Great Teachers: shedding some doubt on the issue
I am not sure if it would count as flipped learning but, unable to be at Monday’s RSA/ Teach First event, I did the gig in reverse.
First, I looked at the outcomes from our post-event coffee-house discussion organised by RSA Fellows. Drawing on the RSA’s caffeinated origins in 18th century London (but facilitated using a very 21st Century technology of participation method), it was a chance for Fellows and Teach First Ambassadors to discuss one of the key questions raised by the event: how can we best judge what makes a successful school?
I then read the twitter feed, which, like many event hashtags contained too much regurgitation and too little critical analysis. Finally I listened to the recording from the event. I was encouraged by Sir Michael Wilshaw’s ‘plea for pragmatism’, that a great school needs a diversity of approaches from good teachers, where all are free to use ‘initiative, imagination and common sense.’ Teach First Ambassador Ndidi Okezi was especially inspiring and thought provoking, challenging all of us to commit to changing young lives.
Moving swiftly from regurgitation to analysis, here are a few reflections:
- It’s not just about those with Qualified Teacher Status. What is the best configuration of adults that can make the biggest difference to young people’s learning and development? Does the orthodox ‘80% of budget on teacher salaries’ school finance model constrain broader thinking about schools as 21st Century enlightenment organisations and the mix of skills, knowledge and attributes that a school community needs to educate young people? Tuesday’s education select committee report proposed that ‘greater effort is needed to identify which additional personal qualities make candidates well-suited to teaching’, praising Teach First’s core competencies (which are usefully congruent with RSA Opening Minds’ competence framework for pupils).
- Good teachers should be able to adopt, adapt and innovate practices. The Cambridge Primary Review talked powerfully about what makes teaching a ‘profession’ – that teachers should be able to justify their pedagogical approaches with clear reference to evidence. Although the government was right to make the Teachers’ Standards shorter and clearer, what’s missing is any concept of ‘evidence-based practice-making’ encouraging teachers to understand and use evidence, and to innovate robustly to add to the evidence base. My colleague Louise Thomas’ pamphlet on teachers and curriculum development pointed to some cultural barriers to innovation that those agencies which influence teacher development (in particular OFSTED) should take seriously.
- All four speakers seemed very certain of their opinions. Without using the dreaded ‘further research is needed’ phrase, it’s worth bringing in some doubt – that there might well be issues around teacher quality and pedagogy that we just don’t know enough about yet. For instance, the teaching of ICT and computer science, or more generally how we teach the most disengaged, vulnerable young people effectively. How should emerging research about the adolescent brain inform our thinking about what makes a good teacher of teenagers? To use Geoff Mulgan’s typology, as the amount of ‘stable’ knowledge declines in proportion to ‘in flux’ and ‘inherently novel’ knowledge, what does this mean for learning and teaching?
- If fewer people want to be teachers, does this matter? The number of applications to teacher training has fallen by nearly 15% this year, despite the economic downturn. A smaller pool of applicants tends to reduce quality, but it may be that a tougher performance management regime is weeding out the ambivalent and uncommitted before they even apply. Then again, when I signed up for my PGCE during the 1990s recession, I was both ambivalent and uncommitted (and heartbroken, but that’s not a story for this or any other blog). And I think I did just about more good than harm during my five years in the classroom. Do any ex-pupils out there want to confirm or deny?