Keep your thoughts positive
because thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive
because words become your actions.
Keep your actions positive
because actions become your habits.
Keep your habits positive
because habits become your values.
Keep your values positive
because values become your future.
(From Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners’
Will Ryan, Crown House Publishing, 2011. page 175)
It has been a long tortuous week since last Monday when I experienced perhaps one of my most disastrous lessons. It was made worse by the fact that there was a fantastic support teacher in the room standing beside a student teacher who was observing for the first time. There was little learning being done; or so I thought. There was, however, crushing embarrassment and suffocating deflation on my part. The lesson had been planned meticulously; or so I thought. I had set the challenge bar high but not too high; or so I thought. However, everything that I had planned slipped away as the lesson started badly and went rapidly down hill.
I reacted badly, sharing my pain with my Twitter PLN who responded in kind. My initial reactions, most of them unrepeatable, centred around the blame I placed on the students, the revenge I would take, the removal of privileges and anything remotely like interactive learning in the near future. I sat on the train scribbling things furiously into a notebook, things I’d do better, things I’d change about my classroom lay out, pin-pointing the culprits. But, as home approached, I began to understand who the real culprit was.
For one, if I was being honest, I hadn’t planned as well as I could have. I had relied on memories of a successful lesson from last year. Surely it would be the same this time. My resources were excellent. Previous lessons had gone well; there was a lot of good work to build on. The only difference was the students in front of me. Things did not go well and I failed to deal with that. I was not prepared for the level of disconnect. Under pressure to salvage something from the lesson I made poor decisions and little learning occurred. Or did it?
Would I have been equally upset if there had been no other adults in the room? Was I really just embarrassed that my reputation had, perhaps, been sullied by one badly taught, badly led lesson? Would I have quietly accepted it if no one else had known? Or was I really just looking for an excuse to deflect the blame? As teachers have to do, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started all over again. I didn’t see the class for a couple of days but I rethought my plan, reassessed my sources and headed back in. Was it better? Yes. Was it great? No; but the student teacher certainly witnessed two contrasting lessons. It was a valuable lesson for him.
Poor lessons must never be acceptable but they do occur, despite our wish to think otherwise. Taking what you can from the remains is what makes us better. This is perhaps why the announcement that new Chief of Inspectors at OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, claimed that teachers would never be given salary increases unless they ‘shone in the classroom’. My experience of Inspection doesn’t quite fit with that thinking, where HMI visit one, perhaps two, lessons and make a judgement. On any one day an inspector could walk into a disaster area; lessons going wrong for so many reasons. Good teachers shine over series of lessons; with the relationships they form; with the manner in which they learn from their mistakes.
If we are truly to believe that our students learn better through trying and failing and trying again, then it must also be acceptable for teachers to occasionally fail too. We must model good learning. Even if that means modelling good failing.