Will We Ever Have It Cracked?

This article first appeared in HWRK Magazine in May 2022

Right now, I’m knee-deep in curriculum planning for next year. I already have a well-thought-out plan, but I’m still not happy with it. The sequence of topics needs to be tweaked again. Actually no, the topics are fine, but I do need to make sure to include more extended writing. Hang on though, will they know enough by that point to be able to write well enough on that topic? I’d better make sure they’ve got enough facts behind them first. No, actually, they need to engage with some real-world issues first to hook them and see the relevance of what they’re learning. But… but…

As Mary Myatt has already mentioned before, curriculum is a never-ending story. But it’s not the only one. Schools have a habit of pursuing more and more, no matter what has just been achieved. 

It’s a noble aim and I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to refining and reiterating everything to try to make it as good as it could be. Our students deserve it and I, like most teachers, see teaching not just as a job but as a vocation. We’re drawn to trying our hardest for others. 

But at what point do we say to ourselves “actually this is really good, let’s just keep doing this. It doesn’t need to be improved”?

After all, there is a cost to everything we try to implement. We have limits on curriculum time, planning time, staffing, school budgets and quite simply the number of hours in a day. Add to that the fact that teachers deserve as much of a break as anyone else. We can’t just keep adding more and more to our to-do lists. Something has to give. But what? 

Here’s a list to choose from. It’s not an easy task for you, but give it a go anyway. Assuming nothing else changes in the education system, which of these would you personally ignore for two years straight, in your own school setting, giving you time to focus on all of the rest properly? 

  • Pastoral care?
  • Quality of teaching?
  • A well-sequenced curriculum?
  • Staff wellbeing?
  • Examinations?

It isn’t easy. I’d even go so far as to say that if any one of these goes missing (even if just for two years), then like a house of cards, the rest will come crashing down too.

So, we keep them all. But if we keep them and they are less than perfect, they could have a negative impact on the other pieces of the puzzle. There’s a moral imperative then to do everything we can, within our power and within the constraints of time and space, to ensure that everything is as good as it could be.

It’s a balancing act though. At this end of the year, staff are exhausted, have one eye on the summer holidays and in many cases are up to the eyeballs in exams and last-minute revision classes.  

I’d bet that your middle leaders have many of the answers though. They’re the ones on the ground who have implemented this year’s new policies and procedures, identified the crunch points when it comes to assessment data windows, parents’ evenings and deadlines for everything in between. 

Ask middle leaders what they would keep, what they would bin and what they would adapt. It probably won’t lead to wholesale change (and it probably doesn’t need to), but it might just be enough to ensure that the wheels keep turning as we journey onwards, as we’ll be in a better position than we were this time last year.

We’ll never have it cracked, but that’s ok. We’re always going to be chasing perfection, whatever that means to us, because we aren’t doing it for us, we’re doing it for our students. It does take its toll, both physically and mentally, but it’s also why we do the job.

Are Your Students Remotely Learning?

Remote Learning

The move to remote learning has been a limited success, but it also carries a great risk, both to students and to teachers, unless we focus on the right things.

Remote learning was and is a noble idea. It promises flexibility, independence and encourages resilient learners. Remote learning has also forced teachers to update their technological skills, enabling them to share, collaborate and use content in a much more efficient way.

This, surely, bodes well for the future of education and it prepares students for the real world, where companies increasingly encourage remote-working arrangements.

But, let’s be honest here. It’s not working, is it?

Consider all of the hours you put in: uploading new content, making sure your tasks are both classroom and home-friendly, checking homework, looking to see who the latest self-isolating students are, not to mention the CONSTANT emails/comments/messages from students and parents.

We can add to that, the fact that this increase in workload, coupled with the idea in the back of your mind that a parent could be “observing” you teach, can be panic-inducing and exhausting.

Then, there’s the additional pressure of student progress. Students who are at home tend to fall behind. That’s quite natural. After all, they haven’t had face-to-face lessons with their teacher. Joining in from home on some sort of “live link” just isn’t the same.

Not to mention the fact that they’ve had to share the family laptop with all of their siblings, who also need it for their own lessons. (Of course, this also assumes a best-case scenario, where there IS a family laptop.)

I’ll not even go into the problem of healthy, but self-isolating students who fail to attend morning lessons, simply because they’re still in bed.

So what can we do about it?

In complex situations like this, I find it useful to go back to first principles.

What is it that we truly value?

For many of us (and in no particular order, before this starts an #edutwitter pile-on) it is:

  1. The health, wellbeing and education of our students.
  2. Our own health, wellbeing and development, not just as teachers, but as human beings.

Simplifying our teaching, to address these two areas, can narrow the range of choices we need to make and will help us eliminate activities that take us further away from these values.

What should we prioritise?

  • Pastoral care of our students
  • Developing students’ subject knowledge, as far as we can, given today’s constraints

What should we not do?

  • Expect our students to be independent enough to cope without our help
  • Hold ourselves to unrealistic standards

This period won’t last forever. One day we might even look back on it like we do when we had that amazing “snow week” back in 2010.

Back then, we were cold, worried about our safety, we hadn’t seen our parents for a little while and we were more than a bit concerned about the panic-buyers in the shops.

Now, we just say “Remember when we had that snow week? That was weird, wasn’t it?”

So…

Stick to what you value: Keep yourself healthy and teach as well as you can.

Remember: You aren’t in the same situation as you were in last year, so be kind to yourself and try not to compare your current teaching to how you used to do it or how you would like to. You can’t control everything (and you’re not meant to).

Some students aren’t remotely learning right now. We can help them by breaking down some of those barriers to learning, but we can’t force it to happen.

You are right to be optimistic though.

Teachers are good at optimism. It’s what drives us.

Just don’t let it drive you round the bend.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Leave a comment or send me a message @guruteaching on Twitter.

Andy

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