Tag Archives: Teacher

A Different Permission…tread softly.

In the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of entering the magical worlds of several 3-5 year old children. Some within an Early Years Foundation Stage setting in Greater London, England and others within a Foundation Phase Nursery/Reception classroom in the South Wales Valleys. 

Yes, I was invited by schools to join their EY environments…but truly entering the world of a 3 or 4 year old requires a different permission – the permission of that unique child.

Anyone who has spent time with young children will know how carefully they judge you and your intentions. Those eyes that silently glance for seconds at a time or those hands that thrust something in front of you and watch your reaction. And for every child there is a different point at which they decide to let you enter their universe. It could take moments, it could take months, it could take years. But only they can decide you are trustworthy and let you enter into their magical world. 

There are so many theories about Early Years Education, so much research, so many recognised practices and documents. All of which are helpful in terms of gaining knowledge and information. But when faced with that young learner, it is the quality of the interaction that takes precedence. The quality of those moments shared. These young children are busy making sense of their surroundings. They are busy constructing their immediate world. And, as educators, we attempt to enter these worlds and become co-creators and guides. Yet it is how we enter and how we aim to interact that can determine whether we co-construct or unintentionally destroy that magical world. 

Educational change is occurring everywhere. Advice is everywhere on how to provide enabling environments that allow the unique child to learn and develop. Yet the pressure is on to measure that development, to speed up the development, to get those children to attain and reach the expected levels. And, measurement of how this is being done does not always take into account that children and educators are people, not just sets of numbers and data to be entered into a system. Maybe, because of the types of measuring tools we use,  it can’t be taken into account. Maybe the systems have no space for the ‘human’ element. But if this is so, at what point do we lose the very essence of who we are and who we are helping our young learners to become? How do we maintain the quality time needed to build relationships, create worlds and enjoy learning moments? 

This is not just a UK pre-occupation, it is happening in many places around the world. I have been alerted to one principal in the USA who decided to take action and write a letter to parents/carers in response to the increase of testing and assessment. 

If we, as educators, attempt to enter into a child’s world purely with a measuring tape and an assessment purpose, then we run the risk of ‘treading on those delicate worlds’. There is a growing concern. A fear that ‘targets and assessment’ are becoming the driving force. ‘Yes’ to accountability. ‘Yes’ to aiming for quality. But, not at the expense of losing our souls and destroying the natural wonder, curiosity and imagination of young learners. 

So, how do we continue to create opportunities for ‘quality moments’ with our young learners? How do we stand tall and hold onto our values…because actually, for many educators, there is fear involved and a feeling that they are being ‘railroaded’ into operating in a way that is incongruent with their passionately held beliefs about learning. Moreover, what will be the real cost? 

This post is for the many educators that we have spoken with in the last few months. Thank you for what you do, often in the face of adversity and the snapshot judgements of others who are operating with a different, often ‘political’,  agenda. 

Lets hope that education never loses the human touch in the name  of ‘systems’ and ‘politics’ and can find the balance needed to inspire individuals, to help them uncover their dreams and to explore their potential – whatever their age. 

‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’  

English: Footprints, Omagh An ecco footprint h...

William Butler Yeats

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Filed under Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Formative Assessment, Quality Learning, Single Steps Learning, Standardised Testing

The Appearance of Learning** (‘We must be seen to be doing…’)

Italiano: Maschere veneziane - Baùta

Italiano: Maschere veneziane – Baùta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have just returned from an inspiring two weeks in Stirling with two groups of dedicated practitioners. We have had a number of conversations which generated ideas for blog entries. However, the ‘appearance of learning’ became the ‘pebble in my shoe’ and now it’s time to get it out!

In teacher training college, I (Andrew) had an hour-long lecture on the display of learners’ work. I still remember the lecturer saying, ‘informative, interactive and, wherever possible, 3-dimensional’. We were informed of the pros and cons of ‘double-mounting’ and why staples were preferable to drawing pins as fixings. We were never informed of the truth about classroom display…and the politics involved.

There should have been a practical workshop on ‘Backing Paper’ – how to put it on display boards without tearing, creasing or ‘bubbling’ it…and how to get it perfectly horizontal! Oh, the trials that face the newly-qualified teacher! (Also, where do all the blue ‘Bordette’ rolls disappear the day after they arrive in the stock room…when they subsequently never appear on anyone’s walls?) There should be a module on writing loan agreements for staple guns.

For me, classroom display is a multi-purpose tool to celebrate, inform, inspire, involve, engage. However, it should always have the learner as the focus not the teacher (or the headteacher!). It is not the same as decorating your living room!

 Classroom display should not be ‘wall-paper’. One purpose is the celebration of learners’ effort and achievement. However, achievement should not be equated with ‘perfection’. It is a snapshot of their learning at a point in time. 

 The reason for this blog arose from a discussion where some practitioners mentioned that school policy dictated that only ‘perfect’ work could be displayed in their schools. Written work could not be displayed which had spelling mistakes, poor grammar or sub-standard handwriting. Graphic work would not be displayed unless it conformed to a ‘model’ demonstrated by the teacher – so was often ‘improved’ by adults (without the learners giving consent or being present). These are displays of work which have the ‘appearance of learning’. 

 Believe me, I do understand where this motivation is coming from. Schools which are aiming for excellence believe that displaying only ‘excellent’ products will create an aspirational culture. I think there is definitely room for celebrating high quality work but not at the expense of the truth. Shouldn’t we be honest about variation and engage the learners in a dialogue about the progressive nature of quality? Encourage aspiration by all means but engage learners in an honest way of achieving their goals. Otherwise, isn’t this the same mentality as ‘We are judged by our grade results. Therefore we only examine learners who achieve high results. We are judged to be a high performing school…by appearance.’

 A concerned practitioner expressed how her display of students’ work did not look perfect but was accompanied by students’ annotations which indicated that they were aware of what they had achieved but were also aware of what their next steps would be. For me, this is a ‘display of real learning’. It shows students engagement and makes the learning ‘visible’. It is not merely the ‘appearance of learning’.

 Like most things in life, I think the answer is balance. Some schools will go to the extreme of having only student work on display. I think there is nothing wrong with having engaging and informative ‘commercial material’…as long as it is engaging and of interest to the learners! However, I have also seen the other extreme where a classroom was ‘plastered’ in commercial posters and pull-outs from teaching publications. Information overload…no student work. No celebration of learning.

 Once, I had the experience of an enthusiastic headteacher showing me a classroom as example of excellent display . Wow! It was colourful, informative and lots of 3-D creations. A few commercial posters, a bulletin-board, class rules. Signs with beautiful lettering which had been painstakingly cut out, double-mounted and laminated. There was NO student work. None. Later, I gently pointed this out to the headteacher. She had never noticed. It may have been a ‘beautiful’ environment for the students to exist in but there was no student ownership. No sense of ‘our’ classroom. It was very much the teacher’s classroom. This gave the ‘appearance of learning’ but in reality there was no evidence of it. Not a scrap – except that the teacher had learned some interior design tricks. Another extreme.

 Balance. Teachers are part of the class learning community. Why shouldn’t they have some of their ‘work’ on show if it enhances learning and the learning environment? Or, like many teachers, be a co-creator of a display of learning.

 When I was 11 years old, my teacher ‘gifted’ us a display board. We populated it with our artwork, origami models, magazine clippings. She taught us how to mount work and design labels. We shared things that we valued and never abused the opportunity. She must have been way ahead of her time. 

 I have never witnessed this as a negative extreme. However, I imagine a classroom where learners select all the display but there is never teacher engagement about quality would be as bereft of ‘visible’ learning as a ‘perfection only’ classroom. 

 Balance. If space allows…why not have displays created solely by learners; displays of learning co-created with teachers; samples of high quality product to inspire and samples of ‘visible’ learning showing progression; and also some information from the world outside. Inspire, inform, engage, involve, celebrate.

 Finally, one of my most hated phrases is ‘we must be seen to be doing’ – usually before some type of school inspection. Huge amounts of time and energy wasted on creating the appearance of something happening, which in day-to-day reality is not. Time and energy that could be spent on managing change positively rather than resisting it (…but appearing not to). I am not saying that all change is good but it is inevitable. We need to be responsive as opposed to reactive. I believe changes should be challenged and honest debates held – especially where changes are imposed to score political advantage points.

 However, that will not happen while inspection systems create a climate of fear and make snapshot judgements based on the ‘appearance of learning’. Results can be achieved without ‘real’ learning taking place. ‘Appearance of learning’ culture is transmitted through current hierarchies. Ultimately, we all lose out and our education system continues to be incongruent with the values most of us espouse. Or, do we just have the ‘appearance’ of an education system?

 

**Thanks to Eddie Schulberg for the phrase ‘appearance of learning’. 

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Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


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“It’s about time you did some work…!”

For years I listened to my dad jokingly say,

“It’s about time you did some real work! You teachers get it too easy!”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine background respect for how hard I worked as a teacher. Yet how many have heard this said by friends, family, acquaintances, politicians, general public, and the media…without the knowledge and understanding about what really happens during a working day in a school; what happens during the evenings; what happens on the majority of weekends and what happens during school holidays?

At this point I feel I need to say that I am aware that, like in any other profession, there are different types of workers. Those that over-commit, those that work hard, those that just do what is needed, those that will do the bare minimum and, lets face it, those that just don’t care. Of course we have education professionals that will fit into each of these categories. That is reality. Just as it is a reality in any other line of work.

However, as the end of the Spring Term neared, I began reading more and more articles about school holidays…the length of school holidays…whether they were justified…whether teachers had it easy…whether it had a negative impact on standards…whether they should be shortened…etc etc.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a perspective. Education is a public commodity. If you have been to school as a child and young person, you will have an opinion about school based on your own experiences. If you have a child in school, you will understandably have an opinion about their education and your own ability to attend work. If you are a politician, you are certainly going to have opinions and policies which may be based on your own experience, or on what will get your party into power and or perhaps even on genuine research into proven theory and innovative practice. (I will leave any further political thoughts here). If you work in the media, then the very concept of education and the fact that the majority of the general public have an opinion, will obviously make it something of a focal point.

It prompted me into action. So what were the teachers and educators going to be doing with their holiday? What do they have to say? Hence the creation of our last blog: A ‘snapshot’ survey.

Thank you to all who took part. We had responses from Primary/Elementary teachers, Secondary/High School teachers, School Admin/Business, Advisors/Trainers/Consultants within a geographical area that spanned the UK and the USA.

The question asked:

School Holidays: What are your plans?

A very quick set of multiple choice answers followed…with the option to add more of your own.

The results.

No, it was not the most complicated of surveys. No, it wouldn’t stand up against the big research studies. It wasn’t intended to do that. It was intended to give people we know personally and people who follow us at singlestepslearning, an opportunity to voice their opinion, whilst at the same time giving us a simple set of results, something concrete to analyse.  

Having worked for 16 years in education, I wasn’t that surprised by the results. I am aware of the hours that many teachers put into planning, preparation, assessment and paperwork. I’m also aware of the amount of personal money, time and energy many teachers put in to purchase or make resources. I could continue the list…the amount of time and energy given in worry and concern about the emotional and physical safety of certain pupils when they leave the school building; the fact that teaching a class(es) of 30 all day, every day, involves so many high level emotional interactions. The average teacher must be able to multi-task, must be multi-skilled and must be ready to act with flexibility to any unknown, unforeseen circumstance that may veer you completely off any kind of pre-planned format or content of a session. The energy needed to sustain this level of interaction, to enthuse young children and people, to inspire, to encourage, to treat each as an individual, yet build a cohesive community, to help every learner explore their potential, ask big questions, develop as citizens….well, I’m exhausted just thinking about this. Unless you have worked in a school, unless you have experienced this, it is something that you cannot fully comprehend. Working with young children, young adults is a privilege. It brings moments of sheer pleasure. Yet it is exhausting if you fully commit to it…and there are NEVER enough hours in a school day to do everything required. Never. Hence the result that 44% of respondents would spend holiday time involved in a work related activity.

Add to the mix that there is a growing trend of ‘publicly judging’ teachers by a set of cold standardized results, I’m not surprised that many in teaching are beginning to question their choice of career. And these are teachers who are exceptional. Are we really going to demonise the teaching profession so much that we drive out those that do the best job?

The voice of one teacher who responded…

“I have followed the recent discussions in the media about changing the academic year. I entirely agree that the summer holidays are too long and children forget things. To be honest, I do too! However, as a teacher I find the half terms and holidays invaluable for both catching up and preparation for the next term. They are also a great opportunity to reset my work-life balance, as I generally have too much to do during the evenings and weekends to make time for socialising. On another note I also recall Michael Gove suggesting that the school days should be longer. Clearly he doesn’t see the 16 hour days many of us put in. I’m pretty sure the overtime during term time more than covers our holidays.”

And my final thought…

…learning experiences can happen anywhere, with anyone. Schools provide one venue for learning. Time away from school can also provide rich opportunities for learning. It just comes down to what you as an individual, and what we, as a society, decide to value. But that is another story…another blog…

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Thank you…and last chance…

Thank you to everyone who has already completed our short survey based on school holidays/vacation.

We will be closing the survey in the next few days and taking a look at the results and trends. 

If you would like to take this last chance to complete the survey and add your opinions, please follow one of the links below. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Please click here to read our initial blog regarding the survey.

More coming soon…

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A ‘snapshot’ survey…

For many of us in the UK, the school holidays are imminent. Some areas are already enjoying the start of the break, others are counting down the days.

Around the world, other educational establishments will also be looking forward to a vacation or preparing for the end of their academic year.

So what will teachers, educators, practitioners be doing with their ‘holiday/vacation’ time? Do you in fact get a holiday? What are your thoughts on ‘school holidays and school terms’? Do you work in an educational establishment that is changing their organisation of the academic year? 

We have set up a couple of very short surveys which can be accessed via SurveyMonkey or our facebook page. 

Green tick

We are interested in collating these initial results with a view to extending the surveys and writing a post about education, schools and the varied perception of ‘holidays’. 

So, if you have a spare 2 minutes, we would be grateful if you would follow one of the links and/or forward them to family/friends/colleagues who may be interested in completing the survey. 

Facebook Link: Requires you to have/sign up to a facebook page and will register your name.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/singlestepslearning 

Survey Monkey: Anonymous, no need to sign up, 2 quick/simple multiple choice questions (click on all that are applicable) and an optional comment box.

Survey Monkey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3PSZ9R6

Thank you 🙂 

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Engaging safely, fairly and fully in St Modan’s…

We had the privilege of being invited to spend a morning in St. Modan’s High School, Stirling. Our visit began with introductions to staff and students in the Autism Provision…complete with coffee and a selection of chocolates!

Our immediate impression was one of ‘community’ and the feeling of being welcomed whole-heartedly into their daily routines. Several special moments occurred as individual students came to meet and greet us in their own ways. Some with handshakes, some by name, some by standing nearby. Each one will stay in our memories. 

A tour of the school building took place, accompanied by Mary Yates (Teacher) and one of her students. We were met with smiles and politeness from all…and loved the modern space dedicated to dance! 

We accepted an invitation from students to join their Personal Development class. And what a treat this turned out to be…

The overwhelming feeling of inclusion and acceptance was evident. Students who were aware of each other’s individual needs and teachers who went the extra mile to ensure that all were valued, accepted and given the opportunity to engage safely, fully and fairly in their own way. 

The session began with a ‘check in’ and a general introduction from us – visitors who had arrived from South Wales! A bonding moment occurred when they realised we had also met Neil Oliver and showed a photo of the moment from our iPhones. Neil Oliver had recently performed the opening of their ‘shop’ in Stirling Arcade – a highly successful enterprise project where each student took on team and shop roles. (Our own meeting with Neil Oliver was less planned and more accidental – we literally bumped into him on Glastonbury Tor during his filming for ‘Coast’, whilst we all sheltered from torrential rain together!)

After the excitement of comparing photographs, the students took a ‘fist-to-five’ vote on which charity they would support. An interesting debate took place, including mature discussion as to why certain charities were preferable to certain students. Yet a compromise was reached and a charity chosen. 

Intrigue followed as students were shown a graphic on the whiteboard and asked to write a question that came to mind on the front of a sealed envelope. These questions would be used later to plan future learning experiences. The students were then told to open the envelopes and investigate the content – which turned out to be a replica of the graphic. They had 30 seconds to cut it into 6 pieces in any way they wanted. The pieces were put back into the envelopes, swapped with a partner and then an instruction to recreate the graphic in the shortest amount of time. Discussions were occurring about how best to do this along with specifics about the graphic. 

Bananas were then put on the table, along with ‘banana products’ – cake and smoothies. Students were invited to taste. Mixed responses! ‘Yuk’ through to ‘that tasted better than I expected’! Realisation that the graphic was in fact the Fair Trade logo.

At this point the session moved on and the idea for the next enterprise project was introduced. A ‘Brilliant Banana Event’. The students were grouped together and flip chart paper handed out. They were reminded of their community contract for working together and then asked to brainstorm and record ideas for this event. We joined the groups and couldn’t help but contribute as we got caught up in the excitement of sharing ideas! 

Each group came up with individual ideas ranging from whole-school competitions, sale of banana flavoured items, fancy dress, songs and much, much more. The groups took turns to feedback.

Just before the bell went, we had time to perform an impromptu song in Welsh to the students – all about bananas. 

A special note about the ‘Community Contract’. We were given permission by Scott to publish a photograph of the contract. He had designed and produced it himself on behalf of the class. It is proudly displayed on the wall. Scott was able to talk to us about the meaning behind the contract. We certainly witnessed students who aspired to fulfilling this contract within the session. The blurring on the photograph is purposeful in order to disguise names of the students – we would not wish Scott to think that we had distorted his poster for no reason!

On reflection…

What did we witness?

  • The purposeful building and maintaining of community
  • Independence and interdependence
  • Engagement and active learning
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Reasoning and justification of opinions, thoughts and ideas
  • Inclusion and valuing of the individual
  • Real, purposeful and meaningful context for learning
  • Development of employability skills and attitudes
  • Mutual respect between students, teachers and peers
  • The occasional challenge – what ‘real classroom’ would not present this!
  • Personalisation and Choice
  • Enjoyment and Challenge
  • Responsible Citizens
  • Successful Learners
  • Confident Individuals
  • Effective Contributors
  • and much more…all within a 40 minute session.
We were sorry that the bell went and that we had to leave!
(Although we were immediately ushered into the staffroom to share in a home-made lunch! Huge thanks to the staff in the Autism Provision for providing this! What a talented bunch!)
For us…it is important that what we do makes a positive difference for others. The opportunity to spend a morning with the students and staff of St. Modan’s was invaluable. 
Thank you all. 
Lynne and Andrew
🙂

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To learn or not to learn…

…that was the question this week.

We had decided for a variety of reasons that it was time to move our blog posts to a different platform. After much debating and seeking of advice, we opted for WordPress

And then came the bigger decision. How would we go about this? We had stumbled upon some commercial tools that would provide a smooth, relatively easy and supposedly quick transition from iWeb to WordPress. But they came at a cost. 

Tempting.

Especially with time being a commodity.

Yet something stopped us. I’m not actually sure whether it was concern over wasted cash…pride…a deep sense of principles…or a thirst to learn new skills and explore new territory. 

So we set aside time. A day to play and investigate. Make mistakes. Squeal with delight when something worked – often accompanied by a quick clap of hands and some hopping – and then a deep sense of satisfaction. 

This day was invaluable. We didn’t aim to be perfect and get it right first time. We knew we would make mistakes, but we also knew we had allowed time to learn from these mistakes, refine our skills and knowledge… and try again! 

The transfer of 16 months of blogging took place over the following 2 days…along with the discovery of adding more pages to WordPress and connecting it directly to our main website. It is now 16:39 on a friday afternoon…and there is a sense of achievement. A sense of having felt motivated and engaged. A sense of persevering. And a sense of knowing that this specific learning journey has only just begun.

On reflection…

The kind of experience we just went through resulted in deep learning and a retention of new skills, understanding and knowledge. It required us to apply certain attitudes in order to persevere and find a solution. 

We could have opted for someone else to do this for us – in a ‘quick fix’ kind of way. We could have handed over our blogs to the experts…or downloaded a package that said do this, do that, click this…done. 

And now I find myself connecting this to teaching and education. And the curriculum. As a teacher, how many times did I ‘spoon-feed’ my learners or offer them the ‘quick fix’? And how many learners actually just wanted the ‘quick fix’ and the ‘spoon-feeding’? In my early years as a teacher, I think I was guilty of doing this quite often…but with the best intentions. It seemed manageable. It actually resulted in something I could control – which felt safe and the right thing to do. And it meant I had correct answers and almost perfect products, workbooks etc to show on parent’s evening or during inspections. Gold star. And I covered the curriculum and could tick all the boxes.

And then the paradigm shift. 

Teaching should not be solely about me feeling good about being able to impart my knowledge, control the input and output, and have perfect things to show parents/inspectors. 

I wasn’t all bad, I have to admit. I did care about the learners. I loved the time we spent together…no matter how challenging some of the behaviour could be…

About 8 years ago, I began to transform my thinking, my practice and the way I organised learning experiences in the classroom. I was not perfect. I am still not perfect. I stopped just ‘covering the curriculum’ and began to organise deeper learning experiences for the class. Real experiences where children were engaged in finding and solving problems collaboratively. We were all co-learners and we made sure we had time to make mistakes, reflect on our learning and refine our products and processes. And we had fun. We enjoyed  both the perseverance, the success and the sense of community. 

We live in a fast-changing world. Education systems are also changing at an alarming rate. Sometimes for the good. Sometimes not. There seems to be a bizarre mixture of  messages – a global curriculum overhaul to prepare students for an unknown future within a time of technological growth, which encourages teachers to’take a risk’ and organise learning in new and exciting ways…yet it is coupled with the ‘fear factor’ of  ‘do not get it wrong…we are watching and measuring you and we will publicly name and shame.’

I have no problem with accountability. I do have a problem with a lack of ‘indivisibility of principles’. We are all learners – whether we are 3 years old, 15 years old, 38 years old, 79 years old. A teacher is a learner. A learner is a teacher. Effective learning principles apply at all ages. 

This week we experienced deep learning. We made time for this to happen within our own busy ‘curriculum’. We do what we do in Single Steps Learning because we passionately believe in exploring the potential of all learners and finding creative, effective ways of unlocking this. And we recognise ourselves as learners too. 

So…a couple of clicks and the first Single Steps Learning blog via ‘WordPress’ goes public. Our learning journey continues…



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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

Two Superb Days in Class…

A huge thank you to Vicky Jenkins-Delf and her class of 9-11 year olds in Miskin Primary School. They welcomed us into their learning community for the last 2 days and made us feel like we really belonged! The 2 days were full of activities from community builders, line-ups, quality question carousels, whole class problem solving to cross a minefield, singing, reflecting honestly, connecting, learning, laughing, supporting and making discoveries about yourself and others. A class with 75% boys, 25% girls – all of whom were full of ideas, enthusiasm and character! Andrew’s opening line ‘So boys, what have you done with all the girls?’ – the quick response back ‘taken over their bodies and turned them into boys like us, of course!’.

We handed the camera over to the class – there were no arguments. They distributed it fairly amongst them over the 2 days. They captured learning moments…including us (not all flattering!!) and loved the photofeedback. More photos to come showing the children in action – as soon as we receive permission slips.

The class told us that they thought the top 4 things a teacher should be like is – kind, thoughtful, responsible and reliable. And they told us that Vicky was like this…but even better because she made them laugh too! To watch a class want to continue learning when the playtime bell went…you know that something special is going on in their community. It is a class that engages with enthusiasm and is not scared to be honest in their responses. It is a real class with real kids and real learning moments – so not everything goes right all the time. But what went right is that they were willing to debrief moments honestly and everyone always came back to thinking about making thoughtful choices and being fair with everyone in the room.

The 2 days completely reinforced what we believe in about learning and community…and why we have chosen to do what we do. It was a complete pleasure to spend the last 2 days in their class…and in the words of one of the boys…this class certainly seemed to have ‘bigger, more brains’ when solving problems than some of us adults!

We loved our time with you all!

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Filed under Coaching, Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Education, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Values