That was then

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the College of Teaching. I wouldn’t have received the mentoring, support, stimulation to develop my teaching, or the confidence to engage with others on a broader platform had I not committed to the College all those years ago, when I became an NQT.  I’m now part of a profession which has grown and grown in status and professionalism since the early days of the College. Teachers voices are heard and respected, of course they are. Views are sought about professional development, examinations and assessment and curriculum. Of course they are.

Teaching has changed a lot since 2015.

Before then, once you qualified and did your NQT year, you were pretty much at the mercy of your school for the rest of your development. Some were great with CPD, others not so. Teacher Standards were pretty fixed, either you did something or you didn’t and schools didn’t always know the best way to engage you, or the best experiences to offer in support of you, if you weren’t quite there yet. You got your annual appraisal and a set of targets, but there wasn’t as much joined-up thinking as there is now about how one year’s experience can form the basis of the next year’s progression.

And it seemed to change in 2015.

That was the year of our debate in school. It was our English teacher’s idea to hold it, though I think she got more than she bargained for. We decided on the motion, ‘This school cares more about levels than about learning’, which seemed to make her laugh, at the time, with a bit of a faraway look in her eyes. I later found out that she’d even tweeted about it! But to us at the time, that was all that seemed to matter. Every week we had assemblies on targets and progress; every term our parents got letters or reports saying how many ‘sub-levels’ we’d moved on in. The teachers always looked apologetic, like they knew this wasn’t really the be-all-and-end-all in teaching. But what could they do? They were constrained by a system that didn’t always work in our best interests and had no professional input in improving it. Either for us or for themselves.

That was then.

That was when the momentum began to build for the College of Teaching, when its core purposes, membership, structure and reach began to be debated. Teachers began to get together to plan a long term strategy for the profession as a whole – the profession I now belong to and benefit from and in turn contribute to. Those teachers were careful to build slowly, to develop the College from some central principles about keeping teachers at the helm, drawing in advice and support from wider professional influences and making sure that teachers developed research literacy so that they could look objectively and systematically at classroom practices.

Since those early days in 2015, teaching has developed a long-term career structure, so that once you find your feet in your first job, you have a clear view of your next stages of development. You’re encouraged to network, read and research, carry on with the enthusiasms that brought you into teaching in the first place. If I want to stretch myself further, I now know that the College can connect me with mentors, offer me guidance on what to study, recommend appropriate CPD a or put me in touch with another teacher who has structured some research on an issue I want to look into. At least I know that my intentions as a teacher are matched and supported by a professional body which, like me, wants to ensure that all pupils are enabled, challenged, supported and valued.

Having been a teacher for over 10 years now, I’m considering applying to be a Fellow of the College of Teaching. It’ll take a while. I’ll need to take on some new projects and extend my role and influence as a teacher. But I’m ready for this and I know that the College will guide me to structure a programme that meets the needs of my pupils and school, local teacher partnerships and local community. And I know I can continue to develop as a teacher – I don’t want the next 10 years to be the same as the last. And in that time, I know I’ll have lots of expertise to ‘pay back ‘ into teaching, and the College, of course, makes sure that I’ll do that in order to support the next generation of teachers.

 

A teacher, 2028

Currently a pupil, in 2015

That was then

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Teachers, sans frontieres

From January 2015

One profession. Together.

As teachers, we are many things to many people, and we do many things for many people: we’re lesson-planners, reference-writers, peace-keepers, attention-demanders, support-givers, peer-coaches, resource-creators, corridor-patrollers, skill-assessors, development-encouragers. We’re the devil’s advocate in that niggly departmental meeting, the arbitration service between testy parents, we’re life coaches for the angst-ridden and reality-checkers in the face of new management initiatives. Many of us, in addition to the satisfaction of watching the progress of our own pupils, contribute to the development of staff peers and gain enormous satisfaction from working in partnerships. Some teachers seem tireless in their enthusiasm to offer assistance, resources, time and emotional support to other teachers just because they are teachers. Because they care about teaching.

And yet the extent to which there is both the need for peer support, and personal investment in order to offer it, can sometimes be humbling. A couple of days ago, this appeal came through the twittersphere

appeal

…and a while ago I noticed this update, among others…

heroes

Here’s a situation where an acute shortage of teaching staff could seriously jeopardise children’s opportunities, and where busy, yet selfless, people with skill and compassion, have come together to chip away at a pressing problem.

In other circumstances, teachers are often pushed into defensive positions. PRP and the culture of punishing target-setting might cause us to shut down, guard our own ideas for fear they benefit someone else at our expense. League tables and local comparisons, fear for our reputations and competition for pupils, might lead each school’s teachers into territoriality and ivory towers. Yet time and again, we see commitment to Teachmeets, partnerships, alliances, subject groups or special interest Saturday conferences. Teachers are givers. Teachers say thank you. Teachers are committed to the collective improvement of learning and opportunity for the benefit of all young people in a community, not merely to their own status or results.

In recent years, education has become increasingly fragmented. Some schools are still schools, while some are colleges; some are academies, free-standing or chain-linked like daisies; some schools are ‘free’, some ‘controlled’; some aided and some independent. Some fell away from Local Authorities, some were pushed; some select few and some select all. It would be easy, given the numerous boundaries and barriers between us, to build up our guard, to resent the comments of those from different contexts or to reject offers of collaboration from those with different experiences.  It would be understandable to proclaim that we couldn’t come together to support each other’s different priorities. In the midst of the fragmentation of the system, is the teacher. Teaching itself, purpose-driven, lesson by lesson, pupil by pupil, binds us, sans frontiers.

Often at our individual best when we work together, often most productive when resources are limited, most ingenious when restrained, teachers create and inhabit their professionalism every day. Teaching is an art and an abstraction – it is based on fine relationships yet grounded in a reality of snot, red pen and exam results. Teaching is a partnership of differences with a central aim. Teaching is collegiate.

Maybe there is a need for one organisation – a College of Teaching – to be able to stand for us all, regardless of political, procedural or pedagogic divisions, to support us to nurture each other and encourage us all, in spite of conflicting claims on our time and attention, to keep the teaching at the heart of what we do.

One profession, together.

 

I don’t know. That’s why I want to find out.

What could a College of Teaching do for Teachers?

I first published this in early Jan 2015. Since then, the Claim Your College proposals have been submitted – and accepted. The College of Teaching IS going to be a reality. Now it really is up to teachers to shape the future of the profession.

@collofteaching

#claimyourcollege

http://www.claimyourcollege.org

https://www.facebook.com/claimyourcollege/

Original post –

I have a lot of questions about the proposed College of Teaching. There’s a lot we don’t yet know. But as a teacher, I think I should be getting involved in this discussion, and be finding out.

Since the first mentions of the development of a new body, a College of Teaching, there has been discussion and speculation about the various forms and functions such a body might operate, and the approach to teaching, and teachers, it might take.

The composition of the College has been one topic under discussion. It is not yet known who, in the future, might lead the working body of the College or what sort of committee structure might be exercised, or what democratic structures would exist, or how membership will be promoted, or how the College will be funded, either in the initial start-up phase, or later when it might become self-funding through sponsorships, charitable donations and subscriptions. These issues are to be dealt with during the two to three year start up phase that is just underway. It is less contested, however, that teachers themselves should be at the centre of the organisation. Many academic, training, political and other commentators will have their own value to add, of course, but a College of Teaching needs to revolve and evolve around current members of the profession.

There are a number of key reasons for this:

Representation
Early information asserts quite strongly that the College is not taking the place of any teaching unions. Neither is it to take part in pay and conditions negotiations. It could be there to voice teachers’ interests, opinions and concerns, though, in the light of policy decisions, media appraisals and inspectorate judgements. It could also mediate between the world of academic research and the day-to-day world of schools, and could aim to ensure that communication and cooperation exists between these two fields of experience for the good of ongoing developments in classroom practice. As time goes on, the College, representing the expertise of its membership, might exert more influence over curriculum design or assessment models. Teachers work with the realities of the educational world – the temporal and social contexts, the school priorities and local populations – so information gathered from them and their experiences could enable workable projects to move teaching and learning forward. Allowing teachers this contribution into national strategy feels very different from the work of recent years. But if teachers want to see such possibilities, they need to engage in College of Teaching discussions.

Career development
Long-term improvement in teaching performance is an aim of any organisation associated with providing the best opportunities for children. Recent reports have highlighted the importance, not of technology, or of particular ideological stances, but of straightforward teacher quality in ensuring effective experiences for pupils. There are still some differences of opinion in terms of whether subject -specific or general pedagogy is the key determiner of effectiveness, but to enable teachers to move on after initial qualification it makes sense to allow for development in both routes. Comments have been made about points in a teaching career where developmental ‘plateaux’ occur and about what can be done to ensure that developed performance through improved classroom strategy is consistent throughout a teacher’s career. Retention within the profession is also key here, with many new entrants into the profession not staying as long as their older colleagues. Teachers need to take the time to discuss, as the College is being developed, whether a long-term career map can be outlined, particularly one which continues to develop and reward teachers who remain in the classroom rather than moving into management positions. A further consideration is the manner in which this career progression would be reflected in the membership structure of the organisation through levels such as ‘member’, ‘associate’ or ‘fellow’, each with its own qualifications, or, perhaps, responsibilities to contribute to the professional development of others. As yet, these issues are undiscussed. Teachers should watch out for opportunities to engage in consultations in their local areas, through social networking and though national consultations as time goes on.

Status

The recent government consultation document claims that the establishment of a College of Teaching would help us become a “world-class teaching profession”. But how do we judge the ‘class’ of our profession? By Ofsted Quality of Teaching judgements? By GCSE and A level results, as shifting as those goalposts are, or by international measures such as PISA with its attendant statistical and cultural quirks? Or do we set our own standards, the standards of the College, and therefore the profession, itself? And if so, who does the setting, and what qualities do they prioritise? Comparisons are often made between teaching in the UK and in other countries. Finland is a well-noted example, yet the status of teachers is higher than in the UK, and it is estimated that it could take over thirty years for the UK to match Finland in this respect. Where we might prefer to look would be at the status of teachers within our own communities.

The first question, ‘What could a College of Teaching do for a Teachers?’ might after all be the wrong one. Maybe ‘What can teachers do for teachers, for teaching, for schools and for the generations of pupils to come?’ should be considered with the College acting as a vehicle through which teachers themselves can become agents of change for the future of the profession.

Trust me, I’m a teacher.

Can teachers be trusted? If not, what assumptions are being made? That they went through a degree, a further qualification or training period, put themselves in front of dozens if not hundreds of children every week, in a position of care and responsibility, often with little appreciation, lots of scrutiny, endless demands for evidence, public and media vilification and a pretty harsh workload….and all for the what? For an easy life? For the money? Oh yes, and of course the holidays…(yawn, we’ve all had THAT discussion plenty of times).

In my capacity as a CPD leader, I see bright and eager new prospective trainees enter the profession, desperate to convey their enthusiasm and capabilities for teaching, for their subjects, for pastoral care, for team working and for improvement. I remember being in that position myself 25 years ago. In training our students and NQTs, I see how overwhelmed they often are with the sense of responsibility…their own classes whose successes rest largely on the experiences they can offer, evaluate and refine. There comes a point when I have to trust that this person can do this job at a level appropriate to their career stage. I’ll make sure there are checks, support will be in place, adjustments made, expectations clarified, if needed. They have to trust in me that I can judge when this support is needed and when increased  independence has been earned.

With those in more established positions, I have to know that classes are being stimulated and challenged, that progress is being made, that subject knowledge is still developing, that reflections on practice are happening and improvements are being made, that children are cared for, safe and valued. I have to know this, for the sake of the children, and yet trust this, for the sake of the teacher who I also value. Once trust has been established, I make light-touch investigations, supportive observations, engage in adult discussions rather than endless form filling and box ticking. Trust is qualitative. Trust is dynamic. Trust is developmental.

So yes, it is important to ask what it means to trust teachers – and it is time for us to be renegotiating this – but it’s also important to believe and accept, and not endlessly question and doubt, that our commitment to our work, our knowledge, capability, compassion and skill, will ensure the best outcomes for pupils.