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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.
Yesterday evening at Wellington College the academic staff took part in a learning ‘ideas exchange’. We all set up displays around the library to showcase what we do that is interesting or innovative, and then took an hour to wander around, chat, and find out about best practice across the College. It was a bit like attending a mini convention, with displays, constructive showing off, and the odd glass of wine.
For example, here is our slide from Philosophy and Religion:
Our theme was the different ways in which you can run a discussion with students; we chose just six of many different possible examples. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were with colleagues teaching maths and science, who wondered how the concept of ‘discussion’ could apply in subjects for which debate and discourse is not as important as theoretical understanding. It challenged us to think about what a meaningful discussion could be and how it could work in science in a non-contrived way. I certainly learned a lot from thinking about this cross application.
The ideas exchange is a totally brilliant idea for professional learning. By making the process sociable and making it into an event, the levels of engagement went right up. It also opens the eyes to how much brilliant education is going on, on your own doorstep!
My highlights include: GIS mapping (Geography), medical diagnostic activities (Biology), and really pushing the youngest students with texts (Classics).
If you are an educator, I would strongly recommend that you consider running an ideas exchange in your school or college. I hope that we will hold further such events at Wellington in the near future.
At the beginning of this term we set out to experiment with some new models for CPD or Professional Learning. One of the things we were keen to explore was whether simple technological models had any value in engaging teachers in discussion about teaching and learning that would help them to improve their practice in the classroom. We also had a hope that there might be better alternatives than the “all staff meet in one place at a particular time and listen to a lecture” model.
As one of the points of focus for the term was assessment and feedback, we set out to create a Google+ community to host a series of discussions. The idea was that anyone could sign up and that there would be no time-specific sessions so that individuals could interact when and how they wanted.
At the beginning of the course the “moderator” laid out a set of user principles for engagement over the 3 weeks that the community would be running. His short post read:
“Improving our assessment and feedback right across the school is a key focus for this term so this community could help to shape ideas and forge interesting ways forward as well as sifting our contacts and networks for examples of the very best that others are doing in this field.
I’m not sure what the outcomes will be (although I hope that a couple of you at least might be motivated to blog about our discussions and ideas). However, might I suggest the following as a kind of minimum requirement of being involved in the group? That, over the course of the 3 weeks we all:
- Post at least one link to an interesting idea/ blog/ link;
- Post at least one (however short) personal reflection on effective feedback and/ or assessment.
And that, in addition, we all:
- Comment at least once a week on any of the posts that have gone up.”
28 teachers signed up for the community and it remained open for the 3 weeks intended at the end of last half term. There was a fantastic range of curricular posts from English to PE to Maths to Economics and a decent discussion on many of them. Posts looked at a huge range of thoughts and ideas as well as curating blogs and recommending reading; the 3 headings for contributions were: general discussion; interesting blogs, websites and reading; reflections on interesting and innovative personal or departmental practice.
We discussed, as examples: the issues of grading work; ensuring the quantity and quality of all feedback; student reflections; using trackers; using digital strategies to support marking and assessment; peer-marking; critique; blogging as an assessment strategy, and much more. In fact, and on reflection, perhaps the range of material covered was almost too extensive and we might have been better focusing more on specific ideas and practices.
At the end of the course we sent out a very short survey to try to engage with how successful teachers felt that the process had been and whether this is a model that we could develop profitably in the future. The responses made for interesting reading.
Teachers who took part liked:
- “The flexibility to interact at a time that suited me and therefore allowed me to give it my full focus at that moment”
- “Learning about what was happening in other departments”
- “the ease of access and sharing ideas”
One of the feedback questions we asked was to challenge teachers to consider whether, in their opinion, the course had had any impact on student learning. The responses were surprisingly positive, several reporting that they felt there had been a significant positive impact on student learning in their classrooms.
A couple of respondents suggested a plenary session would be useful. This is something we will consider in the future; a Google hangout is obviously one way of conducting this that we might think about. Several contributors thought that more interaction would have made for an even more successful experience. Balanced against this, however, was an exhortation not to exhort: that requests to post made the experience feel “pressurized, and not natural.” That’s an interesting balance for future moderators to consider. Equally, some commented on the lack of quality control. That’s another one to think deeply about.
To finish: one final comment from one of the teachers who took part: “I am disappointed there is not a similar group next half-term looking at another topic.” Now it’s time to make that happen; step forward the next moderator, please.