From The Heart: A Personal Reflection on TEDx London 2011

I have just challenged myself to give a one-word response to the event. My gut response is PASSION. Everyone who spoke or performed, did so with a genuine desire to share something they whole-heartedly believed in. Whether it was the students, the musicians, the techies, the teachers, the entrepreneurs or the organisers, each speaker talked about making education relevant, interesting and personal. The clarion call to ‘Bring on the Education Revolution’ was echoed again and again. And we – because we are that way inclined – felt a euphoria and a great sense of expectation. Twitter was going beserk…but amongst the proclamations were a few tweets that were perceived as ‘negative’. 

However, these ‘negative’ tweets merely voiced a nagging uneasiness that I was feeling beneath the euphoria. Several speakers had targeted teachers and schools for failing to inspire and develop young people and I think this is when my ‘fairness’ alarm was triggered.

Some practitioners have the fortune to work in settings or areas which encourage them to take risks, be creative, be reflective and hone their craft. It encourages them to model the very attributes it would like learners to develop. This does not mean they do not operate without rigour.  ‘Results’ are achieved but as a by-product of real learning.

However, many practitioners have to operate in a climate of fear, created by systems and structures imposed upon them by ‘powers’ who have very little understanding about ‘learning’ but require ‘test scores’. Many practitioners have to achieve required results by methods that they do not believe in because they are in a ‘survival’ mode. The mental image I have is someone who is bound and gagged being thrown into an empty swimming-pool  and whilst they are in mid-air being told to ‘Swim!’ Tests measure things that are ‘easy’ to test (and mark). They do NOT necessarily measure what is important.

I am not against monitoring the quality of learning and teaching. I am not against rigour (although that particular word conjures up jack-boots, for me!). I am against a ‘culture of testing’ being imposed by ‘powers’, whose implementation is having the effect of suffocating the very same qualities those ‘powers’ would like to see growing.

Yes, some people are lazy, some are not good at their job, some lack relevant interpersonal skills, some are boring and some are just… not very nice. Some people. And some of those people are in education. They are also in every other profession and walk of life, everywhere on the planet.

Yet, it is educators, who, time and again, are used by successive governments, as scapegoats for society’s ills. The education system is only one cog in complex socio-economic machinery but it is an easy target for politicians and policy-makers.

I do not believe that any practitioner enters the teaching profession with the intention of failing their learners or themselves. They do not enter the profession with the intent of boring their learners or destroying self-esteem. Most are passionate about learning. Some are passionate about a specific subject and wish to share that passion and ignite it in others. Some want to give learners the tools to build a positive life and a better society. Some want to emulate their own inspiring or empowering teachers. 

I believe that most practitioners are doing the best job they can, many in settings with limited resources (human and material), lack of CPD opportunity or pastoral support. They may have co-workers who have, over time, become bitter, cynical or antagonistic. They do not need the burden of more misdirected blame – like punishing the class for the behaviour of the few!

If there is ever going to be a real Education Revolution it will need to happen at grass-roots level(individual practitioners, parents, communities) AND at a strategic level (remember ‘and’ not ‘versus’ – Ken Spours).  Practitioners need to be given real support, training, time and ‘permission’ to grow. Practitioners need to be allowed to take ownership of their profession. Practitioners must be allowed to be learners and not forced to abandon new pedagogies at the first sign of ‘failure’. That is the hypocrisy that exists in many educational establishments. 

Practitioners need to feel that their passion for learning and for the development of their learners is genuinely respected. They need to feel valued as members of the community and supported by that community. I believe that will only happen when we have a ‘revolution’ in the values of our society. 

UBUNTU. That is the other word I took from the day (thank you Geoff Stead). ‘I am me because of us’. Teachers are only part of the influential ‘us’. Media which promote the values of ‘conflict’ above collaboration, ‘celebrity’ before ‘community’ and ‘image’ before ‘imagination’ are also part of that ‘us’. I suspect they are having a stronger influence…

We would like to acknowledge and salute all those practitioners in restrictive regimes, who, on a daily basis, commit small acts of ‘revolution’ and continue to make learning engaging, fun, and fair; who promote independence AND interdependence; who provide opportunities for self-esteem and self-efficacy to grow;  and, who continue to see themselves as learners in their learning communities.

More about our day at TEDx London – website page.

PASSION  – PASS IT ON

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Filed under Education, Learning, Passion, Primary, Secondary, Teaching, Values

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