General thoughts…

So my blogging exploits haven’t  really taken off this year! There are so many reasons why not to be honest: time being the main excuse!!

But I’ve got a spare 20mins so here goes…

This year has taught me loads about the educational system in which I work. I have met some truly inspirational people and worked with some outstanding practitioners. However, I cannot help but feel a sense of frustration when I look back at my year long secondment as a Development Officer. It’s great to see so many colleagues who embrace change and take it upon themselves to go above and beyond the call of duty to constantly engage with research and professional development. Nevertheless, I am always thinking that more can be done to help deliver a quality education to our young learners. I don’t necessarily mean that schools can do more – the staff within our schools are doing a tremendous job at delivering the fantastic educational experiences our children deserve. 

It might sound a bit contradictory but I think that more assistance needs to come from the levels above. And…here comes the controversial bit…I feel this can be achieved by our educational authorities providing less guidance, less instruction, and less poorly thought out policies. More assistance from less guidance?!? What I really mean is that change in our schools shouldn’t always be dictated to us from a top down level but should instead be facilitated from a bottom up approach (I am not promoting an argument for academies before you ask!). Teachers and schools should be given the freedom to develop in a way that suits thee contexts be situations. No school should be forced to adopt policies which do not benefit their pupils. By engaging in professional enquiry practitioners can develop their schools, themselves and professionals and all to the benefit of the pupils!

There are a number of schools operating in this manner but for every school that does this there are probably three time that many who wait for he next guidance document to be produced…which has taken three years to produce and is out of date months after its launch! Let’s pass some ownership on to the schools. I truly believe it will cut teacher workload because schools will develop systems which suit their way of working and will be a lot better informed that a piece of guidance written by someone who hasn’t taught in a school for a number of years!

Yes our authorities need to provide some guidance to ensure that schools are providing a quality educational experience to all of our young leaners. But I wish they would stop providing documents and supporting documents and new models of best practice and contradictory advice. Change should come from professional dialogue and engagement in relevant research and educational theory.

I probably haven’t articulated this argument very well…as I hurriedly type it up on my phone! But is worth a post anyway.

Jamie

Its been a while!

It certainly has been a while since my last post! I seem to have been stupidly busy over the last few weeks (months!) and have really struggled to find the time to write anything. This has been made worse by my dissertation starting to kick off meaning that I now spend every waking minute trying to read about various research theories / philosophies and trying to figure out what philosophical angle I should be using when I really couldn’t care less about whether its an ethnographic study or a study based on grounded theory…YAWN!

Another reason that this Blogging malarkey and I haven’t really fallen in love is because every time I begin to write something it turns out to be a mini (or mega!) rant. I don’t like that and I definitely don’t do it on purpose. If truth be told I think I am, or can be, a fairly critical person. I don’t mean this to be a negative because I think that you can be critical but still in a positive way. I actually consider it one of my strengths. Being critical allows me:

  • Not to become sucked in by other people speaking nonsense. I’m not much of a follower of reputations and titles but of compassionate and respectful individuals.
  • To develop my own professional skills by being brutally honest with myself.
  • To approach my profession with honesty, compassion and little humility – nodding heads and people who agree for the sake of agreeing or agree to avoid offending people can sometimes cause more damage.

However, I can focus too much on the areas which need developing either in myself, others or the educational system as a whole and I ignore some of the highlights and success stories. I wonder how many of us fall into this trap and don’t recognise the rewards which being in the educational sector offer us?

I am absolutely loving my role as a development officer this year and the highlights have been plenty. For instance, on Friday afternoon I had possibly one of the best PE lessons I have every taught. In fact I can’t even say I taught it – in reality I gave the children a few short instructions and then handed the responsibility for the lesson over to the children. My only input was some questionable choices of music!

When working with a class which is not your own it can be difficult to let go of the lesson and transfer the responsibility for learning to the children. It relies on a solid relationship of respect and trust. However, after only two lesson with this P5-7 class we managed it. I will attribute a great deal of that to the wonderful responsibility + leadership qualities of the children…a little bit of it was down to the ‘Better Movers and Thinkers’ approach adopted during the lesson…and I think my choice of music had something to do with an enjoyable atmosphere. The children might disagree on that last point!

If I have taken anything away from this year is that the quality of learning sky rockets the moment we capture the essence of children taking ownership. Children taking ownership over their learning is a bit of an over used phrase at the moment and something which is all to often undertaken in schools via very contrived methods  (sorry I am being critical again). However, if it is an ethos which exists throughout a school community then it can do wonders for a child’s cognitive and personal development. This is only my opinion but from what I have seen this year on the odd occasion where I have truly nailed it and achieved that full transfer of responsibility  (I always strive towards it but often it is only a partial transfer) then the learning experiences of the children are so enriching and rewarding I cannot see how we can improve on that.

I’ll try not leave it so long next time. I appreciate this is probably me just making a promise to myself as opposed to reassuring my many many fans out there that another post will be coming soon.

Jamie.

A bit of a rant…

Well it’s been a while since the last blog post. Still not completely convinced by the whole blogging idea but I’ll keep plugging away at it for the moment if I ever manage to find the time to write some posts.

I had originally intended the blog to be a diary of my time spent as a development officer but to be honest no one is remotely interested in hearing about my day in work. Furthermore, my day to day work is so varied that I wouldn’t even know where to begin! So I thought I would write about pertinent issues surrounding learning and teaching. Obviously everything I write is my opinion and if you agree with it then great and if not then that’s great as well. Opinion and debate is the way forward.

I’ve had a great few months in my role as development officer, it has given me an excellent chance to see education from a different perspective compared to the one I have been used to as a classroom teacher. I have met some truly inspirational people and I cannot help but simply listen and soak in all their knowledge and enthusiasm for the job.

For those of you who don’t know me I am not entirely sure how to describe myself. I am extremely passionate about education and quietly confident in my own ability to have a positive impact to any establishment I am working in. I would perhaps admit to being a tad arrogant (this will probably come across in this post) but I don’t necessarily see this as a negative. I am humble enough to know that there are lots of teachers with greater experience than me. However, I refuse to be inspired by job titles or empty words. I am inspired by so many of those I work with and it isn’t their years of experience, reputation or job title but their enthusiasm, knowledge and confidence that they can affect positive change in education.

What I have learnt in my fairly short teaching career so far is that there are so many who love the sound of their own voice. I prefer to live by the rule that if you can say something in 10 words then do so – don’t use 50 words for the sake of it! Too many speak about educational change without doing anything about it or attack those who do not share the same opinion as them. There are so many long winded opinions given by those who have not engaged in academic research or CPD/CLPL and unfortunately these people can overshadow those with genuinely relevant opinions based on sound research and knowledge.

I have been exceptionally impressed at the genuine desire of most of the practitioners I have had the pleasure of working with so far to develop their own practice and develop the curriculum offered by their establishments. This is not meant as a patronising compliment from an inexperienced teacher who believes he has all the answers – I have never laid claim to having this ability. But it is a genuine compliment for a collection of individuals who are not very good at shouting about how awesome they actually are! But when you look at the conditions we all have to work under it is exceptionally difficult to create meaningful and sustainable change. Unfortunately, politics is really creeping into Scottish Education – perhaps this has always been the case and I have been ignorant to it but having politicians telling me what I should be doing doesn’t sit well with me.

I have been present at a few events over the past year where some fairly prominent politicians have spoken about education – I have genuinely been lost for words. Political rhetoric and words for the sake of speaking words. I’ll give you some examples:

  • “Curriculum for Excellence has been a success” – ok maybe but how have you measured that? And can you call it a success when it has been in effect now for over 10 years and many are still struggling to come to terms with it.
  • “We need to reduce the attainment gap” – I don’t think anyone would disagree but how? We know this and we don’t need reminding. Come back to us if you wish to contribute any progressive thoughts.
  • “Standardised testing will not replace professional judgment but will support it” – My opinion on this could fill an entire blog (which I might write about later). To those who believe this and think that this justifies standardised testing I have one this to say to you – BOLT! Not very eloquent but it’s the politest way to put it plus my gran might read this so better keep it clean!

With the political hand steering our education and the way our educational facilities operate it is difficult to change and improve the education we offer to our children and young adults. A relatively prominent individual within Scottish education said they only way to change something is through stealth. I do agree with this to some degree but what a flipping depressing way (still keeping it clean gran!) to view your role as an educator. There seems to be a disjointed approach to educational change and policy – those at the top don’t seem to be connecting with those in the classroom. There isn’t a strong link between theory, research, policy and practice – we need to transform this by forming closer links to decision makers. I did voice this opinion to a fellow professional at an event who seemed to take exception to this and challenged me to get promoted and do it myself and questioned my contribution to Scottish education. I thought it was a tad harsh but he still didn’t disagree with my premise – but he seemed to think that I should just do it all myself. Not an overly helpful opinion – I don’t think he had a growth mindset!

This post is a bit of a rant – I haven’t gone into detail on any particular issue as I’ll probably save this for future posts. I do not claim to be an eloquent writer (especially as I am writing this whist watching Match of the Day) but if it gets someone thinking about education then great. And if it doesn’t inspire any meaningful thoughts then at least my missus will be delighted that I can rant by writing it down and not moan to her about this stuff. As I mentioned earlier in the post I don’t agree with those who offer problems and no solutions, so here are my solutions:

  • Reducing the attainment gap – there has to be a greater emphasis placed on pre-school interventions. There is already an attainment gap between children from the least deprived and most deprived areas before school age so let’s tackle it early. All standardised testing will do is produce statistics which can be presented in such a fashion to show a reduction in this gap – perhaps before an election? Maybe that’s me just being cynical…
  • Closer links between decision makers and class teachers – this is difficult because I feel this problem runs quite deep within the make-up of education. But would Local Authority working parties be worthwhile? Maybe not. But if every Local Authority had a working party which included Heads of Education, Head Teachers, class teachers and classroom assistants to discuss local issues it would at least promote dialogue at all levels. This would only work if there was a direct line of communication to political decision makers. Perhaps this is a naïve suggestion which would never work but it could be a start.
  • Access to academic research – Local Authorities need to have closer links to Universities to assist practitioners to access academic research. For professionals who are not currently studying for professional qualifications but are still interested in up to date research it can be very difficult to access. Employers need to make this easier – this cannot be too difficult. Professors are always sending their students links to academic papers. How difficult would this be to share on to GLOW for all to access? I am sure there might be copyright issues or something equally trivial but surly such problems can be overcome.

For those of you who have taken the time to read, thank you very much! Please feel free to comment or share on twitter and the like. If there are any issues you want me to discuss then please just ask. I think I’ll talk about standardised testing next – sure to be a goodie! Muchos apologies for typos or poor writing, as mentioned it was a good week for Match of the Day!

Head’s burst

There’s not really much in this post to be honest. Things are starting to kick off over the next few weeks however so more interesting posts will follow…promise! This is just a wee update on my new role so far.

Well my first two weeks as a PEPAS (Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport) development officer has been a whirlwind! Not really sure where to start to be honest, these last two weeks have been a mix of everything with the one exception of actually teaching a class. However I am hoping this will change in the next few weeks.

Lots of people have said that this year spent doing development work will be the best CPD I could do and without doubt I can see that already! Even in this short space of time I have been fortunate enough to visit quite a few primary schools and experience the awesome work going on. The amount of work that class teachers are putting in is genuinely unbelievable – this brings up a whole host of issues which I’ll share opinions on in a later post. Teachers are being placed under enormous pressure to plan, track and assess to the Nth degree. I only hope that I can offer advice and support to perhaps lighten the workload to some degree…not sure I’ve managed to achieve this though!!

I have even visited a local secondary school to see how their PE department operates. What a learner curve that was! As my background is in Primary it was great to see the other side of the coin. I certainly learnt a great deal from this experience but what I have really taken is a piece of advice for secondary PE teachers…speak with your primary schools and start forming links.

There is loads of exciting stuff on-going which I’ll write about over the next few weeks. Today I have organised to visit one of our Primary schools in October for their Health Week – a whole day teaching PE to all children from nursery to P7 with a real focus on BMT! Genuinely so excited! Also, working with a couple of our smaller primaries to develop their PE curriculum which is another challenge I am looking forward to. I hope to get more experience with the secondary schools as I do feel I can help with their Broad General Education programme. There is a whole lot more going on but I’ll save that for another time.

I cannot believe how much I have learnt already in a short space of time! I could not ask for a better team to work with, not just my PEPAS buddies but all of the other Development Officers and other colleagues I have met have been so supportive and the knowledge that they have is incredible! Over the next few weeks I’ll post up some of the experiences I have gained on my travels. To finish this post I have some very quick pieces of advice for class teachers who perhaps don’t have the same confidence in the gym hall as they do in the class room:

  1. Use the same wonderful teaching approaches in the gym hall as you use in the classroom: encourage partnership, communication, questioning and dialogue.
  2. Get the children thinking: anyone can get a class full of children moving! It is physical education, they must be challenged both physically and cognitively.
  3. Ask colleagues for advice on activities and lesson structure.

Don’t go over the top with your planning. Group the E&O’s together and allow your lesson to be fluid to be responsive to the children.

Process Vs Product

Last week I spent two days up in Stirling for the ‘Better Movers and Thinkers’ (BMT: see last blog article for more info) introductory training as part of the Education Scotland staff tutor group. It was an awesome course spent in the company of like-minded folk who had given up two days of their summer holidays to develop their professional knowledge and skills.

After the last seminar of the first day we headed to the bar for some much needed refreshment. After a couple of lemonades we got to chatting and debating the Process Vs Product argument which is an integral part of the BMT philosophy. I think all agreed that the teaching process is extremely important but some placed a higher value on the product than others did.

Nailing my colours firmly to the mast I am a believer that the learning process is the most importance facet of education no matter what level. This doesn’t detract from how important an end product is but borrowing some words from a fellow BMT staff tutor…surely if we get the process right the product will follow? The logic seems simple, however I can see how in the real world of teaching this logic can become clouded.

At teacher training (something I may write about in the future) we are reminded how important the learning process is…but also how accountable we are as teachers and EVERYTHING we do has to be justified with evidence. That’s all well and good at university where as trainee teachers we have little in the way of real responsibility and can live in our own little student bubble. But then we move on to our probationary year where for the first few weeks (months?) I would suggest most of us are like a deer caught in the headlights…surely it can’t just have been me?! Suddenly we have entered a world where the product is given much more of an onus than had ever been discussed at university…welcome to the real world eh?

There is a real struggle, in my opinion, between teaching for understanding and teaching for results. Of course I would expect any professional to place understanding ahead of results but is that the reality of the situation? Until we find a way of measuring the quality of schools which does not rely on test results then this struggle will continue. Schools should be held accountable without doubt. We have an excellent education system in Scotland filled with wonderful teachers, many of whom suffer from a very Scottish trait which is the inability to shout about how awesome they really are! Nonetheless, until we can measure school performances on something other than exam results, test scores, levels attained etc then we will be forever fighting to place process before product.

I would like to highlight one example which I think goes someway in highlighting the difference between process vs product…the ‘learning intention’. You may call it the ‘learning objective’ or have some lovely abbreviation such as WALT (We Are Learning To). It is essentially a short succinct statement of what you expect those in your class to learn during that lesson or day. I shall call them ‘learning intentions’ as it’s what I am used to. Now ‘learning intentions’ are useful, if used correctly to promote a focussed dialogue between teacher and learner. I do not feel they should be plastered all over the classroom in every corner where a child’s wandering eye may stumble upon.

“Posting a learning target before a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it’s opened. Post a question. Bring curiosity and thinking back to the classroom.” (Anon)

I like the quote above, it is one of many that adorn the walls of my classroom. I am not saying we copy this example in every single lesson but there are times where it would be useful to pose a question rather than telling children what it is they are supposed to learn. <Rant Alert> What is the point in spending time writing learning intentions up on the board, and probably group task boards as well if you’re anything like me, as well as orally recounting them to the children in case they can’t quite read the three of four copies you’ve placed around the classroom, to then have the children copy it verbatim into their jotters just for good measure. Then at the end of the lesson asking the question: “So what did you learn today?” Only for the child to answer the question by re-reading off the board (or task board, or jotter) exactly what you told them they were supposed to learn. This to then be repeated 20-30 times a week depending on the number of lessons taught! <Rant over…sorry>

I feel in the above example we ignore the learning process and place too much emphasis on product. Assumptions have been made that if children can regurgitate, in curriculum friendly language, what it is they have supposedly learnt to others then they have been successful in their learning. Rubbish! As educators should we not be equipping children will the inquisitive skills needed for lifelong learning? I do not think we can do this with strategies, such as posting ‘learning intentions’, utilised with little or no thought. In one lesson the learning may be completely different for every child. A child may have picked up upon something which you as a teacher hadn’t intended so why should we limit their learning experiences to our own rigid ‘learning intention’? Dialogue and questioning should be used to promote critical thinking, independent thought, confidence and a genuine love for learning. Of course the utilisation of ‘learning intentions’ can support this but only if used correctly.

I am not naïve to the fact that there is an overwhelming pressure to produce results (an end product) but for who does that serve? Let’s focus on getting the process right then the desirable product will follow. I just feel we are too concerned with the destination children should reach rather than the journey they are on – rubbish analogy I know but you get the point.

Wow…this blog post has turned out much longer than anticipated. However, it is a topic which has been on my mind for a while and our “lemonade” fuelled discussion earlier in the week had spurred the desire to write about it. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions. Even if you agree or disagree then leave a comment, it would be great to hear other thoughts. Obviously all opinions shared in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers.

Better Moving = Better Thinking

Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT) is an exciting and challenging new programme developed by Education Scotland to increase the quality of Physical Education (PE) being delivered in Scottish schools. The subject of PE has become more and more marginalised over the years with questions over its academic importance being raised. However, unlike most other subject areas PE has the ability to provide children with the skills essential to all learning experiences. PE should be at the forefront of our educational offering, not as an after -thought which it often is.

The Scottish Government is aware that a secure sense of mental, social, emotional and physical well-being is an essential pre-condition for successful learning. The role of PE in developing these skills should not be underestimated. Education Scotland has produced a document highlighting the skills which should be taught during PE lessons: the Significant Aspects of Learning (SAoL). The skills highlighted in this document have come from the realisation that PE is not an opportunity to teach specific sport related skills but in fact should be where skills to develop learning are taught. However, for a practitioner who is either a non-PE specialist or who lacks confidence in their delivery of PE lessons, the SAoL can be challenging to teach. BMT has been observed to be an effective and efficient way of circumventing this barrier.

The BMT philosophy centres on giving the children the responsibility over their learning, ensuring this through a number of strategies:

  • High physical intensity and cognitive processing throughout.
  • Teaching instructions are given once.
  • The teacher takes a backwards step to allow children to develop creativity and experience success and failure.
  • Sport specific technique is never mentioned (until elite level).

By adhering to the BMT philosophy, a child’s Executive Function (EF) skills are engaged through their PE lesson. EF refers to the skills necessary for purposeful, goal directed cognitive behaviour, such as focus of attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibition control. Classroom behaviour, emotional self-regulation and school readiness and success are all attributed to secure development of EF skills. Children requiring additional support needs (ASN) generally have deficiencies in their EF capabilities causing anxiety, stress, and a lack of self-esteem and low confidence levels. Regular and sustained engagement of the EF skills, through movement, can stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain – the area responsible for EF control. More specifically EF engagement directly correlates to the development of learning and social skills. Inhibition control, something children with Autism, ADD and ADHD can find challenging, is directly related to focus of attention, reading comprehension, emotional regulation and social competence. Children who cannot manage their emotions are less likely to accept constructive criticism and can react negatively to losing in competitive situations. Additionally, as school work becomes more challenging, children with weak EF skills will fall behind, leading to feelings of stress and anxiousness. They can feel overloaded and overwhelmed very quickly: all of this accumulates to a child’s lack of self-esteem and confidence.

Throughout my own expereince I have found that BMT, fostering a belief that children should take ownership of their learning, provided an excellent platform for the children to develop their capacity for resilience by allowing them to experience a sense of failure and achievement. It was apparent that for those children who have previously been excluded from traditional PE lessons, this was an enormous confidence boost for them and this sense of increased self-esteem carried into the classroom. The children were more willing to become creative in their classroom work and run the risk of making mistakes, thus leading to improved learning. This was not something that happened overnight but quality learning does not happen overnight. Learning is a messy business and children should be given time to develop their skills.

BMT is a tool to use to deliver quality PE: it is one of many tools but a particularly useful one. It places enormous value in high physical intensity coupled with the engagement of cognitive processes. As a by-product of quality moving and thinking the EF skills are constantly being developed which can have wonderful benefits to all children, especially those requiring additional support. No other subject can boast this effect. Ask yourself whether the children in your class are receiving a quality PE experience: are they being challenged to move and think or do they just move? We must provide children with a Physical Education experience not simply physical activity. Physical activity is moving: a vitally importance facet of a healthy lifestyle but something which could be achieved by hoovering the living room. It is our duty to provide primary children with two hours of quality PE a week (two periods for secondary pupils). Would we accept children not thinking in a maths or literacy lesson? Of course not, so why is it acceptable to allow it during PE?

Just a little intro

I have been thinking about keeping a blog for a while now but I have always found an excuse not to start writing. Excuses ranged from having a lack of time to having no idea how to actually go about creating a blog! Then there’s always the thought of spending time writing posts for no one to read them or give a hoot what your opinions might be…that’s something I’ve got over though. I genuinely hope people do follow and read this blog and that at least some of what I write might resonate with some people.

I have been teaching for three years after studying my PGDE at The University of Strathclyde in 2011/12. It is a profession I genuinely love being a part of. I have worked with some fabulous people and wonderful practitioners during my short career to date. For the last two years I have been teaching a Primary 4 class but this year coming proves to be a little different. I will be working with the council as a Curriculum Support Officer / Development Officer / whatever other title you wish to give. My remit will be to work alongside a colleague to develop the Primary PE curriculum throughout the local authority, a challenge I am looking forward to.

This blog will include some of the experiences during my year as a development officer. Working in various schools and with lots of different teachers and children will be a great learning experience for myself and if I can reflect upon and share those experiences maybe others will be able to take lessons from my mistakes / successes. I am hopeful that once I get to grips with this blogging malarkey I can start adding in other posts. I would like to write about my experiences with the ‘Better Movers and Thinkers’ project (I will go into more detail on this in another post), my final year Masters experience (this will probably involve me ranting and stressing about writing my dissertation! !) and on various topical issues such as assessment, bureaucracy, teacher training etc etc etc.

Anyway that’s all from me today. I just wanted to write a short post to explain a little about what this blog will be about. Later on this week I’ll write a post detailing my experiences with the BMT project which has been a massive influence on my career over the last two years.

My first post

Hello blogging world!

I have decided to keep a blog about my experiences of teaching in Scottish primary schools. This next year is set to be a busy one with me taking up a new seconded post as a primary PE development officer which I am thoroughly looking forward to. Furthermore, it is the final year of my part-time masters course, which only means one thing…dissertation!

My blog will contain a mix of personal experiences and perhaps some posts on issues which I feel important enough to be shared and discussed. All opinions shared within this blog are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my employers.

For anyone reading my posts I hope you find them informative, useful and interesting. Please leave comments and share your own opinions.

Thanks

Jamie