Throughout my career, teaching to the middle meant focussing, unintentionally or as a means of survival, on the needs of those pupils whose attainment was at or around the mode for the class. Pupils whose attainment was higher or lower tended to be less well catered for.
When cooking I tend to a bit of a manic “chef”. Having chopped the onions for the curry and put them in the pan to fry I have less than ten minutes to chop the garlic, ginger, chilli, chicken pieces and sort out the spices. Needless to say it all ends up a bit of a race against time, sometimes I win and sometimes its burnt onions. My wife suggested I might want to prep all the ingredients before I start cooking – may seem obvious to you but it was a revelation to me.
However, this type of prepping won’t be enough for me to ever be successful on Masterchef. My problem is I don’t have a grounding or understanding of the basic flavour combinations, techniques and processes used by real chefs and acquired by excellent amateurs. As I’ve said before, I’m just a great recipe follower. Whilst an appetising menu provides the framework in which great food can actually be delivered (see Masterchef II) it is the food that is actually put on the plate that is all important.
The curriculum delivered day in and day out by teachers may be differ in terms of the pedagogy used – a varied diet is good for learners – but whatever the pedagogy it must be of a consistently high quality. It is because of the hugely challenging and complex decisions that are made in the planning, delivery and evaluation of lessons that we need the best people to come into teaching and they in turn deserve the best professional development we can offer.
Moving to Informed Autonomy, Distributed Accountability
During the late 1990s and into the early part of the 21st Century a process of “informed professional prescription”, largely delivered through a series of national strategies, was a key element of curriculum planning. Whilst there was some strong elements to the national strategies there were also a number of poorly researched and implemented elements. The danger was that the profession became one of “recipe followers” with key knowledge and understanding of curriculum and pedagogy being lost. We knew what to do in the classroom but we may have lost an understanding of why we were doing it. Using certain approaches and strategies without understanding how they all link to fundamental theories about learning undermines our professionalism and moves us into the role of recipe followers. The challenge we face in the coming years is to move from recipe followers to great chefs, we are entering a period of “informed autonomy” for education. This is arguably one of the defining elements of Redesigning Schools as we look to wrestle back our professionalism. Redesigning Schools, as opposed to the work undertaken by the SSAT a number of years ago on System Redesign, is likely to be more focussed on redesigning classroom experiences. This will require the hugely challenging and massively exciting task of redesigning teaching (and teachers’ thinking) and learning (and learners’ thinking). No more can schools be places where young people go to watch old people learn.
If we get this right then a number of interrelated things may happen – first the quality of education across our schools will improve further and then politicians and wider society will have confidence in what we, as a profession, are doing. This should lead to the politicians no longer, or at least less often, trying to deliver simplistic silver bullet solutions to address complex deep rooted issues. In allowing the people who really understand and know about education – those of us involved in it on a daily basis – to lead on Redesigning Schools & Classrooms there needs to be a rigorous holding to account from within – within departments, faculties, schools, federations, clusters and localities. We can’t duck this issue, its part of being professional in our approach. My experiences tell me that where middle leaders – first line accountability – challenge and correct issues early on the outcome is more likely to be: reached quickly, positive for everyone and certainly more humane then if issues are missed or ignored only for them to be picked up in an inspection. The more we hold ourselves to account the more irrelevant Ofsted become; now there’s a positive outcome. In essence I think I am describing what the high achieving countries and states around the World do.
Moving Forward: Redesigning Classrooms at St. Mary’s
“It’s not simply about what, any more, it’s about why.”
The planned and delivered curriculum “breathes” our beliefs and values even if we don’t realise it. What and how you teach says a lot about your educational values and what you value in education. Are you a transmitter of knowledge, a constructor of understanding or a developer of the learner – or maybe all three?
It is important that we make expose the underlying beliefs, principles and structures on which our curriculum and pedagogy are built. It is critical that leaders within schools can articulate and explain these underlying beliefs and put in place the structures if any policy is ever going to influence the daily lived experiences of our students.
The first thing in Redesigning Classrooms will be to redesign how we collectively see a teacher’s role, not just as a profession but as a society. Teachers are a national asset and key professionals because they possess a unique understanding about curriculum, pedagogy and learning and the practical skills required to apply them in the classroom. For this teachers must have:
The above suggests that universities, schools and coaches/mentors should all have a role to play in the development of current teachers and the next generation. On the job training is vital to provide opportunities: to meet with and learn from other practitioners, to put theory into practice and develop the experiences needed to reflect on that practice but the theoretical framework about learning needs to be there at the core of our thinking.
Know It, Integrate It, Own It
I used the graphic below in some CPD with staff during the Autumn Term last year to explain the SOLO Taxonomy. It hopefully will work quite well in expanding on the above.
In terms of your own knowledge and understanding of the curriculum, pedagogy & learning, would you liken it to a disorganised pile of clothes? A neat stack with certain items grouped together? Or a well organised set of clothes rails with key concepts linked together each one holding the necessary and important knowledge.
After far too many words I’ve got to the core of the blog. If we are going to be a highly valued national, professional asset that has control over the curriculum, pedagogy and learning we need to have these interrelated areas and necessary knowledge organised in our minds as we walk into our classrooms. Expert teachers do and those of us that aspire to be must combine the three elements above to develop our practice.
Redesigning schools just keeps going deeper; we are now entering the inner sanctum of the classroom. This can not be just the classrooms of a few innovative, risk taking and willing colleagues but of the overwhelming majority of the profession if Redesigning Schools is really going to influence the education system.