We as educators often talk a good talk, but do we walk the walk?
When teachers get together it is inevitable that the conversation quickly turns to teaching and how we can put the world to rights, often this happens to the dismay of partners who have to quickly learn how to communicate within the teaching world, jammed packed full of jargon, and emotive adjectives. Alternatively, partners, instead of understanding the jargon, just become adept at looking mildly interested when discussing how the new assessment policy is not conducive to a productive learning environment, impedes on personalisation and will result in an increased impact on teacher workload.
My question is… do we actually believe in, or embody, our own rhetoric?
Ask any teacher the value or purpose of their subject area and they will begin to tell you their philosophy and why their subject in invaluable and considered to be a cornerstone of education. But does this passion permeate into their practice within the classroom, sports field or workshop?
I recently conducted some research within a primary school where I asked two teachers what they believed the value of physical education was. I was amazed by the sophistication and complexity of their responses. Having listened, enthused by their understanding of physical education, I could not wait until I could observe their lessons, as they clearly understood the value that physical education could play in developing the lives of young people. However, as you might of guessed, they were masters of the rhetoric but this did not translate fully into their practice. This left me thinking why was this the case?
After some consideration, I think I have reached the answer, and that being… survival! With those two teachers in the research, I wanted to understand what they really thought and not what they thought I wanted to hear. Educators are often told what to do, how to act and even sometimes what to think. Ofsted, organisations, senior leadership team, line managers all have their own agendas that are often interlinked. The message from the top (Ofsted and government) getting filtered down through the education system, often getting distorted as we try to make sense of what it is that we are being asked to do, report on, or create. In this process we naturally adopt and create our own discourse, using this to articulate what we are doing and how this fits in with the bigger picture. This bigger picture or the force from above, makes us look over our shoulder, and try and justify our own practice in their world, using their language. This is done for fear that if not, we will get a poor Ofsted rating, or it will reflect badly in performance management. Therefore, engagement in this discourse is key for survival. Unfortunately, high quality teaching and learning should speak for itself. For example, when did explicitly identifying your ‘targeted groups’ become more important that knowing the people and the personalities in your class?
When did talking the talk become more important than walking the walk?
Adopting these terms like ‘identifying targeted groups’ and ‘hitting baseline figures for assessment’, all serve the purpose of the micro-management of education and student progress from regulatory bodies. This in my opinion although needed, has gotten out of control. Demonstrating that progress has been made in 20minutes for example is not as important as how that child is being holistically developed over six weeks or a year. Yes every lesson should attempt to promote progress, but if too much pressure is applied, you don’t always get more learning taking place. Children are not in an education factory where efficiency can be applied to get more for less. Children’s learning is not linear, and it is our job as educators to respond to the needs of the children at any given time in any given situation.
What I guess I am trying to raise is, we should try and focus on talking about what we ‘do’ on a regular basis rather than talking about what we think we should ‘do’ that is guided by others. As an educator you are by your very nature a professional, you have the knowledge and skills to seek further understanding, you are the experts within your setting not Ofsted or other organisations. Talk about what you ‘do’ as this is more powerful than talking about what ‘you think you should do’ for others benefit.
Walk your walk and talk about it!.