A Collective Adoration of the Process

Kristian’s recent blog that explored efficiency made me think about how we use time in schools. I find at times, we can fall foul of not nessecarily spending time poorly overall, but certainly spending time in such a way that we fail to use it correctly according to context. Kristian pulled from department meetings, where abstract academia might be discussed, yet, perhaps not distilled into tangible actions. Additionally, Dan’s blog here hones in on reflections around the need for a reframed mindset when we approach teacher development and the process of refinement: that is we view these as both a collective and continual endeavour, then maybe they are not problems at all, but that the act of balancing out the positive outcome with the less positive aspects encoountered along the way are just part of the work. Why does this present as such a paradox in work within schools?

One of the ways in which education differs significantly form other sectors, is the lack of instant gratification in our work. If we are to consider that the purpose of our work is to ultimately impact the lives of young people, both academically and otherwise, then these are milestones that will be both far reaching, and distant in regards to timescale. We do not experience the sensation of a milestone in the same way: we must dig it out of a mumbled thank you at the classroom door, or a positive exchange with a parent via email. Alternatively, those moments come years later, as a used-to-be-child bumps into us in the street and we rack our brains to recall their name as they say thank you, or mention what they’re up to now.

And so, we seek out such gratification in the one place which would benefit from not being rushed: the work of curriculum development, or indeed our own development in the classroom. Attending one-off training followed by hasty implementation, or finding an idea online that looks like a good fit, we incorporate ideas within lessons with the well-intended efforts of finding a fix. It’s satisfying, because it feels more concrete: there are notes, a timely remedy of strategies which will slot in with the rest of our teaching practice or approach. Equally so, to decide that incorporating modelling to scaffold within our teaching, its visible: we can carry it out immediately. As an English specialist, it is at times how I see work around taking place as a little off-track: making the curriculum more diverse, or providing a balance of gender. We attend a training session, click on a hyperlink of texts, pick one and feel that a box is ticked, and that causes me to wonder how the outcome of such a plan may look in two, three or five years time; if indeed the fleeting moment of a job well done endures to make way for a more intrinsic sense of satisfaction in the work.

Teachers who acknowledge the absence of these silver bullet moments, and instead look to build a sense of criticality and self-regulation in regards to implementation and evaluation might in fact find that their sense of job satisfaction is both greater, but also that the work moves beyond that of the quick fix. Where we slow down and front load the thinking, this can have numerous really purposeful outcomes to not only the work itself, but also the way in which we work as a collegiate.

I’d like to consider the benefits of a less reactive, instaneous approach for a moment, because milestones are important. If we think about the way in which this would benefit ourselves as professionals, both the quality of the work would improve, but also the way in which we have journeyed through the work itself. To take the review of curriculum as a key example, it is a plan of two plans: a plan of what might be re-sequenced, omitted, less useful in regards to the students’ overarching conceptual understanding, but the second plan is of equal importance: the way in which a team will set about carrying out this work, balancing the immediate teaching and learning happening in real time, but with a steady eye on how the longer plan will unfold.

The first requires research, reading and a deep knowledge of the subject specialism to understand its academic nature and how that translates to the classroom. It is a debate and discussion of how one component may align with or challenge the next, and how we work to manipulate this for students to build a sense of criticality so that they don’t just digest what we seek to provide, but tussle with it. I decide that I will teach the myth of Pandora’s box to Year 7, first laying the foundations of the male myth of the female mind, which claims a trivalising female curiosity, but also placing an emphasis that the writer presents her as such, a ‘beautiful but silly woman,’ we can then explore the way in which this representation plays out through Miranda, as her existence is conveyed as that of material value, and a puppet of Prospero’s making, before then challenging these ideals with the words of Sojourner Truth, demanding that we question why to be a woman is so damnable. These intricate threads are not fast work, or easily transferrable: they are a basis of my own knowledge, but also the knowledge of others. It is a slow, continual process that requires debate and discussion, but also, it requires a plotting out of how it may look in a year, or two years, as we then ensure that such debates are returned to with extensive reading and further consideration, so that we can ensure our choices are not kneejerk, or in a bid to feel as though we can tick another thing from the list.

And it is with this in mind that the overlay of a second plan comes into view. That to continue to tease through such threads, we must ensure that alongside, we ascertain the strengths, intentions and academic interests of the team who will undertake such work. Team members who create fascinating discourse around academia, having been given the time to do so at a strategic level, but who also understand the ebb and flow of really high quality thinking. They understand that the most effective work comes from drawing back from the intensity of discussion and putting time into reflection, before coming back into a collaborative space to continue with such honesty and candour. Teachers who understand that continuing professional development requires them to tirelessly revisit knowledge, but also the need to reflect and interpret away from the discussion, as one would with independent study. And as with any collaborative set of intentions, that they might be mapped out as part of a longer journey, that looks at alternative milestones from the ticking of boxes: where can this be scaled up? Showcased to share our experiences and learning curves? Presented to a wider audience by all involved? Those learning points become our milestones, because they contribute to greater work in the future, which when explicitly recognised as such, become far more fulfilling work.

Proposing that we find gratification through the planning, undertaking, deliberation, evaluation and refinement isn’t quite as glitzy. It means that we slow down, bring others along in the journey, and perhaps don’t get as much done as quickly as we would like. However, it is work that we look back on in years to come and use as a measuring stick, not using assessment data or outcomes, but of our own professional development as people.

If you are interested in the intricacies of curriculum design at subject level, Claire Hill and I will be sharing our thoughts as part of a masterclass series on 5th May. To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/curriculum-thinking-six-masterclasses-tickets-138330838261?aff=erelexpmlt

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