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Own Learning

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I love teaching. I really do. However, like many other teachers I yearn for other experiences and opportunities as well. I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have had a few interesting out-of-classroom experiences, but to be completely honest with you I’m not sure where the next one is going to come from. Over the past few years there have been a number of potential opportunities but for one reason or another none of them have actually come off or been quite right.

So, in the spirit of New Year resolutions, my plan for 2015 is to see if I can create my own opportunities. Can I generate work outside of my classroom, not to make enormous profits, but to allow me to be able to reduce my teaching commitment and yet still support my family? It’s an interesting question and I suppose I have to ask myself what do I have to offer? I’ve come up with a number of things…

  • I feel that I have a deep understanding of the potential for practitioner enquiry in teacher professional learning and am able to facilitate others in the process. I’ve already run collaborative enquiries and supported individuals through the enquiry process in my own school and now I’m beginning to support teachers from outwith my school through enquiries, which I could build upon further with others. I could therefore lead enquiries in other schools, support schools to develop their own enquiry programmes and even branch this out to wider support for schools’ professional learning programmes.
  • I have a real passion for the development of pedagogy, particularly in the areas of involving young people in the learning process and the meaningful integration of technology into learning. I could support school leaders and their staff to develop aspects of pedagogy and the use of technology in a number of ways ranging from consulting, to speaking or even coming in and working directly with groups of staff.
  • I could also do a huge variety of other pieces of work such as organising educational events or consulting on policy or projects for organisations working in the education sector.

In order to dip my toe in the water and see if anyone is willing to actually pay me for any of these services I’m taking the step of setting myself up as a sole trader. You can find out more on my new website: ownlearning.co.uk

To begin with, any work would be in addition to my full time teaching role, however if it works I’d be hoping to be able to adjust this in the future.

So, does any of this appeal to you or your school’s leadership team? If so, please get in touch. I’ve come up with some rates but obviously these will be negotiable while I’m setting up in return for feedback and references.

Happy New Year!


The Creative Profession

I love this video from The RSA. The idea that teaching is a creative profession dawned on me a few years ago, and this idea I think has influenced many of the decisions I’ve made since. In actual fact, I think it has come to dominate what my job now looks like…and I hope that it can inform the direction my career will take in the future.

The ironic thing is that I left school ‘knowing’ that I was not creative. Creativity to me then was interwound with ‘the arts’. My art lessons had taught me I was rubbish at art. My music lessons had taught me I was rubbish at music. My english lessons had taught me that I was rubbish at creative writing. This is despite me leaving primary school thinking I was good at all these things and, crucially, enjoying them.

Becoming, and more importably being, a teacher has gradually convinced me that I am indeed creative – as everyone is! If creativity is

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness,

then we do this every time we sit down to plan a lesson, or write a course, surely? And yet, if we were asked to describe a creative profession, I wonder how long it would take us to include ourselves in this list? I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but this is actually the reason why I’ve stopped wearing a tie to work. If you ever visit a ‘creative’ workplace, no one wears a tie. Wearing a tie makes me feel distinctly uncreative, and so one day I decided not to wear one anymore. I know this is only a tiny thing, but it helps me.

Creativity underscores more aspects of my professional life than just what I wear however. In fact, I would argue that the things I’m most passionate about as an educator all relate to creativity…

  • I believe that my passion for developing approaches to involving learners in the learning process is a truly creative pedagogy. Not only in the sense that it changes the way I approach introducing a topic with a class, but it then changes the entire dynamic of the topic which follows. The learning becomes much more of a collaborative enterprise with the students become co-creators of the topic.
  • In my opinion, professional enquiry is a powerfully creative process. This is an actual mechanism by with teachers can work together to achieve what is envisioned in the second half of the video above. Enquiry, when done well, is a process which supports teachers to create and evaluate their own pedagogies…that’s why I love it so much.
  • I also think that the real power of technology lies in creating new ways of working, and new ways of learning. There is a tendency to introduce technologies in the classroom in such a way as to replicate what currently happens – but just move these practices online. There can be some, mainly financial, benefits to such an approach – but for me it fails to fully realise the real potential of technology to change the way we learn and teach.
  • Technology of course also has the potential to revolutionise the way we learn from each other as a profession. The creation of Pedagoo in all its various forms is obviously also a highly creative event which continues to this day.

Thinking of myself as a creative professional has therefore really revolutionised my career thus far…that’s why I’m beginning to wonder if I could somehow find a way of using my passion and experience to the benefit of others, and also somehow make this sharing with others a bigger part of my working week? It’s very early days, but I’ve mocked up a little webpage to try to see what this might look like: ownlearning.co.uk

So, what’s stopping me (as mentioned in a previous post!)…what I’m wondering is, would others value my experience enough to actually pay for my time to allow me to work with them and share it with them? My fear is that there wouldn’t be enough of a demand, however watching the video above makes me think that my experience as a creative professional could be highly valuable to others…?

I’m not really expecting anyone to answer this question here…it’s not really possible for any one person to anyway…but I would welcome your thoughts if you happen have any.


The Pedagoo Programme

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I’ve just returned from a fantastic week at Columba 1400 with a group from my school. If you’re not familiar with Columba, they run a week long leadership programme at their beautiful centre on the Isle of Skye. You can find out more about what they do on their website.

We were there as a group of fourteen twelve to fourteen year olds and two teachers with an aim to come back and develop our school’s culture of respect and quality relationships. It really was an excellent week and I learned so much about my fellow participants and myself. I’m really looking forward to seeing where we take our experience when we return to school next week.

I could write much much more about my Columba experience, but I’ve done most of that in another format – the written journal you keep while you’re on the programme. The purpose of this post is more to consider an idea which came up during the week which I just can’t shake.

During one of the sessions I said something which has become a bit of stock phrase I come out with now and again. This is that if I were to win the lottery, I would love to create a charitable organisation called The Pedagoo Foundation. I raised this because I’ve always imagined that this Pedagoo Foundation could build a facility not dissimilar to Columba’s which would provide a space where we as teachers could run different sorts of professional learning and leadership programmes for our fellow teachers. It’s funny how much time we spend imagining how our lives would be if only we’d win the lottery. My wife has actually persuaded me to stop playing the lottery recently as she believes that it stops you creating your own dreams…this related closely to the response I received from a member of the Columba team when I shared this idea…

“what’s stopping you?”

I didn’t say anything at the time, but that question niggled me the rest of the week. Could we try this? We couldn’t do it the way I’d do it in my lottery dreams, but maybe we could do it another way? Perhaps we could try to get use of Columba’s facilities at a discounted rate and run a pilot version of the Pedagoo Programme at their centre…perhaps even with their support? Or perhaps we could develop the programme in a way that it could be run in a variety of different locations? Outdoor centres such as Firbush Field Centre leap to mind as a possibility?

One of the difficulties would be trying to find a funder to support this. Funders are willing to support programmes for young people, but my feeling is that teachers would be harder to find funding for. However, I would argue that the impact teachers can have on a school would be much longer lasting. I’m not arguing against programmes for young people, these are obviously crucial, but I’d argue that there is a case to be made for funding programmes for teachers also due to the potential sustainable effects for a large number of young people back in their schools over decades. At the very least, it’s worth trying.

What would a Pedagoo Programme do? I think we could be inspired by the sorts of values based approaches Columba have developed but with a focus on our own values. These could include…

  • Learning
  • Positivity
  • Growth
  • Sharing
  • Community
  • Creativity

That’s just an initial list I tried to come up with last week…obviously if we were to go for such a thing we’d need a team to get together to develop and deliver the pilot week-long progamme.

When approaching potential funders we could…

  • Ask for funding for the facilities, accommodation, catering, transport, admin and cover.
  • Ask for everything except cover and run it during holidays. Would teachers give up their holidays if everything else was free?
  • Ask for just the facilities & accommodation. Would teachers be willing to contribute themselves, or ask their schools to?

Obviously this is just the very beginnings of an idea…however I really think there’s something in it. Using the web and our one-day events to grow our community has been amazing so far, however I really think we could take what we have grown and push it further to help ourselves and others to be the best we can be for the benefit of our young people. Before proceeding any further however, I would very much welcome your thoughts.


Reflecting on Involving Learners

I recently mentioned the powerful questions which my S1 class came up with when I involved them in planning our first topic together. Well, I’m pleased to report that we’ve recently finished this topic with a high degree of engagement and learning, from my perspective at least. However, an outstanding question for me was what did they think of being involved in planning the learning? There’s an obvious tension in my pedagogical approach here in that I’m trying to involve them in the planning process, but without first asking them if they want to! I’m comfortable with that tension as I believe that as a teacher I have a role in leading the learning still…however, although I had no real intention of stopping this approach, I did need to find out what their perceptions of it are in order to review, adapt and improve it.

It just so happened that the night before I was planning on asking their thoughts on our learning in the first topic that I was reading this paper in preparation for the Edinburgh Uni professional enquiry masters module I’m involved in delivering. The paper shares an approach to supporting learners to share their thinking by using thought and speech bubbles – I reckoned this would be perfect for my purposes and so gave it a go the following morning!

The class completed various thought and speech bubbles in pairs for the stages in our learning process so far, including being involved in the planning process. You can see the full document I asked them to complete by clicking on the image below.

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Their responses were fascinating. I’ve included the raw thought and speech responses for the planning stage in the table below.

Write the things you were thinking here… Write the things you were saying here…
“i was thinking i hope i will learn a lot”
“i was thinking i think this is going to be fun!”
i had lots of different question to contribute when we were writing them on the post it notes.
i had lots of different ideas and questions that i wanted to find out while doing the topic.
I was thinking about all the questions we were writing and how we were going to learn them.
I thought the planning of the topic was a bit boring because it took over 3 lessons to have a planned topic.
i was wondering what topic we were going to do.
i was wondering if this was going to be fun.
This planning just plain boring can’t we just do it.
i was thinking i barely know anything about biodiversity or the other things the teacher was talking about.
i was thinking what a wierd name for a topic
If it was going to be a hard topic.
What will be the name of our topic and what will it be about? this class is funny!
i wanted to do it on volcanos
What if I don’t know anything about anyone of the topics.
i was saying “i dont know a lot about this”?????
i was saying “i think i am going to learn a lot!”
i was saying some of the questions i was thinking of to contribute to the topic .
i had lots of different questions but most of the time i didn’t say them in front of the class.
I was saying about how long is the topic. I was saying that the topic contains alot of variety in the tasks we would do. (experiments,writing,reasearch)
what topic are we doing.
what do you do in this topic
wow this is fun.
will it be very hard and will i understand it
i was saying what order to do things in.
Saying ideas for the topic.
lets call our topic the wonderful wizard of life?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!
same as thought
What if you don’t know what the topics were.

There were a few interesting responses here. Firstly, some of them thought that the planning process had taken too long, or was ‘boring’. Also, others clearly felt a bit threatened by the process and so I then asked them the following question in order to stimulate a discussion around the purposes of involving them in the planning process.

photo 1

Obviously, my question was clearly loaded in the positive, but that is because I had no intention of stopping…the purpose was to share the reasons for the approach, which I think we managed.

I also responded to their request to try and complete the process quicker. So, for the next topic I set a homework task which involved a few pictures which were related the learning and asking them to come up with some questions with someone at home to bring to our planning lesson.

The planning lesson then consisted of a series of quite controlled stages which they completed in groups within the hour…

  1. They shared their homework questions with their groups and transferred them to post-it notes.
  2. They then organised their questions with the four experiences and outcomes associated with the topic.
  3. They then devised further questions which they would need to be able to answer in order to have successfully learned each of the four experiences and outcomes.
  4. They then had to decide on the order we should learn the four experiences and outcomes and come up with a title for the topic.

You can see their completed planning sheets in the images below. The yellow post-its are their own homework questions, the green post-its are their added curriculum questions.

They completed this process remarkably effectively in the hour, so they were right – it can be done quicker! We were lacking in time though to discuss the topic as a class and I’ve had to bring their separate plans together on my own without their input, which is not ideal. It was great though for them to have responded to the challenge of completing the process in an hour.

And so, we now begin the process of learning our new topic…I’m not sure what it’s called yet as they haven’t voted yet…but it will be one of the following titles;

  • We are Stardust
  • Everything is Atoms
  • #supercalafragilisticexpiealadoshusubstance
  • #Atoms
  • #supercalafrajalisticexpialiatoms!

Now we’ll see how we get on with our new Chemistry topic…


Demonstrate

At our in-service day today, teachers had opportunities to attend workshop sessions on four of the stages from our school’s learning cycle. I was on demonstrate. I used the prezi above to talk through why I think it’s an important part of the learning process and then got them to come up with the features of a good demonstrate stage and what approaches you can use. You can see their fab ideas at the end of the prezi.

I really do think that providing challenging opportunities for learners to show you, themselves and each other how much and how well they’ve learnt is a crucial element in the formative assessment process and yet this is only a relatively recent realisation for me. I think in the past I too often gave students something which I knew they would be able to do in order to allow us to proceed with the content, rather than stretching them to see if they’d really got it and what they still needed to learn. I suppose this is why I’ve become slightly obsessed with the demonstrate stage and therefore really enjoyed the opportunity to share this obsession this morning! Huge thank you to my fab PL colleagues for tolerating my obsession and contributing so much to the sessions.


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