I have often heard the saying, ‘You learn to pass your test, and then you learn how to drive a car.’ Little did I know when, as a fresh faced, eager and frankly slimmer NQT, that this would also be the case with teaching? There are many fantastic teacher training facilities all over the country, many wonderful and talented NQT mentors and heads that inspire and develop their protégés. However in some cases the in school training can teach trainees how to qualify but rarely give them the chance or authority to take risks or try something that is perhaps against ‘the norm’ in class for fear of it going wrong.
This can continue for some teachers into their careers. A day to day, continuous, playing it safe. Input, modelling, doing it together, showing me, main activity and then plenary, all neatly compartmentalised into their allotted number of minutes. Heaven forbid an input that lasts 6 minutes not 4! This was me when I began my career and, to be honest, for a few years after that. I think it is still the case in many schools up and down the country. No matter how many CPD conferences you’re sent on, the new and fresh ideas have left your brain quicker than the taste of the expensive lunch you scoffed at the plush hotel. Although I acknowledge the lunch has been less expensive and the hotels considerably less plush in recent years. Austerity an’ all that.
However there is an answer. Not a silver bullet or a magical CPD course that will have you transforming into some sort of Dead Poets Society teaching god, but coaching. Simple, yet so very effective. I admit, I was cautious at first. In my first experience I was teaching Year 2 in a very unexpected career twist and was being mentored by a highly skilled and highly experienced KS1 specialist, who also happened to be the Deputy. I hadn’t been in the school long and was, to be frank, just a little concerned that this would be used more as a judgement as to whether I was up to job. I couldn’t have been more wrong, she was enthusiastic, positive and hugely improved my teaching in a very short space of time. All the coaching sessions were filmed, (ignore the hugely expensive IRIS software) a simple IPad and tripod works equally as well. After the session, feedback is given and video clips watched back. Realistic, achievable and specific goals are assigned and another session is completed 2 weeks later to see how the targets have been embedded. It is not about judgement. It is not about performance management. It is about developing you as a professional and setting the standard as to where you want to be.
Fast forward a few years and I now use coaching sessions as a chance to test out something new. This isn’t down to any feeling of grandeur or superiority. Merely that I relish the chance to experiment with a new idea and then have the time to reflect on it with an experienced colleague, two teachers brains dissecting if an idea is worth loving, adapting or binning. It’s like the judges’ houses on X-Factor but with less fake tan and more Hobnobs. These new ideas aren’t ground breaking but they are different, they are a fresh way of approaching something. In my last 3 coaching sessions the person mentoring me has said they will take an aspect of what I did into their own classroom. This isn’t about me banging my own drum, this is about seeing coaching as a positive chance, an opportunity to develop and learn from colleagues rather than doubt their reasons for being in your room.
Teaching is a hard gig, it’s full of potential pitfalls and chances to do things wrong. However, there are so many chances and opportunities to develop. Learning, indeed
training, shouldn’t end when you graduate. I know we traipse out the ‘always learning’ clichés but it needs to be more structured than that. There are ways of doing it, cheap ways of getting it done. I’m not going to sit here and list the achievements of my current school but in the last few years it’s transformed, our results have rocketed and I genuinely believe a large part of that is down to reflective, inward looking conversations about how we want to teach. Do it, take that step. Be Simon Cowell … so to speak.
P.s for more information do feel free to contact me and I’ll pass you on to far more knowledgeable people.