A snapshot of an honest professional learning evaluation
My understanding of leadership of learning has not necessarily changed as a result of this programme but I would say that it has widened. I think that as long as you are taking ownership of your own interests and trying to progress for the best then you can be considered a leader of learning.
I think in future I will be more confident with the progress and process over finding a neat solution to questions. Perhaps this negates against the idea of setting goals and SMART targets as I ask my young people to do – things should definitely be more malleable than this.
Enquiry Question Reminder:
In what ways can teachers share good practise to build confidence in delivering socially distanced and online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic?
- To what extent did you manage to answer your enquiry question?
I am not sure I have managed to come up with a solid answer, but I have a variety of thoughts and responses based on different people’s perceptions and preferences.
2. What have you learned about your learners throughout this process?
They genuinely take quite well to knowing everyone across different classes is doing the same thing – perhaps it offered solidity in a time of turbulence? Unsure.
3. Did anything take you by surprise (in a good or not so good way)?
Many people who used things like teacher twitter and social media to find and share lesson resources found themselves in the first lockdown feeling confident as people were learning skills that they perhaps already knew. By the second lockdown there seemed to be an online challenge of sorts in some communities about whose online teaching setup was crazier, who was doing the most interactive stuff which while fab, does not perhaps provide the equity for pupils across the board with less sophisticated technology that in my experience is the main challenge. This was a strange transition.
3. Has your enquiry process impacted on the wider school community at all?
At the beginning of the year I was given a teacher leadership role on sharing good practise, to try and set up some drop-in sessions purely based on talking about teaching and building confidence, as well as learning rounds, but these have not happened yet due to restrictions.
4. What are your intended next steps following the close of this programme? Do you have more work to do on this area or can you see new enquiry areas opening up
I would ideally like to take the strategies and advice I have learned to the whole school. I would like to set up a small network across the school of the best people to go to for advice on different challenges teachers may face i.e reinforcing positive behaviour, ICT, Teams specifically, creative learning ideas, pupils leading learning etc. Hopefully this will be something I can carry forward.
5. What are the implications?
Across the school hopefully there would be a rise in confidence because a number of people are feeling really demoralised at the moment. There are also a number of members of staff who are experienced but not promoted and there can be a little drop in confidence sometimes once you reach the top of the scale so giving these members of staff some go-to status would be beneficial. The school does not currently have any sharing good practise sessions so this could be an invigorating addition. Obviously, any improvement in staff confidence or addition to staff skillsets benefits pupils in a variety of ways so this could be an extremely positive thing.
I could write about this for a long time and I have redrafted three versions of this post over the past month to try and make it as positive as I can. Covid-19 has effected everyone in the world, of course, and thinking of how it effected me with something as simple as work when it has stolen lives from millions is an uncomfortable, yet necessary question.
- How did Covid-19 impact on your practice and your beliefs about Scottish Education
I have always believed Scottish Education to be fair, equitable and forward-thinking. Teachers have blown me away this pandemic with their hard work and their workload, but I am demoralised and devastated that those Secondary teachers that have well over 100 certification pupils on their remit are being offered minimal support.
2. How was your enquiry affected by the changes Covid-19 brought about?
It was affected it in almost every way possible. My first focus was too big, then health and wellbeing as an issue was too big for my classroom teacher remit even in research, then because I wanted to research something staff-based, lockdown made that incredibly difficult due to not communicating with members of staff for months at a time. Now because of the alternative certification model, all of my time in work and hours at home every night is spent marking, moderating and trying to make robust judgements on four key pieces of evidence that show the best in each child. I feel that I very much lost myself this year.
3. How did you adapt or change your enquiry to continue to meet the needs of learners and yourself?
I scaled my enquiry right down to make it more manageable, took notes and stock of staff wellbeing and surveyed my department based on us and this year alone. We also do an annual SIP evaluation as a department and it was very interesting to see how things had changed from last session.
Here are some reflective notes under some question stems provided by Education Scotland in relation to my enquiry.
- What did you plan to do and why?
I initially planned to take stock over what could be done to improve staff health and wellbeing. The magnitude of this as a class teacher was much bigger than anticipated and lack of ability to gather data proved a stumbling block, but with support from those at the drop-in sessions I reframed my enquiry to be on a departmental basis. My new plan was therefore to evaluate what helped my department’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic and to measure the success of collaborative working during this period, as our method of teaching completely changed between August and October as well as during online learning.
I have found the lack of coherence in my own plans and movement in my research focus very frustrating throughout the year, which is why the journal article from Tina Cook called The Importance of Mess in Action Research really spoke to me like no other reading we have done this year. It has made me feel like even if I have no conclusion to draw after this, just having an increased awareness of the way in which we work as a department and how it effects our stress levels and wellbeing is perhaps worthwhile in itself.
Despite reflecting with and sampling opinions across members of staff in my department, this term we seem to have reverted back to an isolated way of managing our classes. This could be for any number of reasons, a few are listed below:
- Lack of preparation time for classes coming back
- Blended learning worked differently for each class and transitioning from that was a challenge
- Each teacher wanted a chance to rebuild a relationship for their class with no common courses required.
- Those who did not create units for whole yeargroups before now no longer had the time to, and some who did no longer had the will to.
This has, unfortunately, led to a lack of equity to some extent across classes.
FOCUS: Sharing good practise in the age of social distancing and online learning
QUESTION: In what ways can teachers share good practise to build confidence in delivering socially distanced and online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic?
I enjoyed reading this chapter, with many elements of the conclusions drawn by the Howard resonating with my own experience of relationships.
Main takeaways from reading about collegiate relationships.
- Howard offers some insight into the rising epidemic of teacher employment self-alienation. As someone who has experienced this, it was encouraging to see in writing that someone else is appreciative of how real the impact of this can be. Howard states, on collegiate relationships: “We wait to see if others feel the same in the hope they may speak”. Quite often this is indeed the case – as professionals who are used to coaching young people through reactionary behaviours, I feel it is all too easy to trust our own gut instinct and speak up, as we are hyper-aware of the nuances of how relationships work. Howard comments on how detrimental this can be to teacher confidence, stating: “Our sense of self can only exist outside our own perception if we share it with others, and so if there isn’t an outlet to do so, we start to question the parts of ourselves that truly exist.”. As a teacher who has been through a period of self-alienation, I can confirm that this is a sensitive observation. With nobody to bounce ideas off, to talk to about managing behaviour, about difficult parents’ evenings or creative ways to approach lessons, it is all too easy to lose your confidence and in many ways yourself as a teacher. People who witness you on the other side of this all too often comment that you must remove yourself from the situation – the so-called branders of “toxic” work environments. While this may be the case – how do you leave the pupils who have become the sole reason you go to work every day? How do you sell yourself to your new employer when you are a shell of the educator you once were? Self-alienation is, I believe, one of the true reasons teachers are leaving the profession, and we must do things to address it.
- Howard is very aware of how challenging the work can be when relationships that turn toxic or are broken are overturned. She comments: “When you manage to do the grubby work of repairing relationships from what appeared to be a point of no return… that deserves credit”. It is a feeling comparable to nothing else when you find people in a department that you mesh well with – you inspire each other, you motivate each other and turning up to work each day gives you that teaching feeling that you thought you would never feel again after your first good lesson observation. You are valued and secure. But when relationships are more challenging, as they often are, or worse – if relationships fall apart, turning up to work can become nearly impossible. The pressure of coping with teaching hundreds of young people a day, reporting on their progress, managing your department projects, adding any leadership roles you have within the school but also treading on eggshells around a colleague or group of colleagues you wish to avoid conflict with is just too much for many individuals to bear. With all of the work pressure involved, and the business of each day at school, it takes real time and effort over an extended period of time to repair such relationships. Those colleagues who are willing to repair working partnerships like this, to put the time, energy and effort in to patching up a rocky relationship, can often become your closest allies. Those resilient individuals who find the time to do a job well, work through a tough relationship and make it a strong working partnership after a period of time, they definitely do deserve credit for the strength of character that takes on both sides. It was refreshing to see Howard recognise this.
- Another interesting theory that Howard discussed was the effect in a school of multiple working groups or leadership groups all differing in their approaches and goals. She coined this: “The Matrix effect” a combination of different professionally led groups but each harbouring an individual with their own personal-professional agenda. I have worked in a number of centres, each with a slightly different approach to working groups. One made it mandatory and allocated teachers automatically, therefore each group was filled with teachers who really had no interest in being there. One just had three – one for each RfA area. My current centre has groups based on teacher interest – if we are interested in leading something then we can form a group to support us. I feel that the transparency of this – they are teacher leader groups, and they are based on personal interest in some ways avoids this “Matrix effect” being negative. They are all given equal weight, equal time in INSET and equal support from SMT.
- I was heartened by Howard’s suggestion of the types of teacher we should surround ourselves with. She suggested four main categories: “The one who inspires us”, “The one we simultaneously learn from”, “The one who provides us with honesty” and “The one who provides positivity”. I can see how many of the teachers I associate with fit into these categories – with most of them pulling from all four but strongly falling in one over the others. For example, the teacher I have simultaneously learned from the most in my career taught in such a similar way to me so often that we could always rely on the other for resources or ideas. She grounded me when my ideas were too crazy and helped me make them more practical, whereas I helped push her creative boundaries. We were complimentary and we worked very well professionally. This leads me to the two problems I have with these categories – firstly, where is the space for the chaotic teacher who you can always rely on to have had a worse day than you? The Union-rep teacher who you go to if you need a little bit of a shove to stand up for yourself? The teacher that is so good with ICT and so patient with your mistakes that you know they were an angel in a past life. The social director teacher who always has some payday drinks planned up their sleeve if you need to offload. I would argue that these roles are just as important to have in one’s collegiate circle as the aforementioned first few. My second issue is only with myself: where do I fit in? Although this sounds self-indulgent, I mean this from a purely vulnerable perspective. Have I lost my professional persona? Perhaps I should share this musing with some colleagues and they can tell me which category I fit into – although maybe it’s best not to know!
- Howard’s final point about teacher wellbeing urges us to orchestrate an activity or a club of sorts so that kindred spirits can come together and decompress. She suggests a breakfast club as an example. I have attended some regular staff get-togethers like this over the past few years and they are excellent. I am in no doubt that this is the place to go to meet your teacher group, to form relationships and to decompress, but here is the big question that I have been left with after this reading. How can I make a staff social club work when we can’t spend time with people this year even for lunches due to social distancing rules, staggered breaks, room limits and department bubbles? I feel it is important that I try, because I would argue that we need it more than ever.