Your may or may not be old enough to remember Billy Dane but his story is one which needs to be told. A child of the mid-twentieth century, Billy came to possess great powers when he wore the football boots of a past England hero. It is a tale of subterfuge and deception, a tale which, while on the surface inspiring, is sobering for all of us. You see, Billy fell for the oldest trick in the book. He adopted a strategy which, while allowing him to excel at his job, became the story of his life. He forgot that it was only a strategy and allowed it define him as a player. Without it he was nothing, he thought. It was the boots wot done it.
I was reminded of the deluded Billy the other day during a conversation with ‘another teacher’. This ‘other teacher’ claimed that a particular strategy had completely changed her classroom practice and they couldn’t recommend it enough. Having attempted to adopt the same strategy in my own classroom some time ago, I was, to say the least, sceptical. I tried to make the point that the strategy worked for ‘this teacher’ because ‘this teacher’ was an excellent teacher and, perhaps, not everyone could do what they did but, no, the strategy was the key. It saddened me to think that this teacher was disguising their true ability behind their very own ‘Billy’s Boots’.
I suppose the point I’m making is that if any of these strategies were so wonderful then we’d all be doing them hugely successfully. But they’re not and we’re not. Great teachers are great teachers because they do great things in classrooms. They may well adapt new fangled strategies better than most but they do that because they are excellent practitioners. It’s not the other way around. When we hang all of our successes around someone else’s ‘great invention’ then we begin to forget our own hard work and abilities in the classroom. It is no wonder our teaching profession becomes demoralised and demotivated when we can’t even recognise our own strengths without passing credit to some greater hidden power.
The constant search for the Holy Grail of answers in teaching might be laudable but there is a danger here. Co-operative learning, or Accelerated Reader or Class Dojo may sell themselves as being super duper effective ways of engaging children but, in my experience, they are merely tools to cover over supposed cracks. Excellent classroom teachers can enable high quality group work no matter what you call it. Ditto, classroom management which shouldn’t need or even expect rewards. As for Accelerated Reader, don’t start me. I refer my esteemed reader to so many previous posts on reading.
There comes a time when we have to change the dialogue to one where the Teacher is central to pupils achieving outcomes and that we recognise our skills and abilities in the classroom. After all, when Billy Dane misplaced his boots he was generally useless. Stripping your classroom of the fancy strategy surely can’t mean the same thing, can it?