So at this point, I see people rolling their eyes at my naivety; I hear them mutter ‘that’ll never happen’. Unless this is just a revolution in my head, where do we go from here? If we are to embark on genuine change for the better, avoiding just another folder full of soundbites and nice pictures where do we start?
Well, in August, every teacher in Scotland will be subject to Professional Update. This is a new scheme introduced by GTCS which makes engagement with professional learning a mandatory part of our job. Perhaps it should be already, of course it should, but it’s not. All teachers will be required to maintain a professional learning record and portfolio of evidence; discussion of this work and its impact will be part of the annual professional review and development process; and there will by a 5 yearly confirmation of this engagement to GTC Scotland. I’m not daft enough to think this will be a panacea for all ills but it will begin to turn the tide I think. The problems will arise if teachers find it difficult to access good quality research and professional development. That’s when we come in. I mean teachers like us here today. I’m currently undertaking some Masters study at Strathclyde Uni which has been the first Uni to start new courses with Donaldson’s recommendations in mind.
The course, Supporting Teacher Learning, is specifically targeted at research based professional development and how we can can become coaches or mentors in schools; how we can encourage and enthuse younger teachers to become action researchers; how we can tap into the wealth of experience we have in our staff rooms; teachers who have, rightly or wrongly, been tagged the staff cynics. These people have seen everything in the classroom. What a tragedy it is for that experience to go to waste. Creating and environment of trust is hugely problematic but essential.
So, a mandated commitment to professional learning? Will it work? It will if we step up and take responsibility; we don’t wait to be told; we see through the bull and start reading, start learning from each other. Forget the name, ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. It has never been anything but a burden. Not because it calls itself a curriculum and it’s probably not; not even because it has the word ‘excellence’ in it. It has been a burden because it has become merely a label. Like “successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.” Just labels. Like Chartered Teacher. Just a label. And, as you know, when you label something you can compartmentalise it and hide it away and dismiss it as a thing. We love doing that in teaching. So good teachers get lost behind the facade of cooperative learning or Aifl or whatever the latest fad is.
An experienced teacher said to me recently that co-operative learning had changed her career. I was delighted for her, but also quite sad. Because I was looking at someone who was a brilliant teacher, absolutely brilliant, but she could only justify her success through her use of some daft arse strategy. Her class was great because she was great. If these gimmicks were so great we’d all be using them well. And we’re not. She could co-ordinate superb group work in her class. Nothing to do with co-operative learning.
Let’s stop labelling things and regain our pride in what we do.
Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, (dear teachers) you are
picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been
almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or
So where are we now? This is a new curriculum which is about twelve years old now. We can’t wait and pontificate any longer. The last of the new exam courses come into being next year and that will be it. Full transformation of our entire school system, 3-18. That’s never been done before so it is a huge job to ensure that we get it right. But as I said in a blog post recently, change takes place in the staffroom. Despite all the cliches about teachers being at the heart of any curriculum; teachers being the most important people in the room; not everyone gets that. There might be reasons for it. Don’t know. But what I do know is that I won’t get another opportunity like this in my career.
I spend much of my time at this time of the year visiting trainee teachers and, while they seem more prepared than ever, it worries me that I tend to see indentikit lessons. These young teachers spend much of their time preparing lessons filled with trendy techniques without really understanding why they might be effective. They are unaware of the research. ITT colleges will change that and already are moving in that direction.
If you remember Tony Blair at the time of the Good Friday agreement. He said, ‘A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.,’ breaking a promise in the same sentence. But we are on the verge of something. If we do it right we can change the educational experience of every Scottish child forever; perhaps we can start picking away at the child poverty problem.
Curriculum for Excellence? Not yet. But it will be. It will be.
What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do
We give you our consent to TEACH, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to TEACH well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great CURRICULUM, don’t let your work and hope be other than great
when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.