Wellington’s Deputy Head writes … Although I fundamentally believe that being a teacher is the best job that anyone, anywhere could have, (especially being an English teacher), there are times – generally round about the third week of January, when it hasn’t stopped raining for about 2 months, when almost everyone is battling with some school-wide virus of some sort and when everything you look at is grey, that one is most at risk of forgetting this fact.
On Wednesday this week, I was forcibly reminded, of why, whatever the weather, teaching is like lemsip maxi strength for the soul. Like most schools, at Wellington College, we are committed to training our staff and we do this in weekly inset (inservice training) sessions – mysteriously re-named even less poetically – as CPD – continuing professional development. Until quite recently, we followed the traditional method here – all teaching staff rock up at 5 on a Wednesday, listen to a session in a room about something significant and perhaps, (if we were lucky), inspiring, take notes (some of us), ask some questions… head off at 6 with resolutions to do things differently from that day forward. (By the next day, one had simply lapsed back into the status quo…)
Now, however, we take a different approach. Given the amount of staff time CPD demands (130 teachers / an hour a week: 130 hours of staff time every single week), it dawned on us that it might be an idea to put as much effort and creativity into crafting our staff training as we do into, say, planning a lesson! And that’s what we did. Led by our visionary Director of Teaching and Learning, we started to think critically, reflectively and imaginatively about our cpd sessions. Gone are the whole staff lectures. In their place are bespoke, small-group opt-in sessions – workshops / seminars / hands on and demand driven. Inspired by lesson study, observation and research. Radically different – with buy-in, engagement and commitment from those who attend.
Even better than these though was this week’s offering – yes whole school, but a world away from the dry chalk and talk sessions of the past. Instead, at 5.00pm last Wednesday, every single department was given a nook or pod or cranny in the library, to “show off” something innovative or interesting that they used when teaching or delivering their subjects. We wanted to see what they were most proud of, or tickled by, or pleased with as a department. That was what they brought along. Such a simple notion – sharing of good practice, in a very hands on way, across all the academic departments in one place for one hour. What transpired was a carnival of clever ideas… mostly run by the Heads of Department – and our library was transformed into a smorgasbord of pedagogic innovation.
To drift from the English teachers waxing eloquent about the transformative power of Google docs, to hear the actual music emanating from the Physics department’s functioning speaker, made out of silver foil, two magnets and a rubber band; to listen to the Biology Department’s fiendish “medical role play” for revising the liver (it’s all about having consultants who can look at their notes as well as junior doctors who may not) and to the Head of Geography delighting in the simply astonishing versatility of geo-mapping software (story maps for English / joint History and Geography First World War mapping… and it just looks so beautiful…) – to do all of this, to move from one fun, engaging and clever idea to another was to feel, frankly, that I was in the presence of greatness.
Not just because my colleagues are all great (although of course they are !), but more, because the collective impact of an event like this, is to in effect embody the whole process of learning and thinking about learning. It was as if we had somehow, between us conjured “pedagogy” into life at Wellington and were all of us confronting it together, in all its creativity and variety and scope.
It was, quite simply, a marvellous experience. Challenging, exciting, energising and great fun. A hugely entertaining way of sharing good practice (and jelly babies – thanks to the librarians for those!) – and of reminding all of us why teaching and being teachers, is the very best way of earning a living and one of the best counters to the grey skies of winter.