 3 parts like all “good” lessons should be. She told me that uniformity was the key. I argued that I didn’t want to be like anyone else, I was unique and every lesson a child went should be equally unique. Imagine how dull a school day would be for a student if they went from lesson to lesson experiencing exactly the same lesson format. Needless to say she was having none of it and I thought she was an idiot and pretty much told her as much, I think I called her misguided in an effort to be polite. This happened many years ago but I still think this myth of lesson uniformity pervades to this day. It’s nonsense. If the students are learning then the lesson or lessons are working well how they learn or how they are taught doesn’t matter as long as it works.
John’s session also resonated with me as he stated that we have lost sight of what education is about and that we have become obsessed with targets, grades and tests. He talked of how he had heard of a school where they have to enter grade data every 2 weeks. He had one message for schools like this. STOP IT! DO SOME BLOODY TEACHING! Given some recent experiences of mine which will remain private, I couldn’t agree more.
John spoke about the freedom that no levels gives us as a profession and that ego feedback such as grades and praise can actually hinder progress, this chimed well with what David Fawcett was saying in his session. In a no levels world, John felt that it was important for us to be able to state in each subject and possibly for each piece of work what it was that students could actually do, as well as knowing where the students started from, where they are now and where they are going to highlighting again what Chris Hildrew had said in his session in the morning. For me, the pieces of the jigsaw were coming together. Education is in a good place at the moment, the shackles are off, we should use our freedom thoughtfully and wisely.
My day ended in the pub as all good conferences should where the TLT buzz continued over a few beers. What did I take away from the Takeover?
1. Sharing ideas and knowledge amongst ourselves is vital, there’s always something new to learn.
2. The teaching profession has real freedom at this moment in time, we should use it well and wisely.
3. Online connections are great but real live relationships are better.
4. Four flights and the 700 mile round trip in a weekend were well worth it. I wasn’t the only one who travelled huge distances to be there this weekend. If you didn’t attend #TLT14 this year I urge you to put it on your to do list for next, it’s already on mine.