Preparing Our Students for the ‘Leap Forward’

I’d like to make it very clear that this is not a political post. My views on Scottish Independence and next year’s referendum are not important. This blog is a place for me to reflect on teaching and learning; nothing more. What cannot be denied, however, is that next year will witness a huge historical event, especially for our senior students. For the first time, many of the young people sitting in front of us will be given the right to vote. My concern is that they will not be sufficiently prepared to make an informed choice; their first vote could be the most significant vote in their lifetimes.

IMG_0709It is a very tricky area for teachers. On the one hand we must not be seen to promote our political views in class, I firmly believe that, despite the odd cutting remark in class about politicians. We are significant adult role models to our students, sometimes the most significant, and it would be wrong to use that role to influence them politically. However, in the absence of balanced political debate in the mainstream media, what should our role be? We are not electing a local councillor here, or an absent European MP. Either way the outcome of the referendum will alter the direction of our history. Surely it is our duty to prepare our students sufficiently to make that choice in an informed way.

As an English teacher I will spend much of next year studying the rhetoric of both sides. Hunting down articles, blogposts, papers which attempt to persuade on both sides. We will watch speeches, study mannerisms, repetitions. We will write about we we discover. I shudder to think of the number of Folio essays the SQA will have to mark on the subject. Perhaps a note of caution on how we might approach that. It seems to me that, for the first time in my career, this event might affect everything I do in class. We are educators with a duty to prepare and educate our young people for what is happening in their lives.

To sixteen and seventeen year-olds who will be voting for the first time it is unquestionably a huge political event. To teachers we must approach it as a topical, even historical, one. No more, no less. It worries me that, as an experienced voter with an interest in politics, I see no more than the usual ‘us and them’ politics filled with fear and political slogans from both sides. This must be more than a game simply to be won or lost. Our young people deserve more. Regardless of the outcome things will not be the same. And even though we in Scotland have always had a proud educational history, a valued and respected new Curriculum, we will need to adapt to a new political landscape either way.

We might well be weary of change in education. Almost three years on from the Donaldson report, two since McCormac, we may well think that change isn’t coming quickly enough. Either way sit yourself in the seats of those senior students who will be in your classes this year. How much of a change are they about to witness, at least in terms of the responsibility they are being given? It would be a shame if, in the face of adult indifference and political posturing, we missed this opportunity to prepare them for what is about to happen. Isn’t that what education is really for?

There Ain’t No Vanity Clause

If you blog even semi-regularly I wonder if there are any posts you wish you hadn’t written. Given that the purpose of blogging, for me, was to aid self-reflection, it would be surprising if there weren’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are posts I’m incredibly proud of and hope to match one day, but there are too many which leave me a bit cold when I think about the their impact. I’m at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to blogging. While it has invigorated my teaching life over the last couple of years I’ve come to a bit of a standstill.

I started blogging on January 1st 2011 and did so after being inspired by blogs I had been reading for some time. Since then, however, there has been an explosion of great blogs as teachers develop the confidence to share their thoughts and, of course, that is welcome. Widening the conversation is what blogging and the internet are made for. You can find blogs on everything you want in education: workable resources, challenging ideas, inevitable controversy, honest and open reflection, and whether invited or not, advice. Unfortunately, though, I keep hearing the same thing from too many bloggers. Despite the nice comments and positive praise on Twitter, our work often has little impact when we get back to our own schools. I worry that without increasing impact, if any at all, my blog has ended up as a vanity project.IMG_0732

In those two years, I’ve also noticed a huge change in the nature of Teachmeets. At their inception, they involved a small collection of educators who would meet, discuss their teaching and share ideas. Now there are Teachmeets everywhere, sometimes several and they are a very different animal. The sharing is still there, and amazing, but I worry that the scope for conversation and further collaboration is being lost. Huge Teachmeets are amazing conferences but the bigger they get the less willing newer participants are to join in and speak up. For while we hear about amazing things and listen to wonderful classroom experiences, we still return to our classrooms on Monday, on our own, with some nice ideas to implement. I think it is often a missed opportunity.

When we read blogs and go to Teachmeets we read the best ideas and see great teachers speaking about their successes. Nothing inspires me more to go back to my classroom and try to be better. But sharing best practice is not really about seeing the best. While watching Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory I was reminded of Fearghal Kelly’s post from a year or so back. We don’t learn how to be great at tennis by watching the final. We get better by getting in on the training, time and time again, working together to improve on the small things. At the moment I don’t see that happening often enough.
Pedagoo is all about that continued conversation, attempting to provide a platform to share progress in trying out new ideas gleaned from Teachmeets or blogging or from wherever. We try to provide a place to check in with those who we meet at Teachmeet and beyond; someone who wants to try that new strategy or resource can find someone else to converse with during the process.. The positivity we take away form Teachmeets needs to be bottled, otherwise it is a lost opportunity.

I’ve been trying to have a complete break from everything education related for the month of July. I’m a little drained. But what I’ve learned from two and half years of blogging is that unless the ideas I share on Twitter or write about in my blog have impact then it becomes more about me than anything else. If I have little impact in my own school then it is merely a vanity project and I don’t think I’ll bother any more. Alternatively, I need to try harder to be heard. Making people feel more positive about their teaching is great but we need to get our hands dirty and get into each other’s classes if we really want to see change. John Tomsett talks of the potential for Twitter and Blogging to engender an Education Spring. We’re not doing enough yet. Let’s get on it next session.