Thursday, 17 March 2016


It's hard, when I love what I get to do here at HPSS, to hear of negative attitudes in other contexts.

The other weekend I caught up with some people from the university course I did a couple of years ago. One of them has in the interim trained as a teacher and did his first year teaching at a school which is trying to bring MLP into a traditional context. I was really excited at the thought that 'traditional' style schools are trying to bring MLP into their own contexts, so I asked him more about it.

What followed was so disappointing.

This second-year teacher had moved on from that school. He felt that although the SLT were really focussed on making the move to MLP work, the staff had not bought into it, and many of the staff who had been there a while were vociferous in their negative opinions. He seemed to have taken on those staff opinions rather than been inspired by what the SLT were trying to do.

In addition, he trotted out what I felt were excuses, rather than reasons, for the difficulties the school was having in moving forward, and for his having left. He said that the school clientele, being predominantly PI, didn't understand the new way of doing things, and their parents had cultural expectations that the mode of schooling would be traditional; that the parents, who were often working two or three jobs, would not have the time or inclination to come and learn more about what was happening in the school; that many of the teachers were 'burned out' by the amount of work that was expected of them anyway and so it would be impossible to ask them to do more with a new system; that staff turnover was too high to really train people into doing MLP well. What I saw was someone who had, in less than two years, gone from a trainee teacher with ideals to the old hand who has seen it all and doesn't like it.

I wish I were better at off the cuff replies. I couldn't say much at the time, because I always need to process stuff before I can answer to it. What I wish I had been able to convey ran along these lines: It is exactly those schools who are catering for students with low expectations, with parents working too many jobs just to get by, that need to be introducing MLP, and sticking with it when it doesn't work like a magic bullet in it's first outing. It is precisely because 'If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always got'. 

Those students need someone to have faith that things can change for them, that they won't also end up working those same three jobs as their parents, that they can do things and be things that they can't even imagine yet.  And yes, maybe it easier to be cutting edge where HPSS is (as he informed me) and because it is new, but change is even more vital in those schools where student need for change is higher.  Grant Lichtman tells us that change is not difficult, it is simply uncomfortable.  It horrifies me to think that some teachers have become so comfortable that they don't see the needs of their students as their highest priority. 

When I left teaching, it was because I was becoming the kind of teacher that I had always said shouldn't be there any more, and I recognised that. I returned because I found somewhere where I could be passionate and feel empowered about changing things for my students, for the better.  My biggest regret at the moment is that I wasn't able to explain that to that second-year teacher.  My sadness is that I wish that school success, but if he is a reflection of the wider staff, I am not hopeful.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Being a Life-long Learner, this year.

A bit of context to start: having committed to writing a post every time I ask my hub students to, this morning we looked at SMART goals and set at least one academic and one dispositional or habits goal. My students then had to commit to their goals by enshrining them in their blogs. I showed them my list of possible blog topics, and let them choose what I should write about next; they decided that my own goals for the year, in my learning, would be best.

So, in short form, these are they:
- LOs on display
- empathy for difficult students
- being a full-time working mum
- being a social scientist and historian
- project learning

In a slightly longer form...

Part of being a good teacher is making sure that each lesson I teach is purposeful. I know that if I have a clear Learning Objective for each lesson, that is a pretty clear check that what I am doing is meeting a need or has a purpose in my students' learning. Last year, I was pretty bad at doing this, and especially in making it clear to students. I like to think what I did was purposeful anyway, but there is no way to tell really. 

My aim this year then, is to make sure I write an LO into my planbook for each lesson I plan, and that way I will be sure that not only do I know what I am meant to be doing, but I can tell my students too.

My next goal comes from the fact that one of my greatest difficulties is being tolerant or empathetic of difficult behaviour from students, and looking for understanding of its causes rather than simply reacting to the behaviour itself. I think I tend to judge people generally quite quickly, and I know I am quite black and white in my worldview - this is not necessarily a very productive way into student relationships.  (A caveat - I don't always do this, and have developed some excellent relationships with students which have been helpful for both of us. Just so I don't sound totally hard-hearted or down on myself...)  

I have decided that I need to aim for greater compassion with my students, by listening harder to those who don't necessarily want to talk to me. I feel this quite strongly as a weakness on my part, and so I have decided to make this the focus for my teaching inquiry. I will be relying on my colleagues Sally and Cindy a lot in this, both in helping me frame my inquiry, and because they are both really excellent role models in this area. (Actually, there are a lot of staff at HPSS who I think I will be calling on the expertise of.)  

It's funny, sortof, that empathy is something that actually is vital in a teacher of teenagers, but is not something that previously in my career has been shown to be necessary or valued. It's something that - like the dispositional curriculum that is taught at HPSS and not many other schools - is valued in staff here but not given any professional learning time anywhere else. I like also that what we teach the students is also valued and thus role-modelled by teachers; as in, I need to learn to do these things just as much as they do, and I am encouraged in my learning, not viewed as having a weakness.

Right, I will come back to my other goals next time, as this has already been in draft for a week, waiting for time to be finished.