Why are the joys of teaching not being shouted from the rooftops?

Let me get something out of the way right from the start. I love teaching. I come home most days and genuinely feel like I have made a positive difference to the lives of children within my school. I never dread going to work; I look forward to it. I have been successful and students, for the most part, make good progress in my lessons. I am looking forward to the decades ahead of me within the profession. There is nothing else I would rather do with my life than teach.

I want to begin and end this article by sharing my overwhelming belief that teaching is a joy and that teachers should be shouting this from the rooftops for all and sundry to hear.

Let me get something else out of the way though. Teaching is a really challenging profession. Having to plan and deliver lessons which stretch, support, engage, show clearly checked progress, encourage good behaviour and are rooted within the curriculum or exam specification in itself is not easy. Add to this the fact that teachers have to make hundreds of reflexive decisions every lesson in response to the plethora of unknowns involved with teaching thirty-something individuals – each with their own distinct set of preferences and personalities – and it is easy to understand why teaching is so often highlighted as an incredibly demanding profession.

Yet these challenges are not what the media highlight makes teaching such a tough profession to be in. A quick search of recent news stories related to teaching makes for troubling reading, with two clear themes emerging. 1) Teaching is stressful: ‘‘Epidemic of stress’ blamed for 3,750 teachers on long-term sick leave’,[1] ‘Teaching is ‘one of the most stressful jobs in Britain’’,[2] ‘Job stress is ‘overwhelming’ teachers across the UK’.[3] 2) The workload is unbearable: ‘What’s behind the teacher workload crisis? Assessment, assessment, assessment’,[4] ‘’The level of workload expected of teachers is not improving schools, but it is wrecking lives’’.[5] Although the government is – apparently – trying to address workload concerns through the policy paper ‘Reducing  teacher workload’,[6] there will be no panacea.

The high levels of stress and unsustainable workload which many teachers feel weighing upon them can be explained by the raft of recent pressures and changes to our profession, from the introduction of radically new exam specifications, the results-driven culture of league tables and performance-related pay, to concerns over acadamisation and fear of forced redundancies, to name but a few. It is no surprise, therefore, that the final emerging theme from media coverage of teaching is around retention: ‘Teacher retention: Government ‘failing to get a grip’,[7] with the NEU stating that “There is increasing evidence of a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention just as the number of pupils and the demand for new teachers begins to rise sharply”.[8]

I won’t deny that teaching can be stressful, the workload undeniably a burden and retention a prominent – and growing – concern. All of these issues are, unfortunately, a truth of teaching in 2018. Yet this only tells one side of the life of a teacher, focuses only on those teachers who are, understandably, struggling against these odds. There are many teachers who have found ways to manage these challenges, thriving within this most difficult of times and loving our noblest of professions. These teachers tend, from my experience, to have two things in common: they take responsibility for their professional development and they regularly celebrate the many joys to be found within teaching.

One important thing which teachers can do to cope with the demands of teaching is to show the resilience, motivation and hard work required to get better at it. The better a teacher is within the classroom, the more they can negate some of these stresses and workload issues. For example, students work harder if lessons are engaging, challenging and creative, whilst behaviour is better if consistent routines and boundaries are employed, alongside time spent building positive relationships with students. Progress is faster and more sustained if differentiation supports and stretches all students, working in tandem with assessment which effectively spots misconceptions. The workload becomes more manageable if planning and marking is time-efficient and focused on developing student understanding. In summary, better teachers have less stress associated with poor behaviour or results and reduce their workload through efficient marking, planning and time-management. These teachers, therefore, are surely also more likely to remain in the profession for the long-term.

Yet teachers need to do more than begrudgingly attend mandatory school-led CPD and take responsibility for the quality of their teaching. The first step is to reflect, whether with the guidance of colleagues or individually, in order to find areas of weakness to be developed. This ideally should be ongoing so that a regular cycle of self-reflection develops. The second step is to proactively address these concerns; search for and attend CPD sessions within the local area of further afield, read articles, blogs or buy books to gather evidence-informed strategies (if they aren’t supported by the best available evidence, then they are, quite simply, less likely to make you a better teacher), observe other teachers within and outside their department, have an IRIS observation, engage in professional dialogue with other teachers or complete further studies within the field of education. The final step is to take this knowledge and these ideas and try them out within the classroom to see what works, what might need adapting and what doesn’t work. If more teachers were actively engaged in this reflective cycle of improvement, then I believe that a greater proportion of teachers would be able to positively cope with the demands of our profession.

Finally, I believe that we teachers need to take a step back and recognise the many joys of teaching a bit more often. We all entered this profession because we want to make a positive difference to the lives of future generations and you know what: we do. Sometimes it may be a small difference, or one that we never even know about. Yet not one of us looks back on our own school days without remembering that teacher who ‘got you’ or went that extra mile to help you; that teacher who came along to watch the school football team play a match (even though it was raining); that teacher who inspired you to love biology and set you on the pathway to becoming a doctor. We all have the potential to be that teacher. Isn’t that amazing?

Yet teaching offers further joys. Getting to know hundreds of children and young adults through their formative years, watching them grow academically and as individuals, readying themselves to shape the world; what a privilege it is to share in all of this. There are so many small things, too, which make the job a delight. How about watching the school musical and giving a standing ovation to our talented student body? Or the deep pride that comes from seeing a student improve their understanding and grow in confidence because of the efforts you have made? What about watching a student fall in love with learning because of the inspiration that is you? Or being there on results day when that student who always worked their hardest gets the results they need to go to their first choice university? How about when that student comes up to you and personally thanks you for all that you have done for them? Should we not be focusing on all of these amazing things just a little bit more?

I too get home after a long day (and with another coming tomorrow, and the next), feeling drained and overwhelmed by the workload. I too sometimes wonder why I spend so long planning these lessons as it all goes awry because I forgot that half of the class are on a school trip. I too feel pressured by the results that somehow define how ‘successful’ I am as a teacher and despair that this even matters when I know I give my all every day for each student I teach. Yet these days and these moments are rare and this itself is, it seems, rare. This needs to change and teachers need to take responsibility for aspects within our control – especially our own professional development – to enact this positive change. If we all took small steps towards this end, then perhaps the joys of teaching would be shouted from the rooftops more often. They really should be.

Ben Wright

Co-author of forthcoming book Thrive: In your first three years in teaching, published on 18th May 2018.

References:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/11/epidemic-of-stress-blamed-for-3750-teachers-on-longterm-sick-leave

[2] https://www.tes.com/news/teaching-one-most-stressful-jobs-britain

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41280360

[4] https://www.tes.com/news/whats-behind-teacher-workload-crisis-assessment-assessment-assessment

[5] https://www.tes.com/news/level-workload-expected-teachers-not-improving-schools-it-wrecking-lives

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teachers-workload/reducing-teachers-workload

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42873153

[8] https://www.teachers.org.uk/edufacts/teacher-recruitment-and-retention

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Reflections on our twilight session: cultivating student-teacher relationships

blog post

This term we had the pleasure of leading a twilight session at Durrington Research School. Our focus was ‘cultivating teacher-student relationships which support students academically and socially’. These twilight sessions run regularly at Durrington from 4-5pm, each with a focus on a different aspect of teaching, and are free to attend. At St Paul’s Catholic College the Learning Community Theme for the first half of the year was ‘culture for learning’ with ‘relationships’ being one of the subsections of this, so leading this twilight felt very fitting.

It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement, (Hattie, 2009).

What do these positive student teacher relationships look like? Knowing our students, mutual respect, giving meaningful feedback and simply showing your pleasure and enjoyment of teaching your students in your classroom are ways to cultivate these positive relationships. Engaging in a positive dialogue with your students about your subject, other subjects and topics throughout the school is important (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2011).

At the twilight session we asked teachers to discuss what a positive teacher-student relationship meant to them. Teachers then went on to evaluate these and other strategies they use to build meaningful relationships with their students. The most prevalent, was of course, to genuinely get to know your students. This goes beyond finding out about that one hobby they have; teachers found that to form relationships you need to know more than the fact that ‘little Jimmy likes to play football’. Instead, we realised through the discussion that we should try to find out about their values and aspirations in life. This will much better prepare us as teachers to understand what they need to succeed in our classroom.

The group went on to discuss the value of letting the students get to know us too; after all relationships, by definition, cannot be one sided. But how do we do this and maintain a professional distance? We discussed talking to students about any shared interests that you have, and letting them know that you too are human and exist outside of your classroom. More subtly, we shared that showing students that we too have strong emotions in the classroom can be beneficial. Students notice the way we interact with students and the methods that we use to manage frustrations in the classroom. Often they will model their behaviour on ours, so these implicit signals are crucial in the building of genuine relationships.

Discussion moved on to looking at the four relational styles discussed here by The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching. We asked delegates to place themselves on a blank copy of this diagram, thinking about each class that they have and the style that they want to hold in their classroom.  Though The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching recommends that to maximise gains in learning, we should have high performance relationships, we found that it was not as straightforward as this diagram suggests.

The group discussed the start of the year, and the value of having a more authoritarian relationship at the start of the year. In this case, high pressure would be evidenced by your focus on setting up of the high expectations. If we are talking about forming genuine relationships, we cannot have high levels of empathy at the start of the year and therefore cannot show genuine care. Overall though, we recognised that for most classes, once we have got to know them we want to sit in the high performance relationship style.

 

diagram for blog

 

A few interesting questions were raised about this diagram:

  • What about low ability groups, is a high pressure relationship appropriate? Does that automatically put you into a “friendly relationship”? We didn’t think so, but then where on the diagram do you sit?
  • What does high care look like? We concluded that it meant more than just being warm and empathetic, but also meant wanting them to achieve their best in your classroom?

The session ended with delegates writing an action plan for a class or student that they want to build a high performance relationship with.

Relationships CPD can sometimes be put on a back burner when looking at raising student achievement in schools. However, it is clear a positive student-teacher relationship can have a direct impact on students’ academic achievement as well as their social development (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2011). These positive relationships can also have a lasting impact on a student’s experience of school and their lives beyond school. We all know that a positive student-teacher relationship can sometimes be hard if we are working with a testing student or class that exhausts us. But, as professionals if we are consistently reflecting on our relationships with our students and striving to improve these we can have a considerable impact on our student’s achievements. There certainly seemed to be a sense of hope for regaining the right relationship with each teachers’ chosen target class/ student.

References:

Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Anaylyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge: Oxon.

Rimm-Kaufman, S. and Sandilos, L., 2011. Improving students’ relationships with teachers to provide essential supports for learning. Teacher’s Modules.

The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching (n.d.) What Everyone Needs to Know About High-Performance, Teacher Student Relationship. Available at: http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/crash-course-evidence-based-teaching/teacher-student-relationships/

Secret Student

Secret student is a ‘golden nugget’ I have stolen from a work colleague (Sophie) and started implementing a couple of weeks ago! So far I can say it has been incredibly successful.

Starting at a new school, I have had to build up my reputation as a teacher and set out my high expectations with all the new students I now teach. One of my classes, my current bottom set year 9 class, are challenging. However, the more I have got to know them (and them me!) our relationship is becoming a positive one. This doesn’t always mean they take pride in their class work or work to the best of their ability in every lesson. So when a colleague (also a new teacher to the school) suggested starting secret student, I have never looked back!

What is secret student?

Secret student is where you have an envelope with the names of two students in your class inside. At the end of each lesson you open the envelope and those students whose names have been randomly placed will have an e-mail sent home with a photo of their class work that day. So far it has been a big success.

Students are taking more pride with their work and they are striving to achieve their best. At the end of the lesson there is a positive anticipation of whose names are going to be picked!

Today I had one of the students desperate to tell me at the beginning of the lesson they received an iTunes voucher from their parents over the weekend after I sent an e-mail on Friday.

Not only is this raising the expectations students have of themselves, its building a positive relationship.

I strongly suggest you give it a try and once you have e-mail template, it won’t take up too much time.

Martha

Space to Reflect

All good teachers know the importance of reflecting upon their practice, yet perhaps don’t spend as much time considering how to approach being reflective. The space that the summer holiday affords – time away from the all-encompassing nature of school life – lends itself well to considering this and laying the foundations for developing our teaching practice come September.

Reflecting on our practice is essential if we wish to continually improve and develop our teaching abilities. More than that, though, it offers us a way to make sense of the complexities, uncertainties and challenges that we face when teaching. Some reflections can be quick; we can usually recognise when a task or resource hasn’t really worked and can often think of a step we could take that may remedy its limitations. However, other aspects of our teaching practice may require a deeper level of thought and will often benefit from a critical and creative approach to reflecting. Being reflective is about being self-aware, often developed through reflections which shed light on our personal attributes. It is about small improvements, but can also embody transformative change. It requires the asking of awkward questions, the giving and taking of challenging advice. It is about recognising that we will never be the ‘perfect’ teacher, but must surely strive to be the very best we can be.

There are many ways to develop as a reflective practitioner:

  • Write a ‘teacher diary’. This doesn’t have to be every day, but it is a good habit to get into. Nor does it have to be long; in fact, it is best if short and focused. Perhaps consider one success and one thing that could have been improved (and also how you would improve it) each day.
  • Observe others. Observe other teachers and reflect on how their approach to teaching compares to yours. Have a focus for your observation, but be open-minded too. What great practice did you see that you could try yourself? Don’t assume that what works for someone else will also suit your unique style to teaching, but do be brave and try something if it has inspired you.
  • Be observed. Invite other teachers into your classroom. Have an open-door policy which encourages visits. Always ask for feedback and consider how you will act upon this.
  • Consider using IRIS, which is great for self-reflections (although sharing your lessons with others can also be very powerful) and can often make you aware of aspects of your teaching that you hadn’t previously considered (where do you stand? Who do you speak to (or ignore)? How do you come across to students? How is the pace? What do you do subconsciously?).
  • Ask your students. Give out exit slips at the end of key lessons, perhaps where you have tried something out or had a new focus. Ask for feedback at the end of a module. Keep your questions concise and to the point, without room for ambiguity. Consider using SurveyMonkey; the anonymity it offers can facilitate more honest responses. Consider asking your students to write a postcard to next year’s class (e.g. ask your Year 10s to write a postcard to next year’s Year 10 class) with their reflections on what they have enjoyed, what they struggled with and what advice they would give. Use this to inform your own practice.
  • Take part in a 360 Review. This type of honest feedback from a range of colleagues is both disarming and eye-opening. Ensure the person interviewing understands how to get the most out of the process. Have a professional dialogue with your chosen interviewer about the feedback. Use this feedback and your reflections to create targets.

Once you have received feedback on your teaching and reflected upon it, you will find you have areas you want to focus and work on. Discuss these with other teachers, your line manager or on twitter. Engage in professional dialogues about your practice. Find articles or books to read. Ask for help from those around you. Be prepared to try a number of new approaches or strategies in relation to your reflections; they won’t all be effective, of course. Most importantly, ensure that you are not just reflecting, but then acting upon your reflections to improve your practice.

As another year draws to a close and we have a chance to take stock, I think to a quote from John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” I hope you have a restful and reflective summer.

Ben Wright

BELMAS Conference: Reflections on the implementation of a journal club in schools.

Last week I was lucky enough to have my research paper, which formed part of my Master’s degree, accepted at the annual British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference 2017. Their conference welcomes visitors from over 20 countries and is an opportunity to discuss new ideas, in relation to practice, and network with professionals in the field of education.

Friday’s key note speaker, Tim Goddard from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada,  highlighted  ‘schools are one of the few social influences everyone experiences’. This quote only highlights to me that we must work together to ensure our students are receiving the best possible education so experiences are positive for all. Therefore it is important we are ‘getting it right’ and I am passionate that using evidence as well as our own professional experiences is the best way forward for developing policy and practice.

The paper I presented focuses on journal clubs as a mechanism for bringing evidence based practice into schools. Firstly, I highlighted that there have been calls from the Government for education to move towards and evidence based culture back in 2007, yet many schools are still shying away from research. Policy making is still a concern as many policies are implemented on a whim, or on the back of a recent educational ‘fad’, with little background research being undertaken. There is also a lack of connection between research and practice with many teachers unable to engage with literature. Journals clubs have the ability to bridge this gap by bringing teachers together to discuss and analyse a research paper.

Myself, Emily and Ben set up a journal club in September 2015 in order to engage our colleagues and it has been a success. They are a valuable tool which are used in many professions if used correctly. They must not become just a ‘talking shop’ for professionals but a basis for ideas to be trialled and implemented into practice. However, after presenting my paper there was a number of questions, which has enabled me to further reflect on the success of the journal club.

Questions:

1. You have mentioned in the literature that sometimes teachers are unable to engage with the research because they struggle to understand it, how do you support them with this?

A: We have developed questions which are handed out with each journal which help them to unpick and understand the literature. It also keeps a focus while they are reading it.

2. What do you mean by leadership is needed in order for a journal club to be a success?

A: In my research I highlighted that a journal club needs support from ‘leadership’ but I did not clarify what ‘leadership’ actually was. Upon reflection that leadership needs to be someone within the school with a passion for evidence and research to lead a journal club but there also needs to be a member of the leadership team to support them. Research has highlighted that staff need to have a big enough social capital within a school in order for new ideas to be brought in with little resistance.

3. How do you decide what is ‘good evidence’ as there is a big debate as to what constitutes towards ‘good evidence’?

A: This question was a bit trickier to answer, but I think we have a responsibility to open up the discussion to the members of journal club. With some people coming from a scientific paradigm they may sway with Ben Goldacre and prefer the idea of randomised trials rather than taking the interpretivist approach to research. Whatever teachers decide is ‘good evidence’, teachers need to make an informed decision.

4. How do you make is accessible to those who cannot attend?

A: It is clear there is a need for an area for teachers to have a platform to engage in  the conversation, not just to access the journal article, even if they are unable to attend. This could be in the form of a Twitter platform but I am going to develop this next year to find the best solution. Any ideas that you have, or platforms you use in your school, would be greatly appreciated.

5. How do you stop your members from seeing your journal article as a fad in itself?

A:  As journal club leaders we have identified that we need to develop critical thinkers in our members. This process of development is essential in order for us to decide what research we want to use to inform our practice. As leaders we are currently working together to develop a plan for building critical analysis into our sessions.

In summary, we can see that our journal club has had a positive impact in our school and has closed the gap between research and practice. But we need to carefully consider the above reflections in order to keep improving journal club to have the most impact across school.

If you have an active journal club we would really like to hear from you about your success stories, or please get in contact if you’re thinking about setting one up.

Martha Boyne.

Further reading:

Biesta. G. (2007) ‘Why ‘What Works’ Won’t Work: Evidence Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’. Educational Theory 57:1.

Brookfield. S. (1995) The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important. Becoming a Critically Reflective Practitioner.

Davis, P. (1999) What is Evidence-Based Education? British Journal of Educational Studies. 47:2 pp. 108-121.

Denehy. J. (2004) Starting a Journal Club. The Journal of School Nursing.20:4.

Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education.Department for Education.

Kleinpell. R. (2002) Rediscovering the Value of the Journal Club. Amerincal Journal of Critical Care. 11:5 412-414.

Sidorov.J.  (1995)How Are Internal Medicine Residency Journal Clubs Organized, and What Makes Them Successful?JAMA Internal Medicine. 155:11 1193-1197.

 

Teachers make the worst students: how can we become better at using the research?

On Thursday, we attended the local TeachMeet where we heard some excellent presentations from teachers across local schools. For those that missed it, here is a summary of our presentation on how we can you move ourselves, our departments or and our schools towards a culture of evidence based practice.

Our journey into evidence based practice started when we read this from Ben Goldacre:

“there is a huge prize to be claimed by teachers…. by collecting better evidence about what works best, and establishing a culture where this evidence is used as a matter of routine, we can improve outcomes for children”     Ben Goldacre (2013)

As members of a profession that requires you to have a degree and postgraduate training, it seemed odd that compared to similar professions (for example: medical, nursing and social work), we tend to stop engaging with evidence and research after the training years. When discussing this with colleagues, we found that busy teachers don’t have the time to go hunting for the “good stuff” even though most showed an interest in finding out what the current thinking is.

How do we get evidence into schools and make it easier for our busy teachers?

  • CPD Library – Ask your school to invest in a selection of current literature (books on teaching, magazine subscriptions). The best thing about this idea is that it moves us away from INSET based CPD (where we have 5 or so days of training a year that we never think about again) and embeds use of research into everyday practice.
  • Social Media – Ideas have never been able to spread more quickly but there is an overwhelming amount of material out there. Look for posts with links to literature (peer reviewed or referenced) and look critically at anything that seems to lack any real evidence. Perhaps ask a member of SLT to be responsible for sending round a “blog of the week” or similar to facilitate staff access.
  • Masters Programs – Nothing better gets you reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of evidence than a degree specifically designed to do just that. A Masters can force you to reflect on your practice from an outside, meta-perspective grounded in pedagogy. Some schools offer financial support or some time off for reading (you don’t know if you don’t ask!).
  • Journal Clubs – Something I am incredibly proud to say that we set up in our school. One journal is selected (by us) per half term, and staff members gather to critically discuss it and its application in our context. After a half term of implementing ideas based on our discussions, we get together and reflect on how it all went. A really good way to build a space for those professional pedagogical conversations and to develop critical reflectivity.
  • TeachMeets – Of course, we were talking at a TeachMeet so couldn’t go without mentioning them. Teachers meeting from different departments and different schools sharing teaching ideas that they have researched and implemented. Our top tip here would be to take away a one or two ideas rather than trying to trial everything that you heard otherwise it can get a bit unmanageable.

And then what?

After all of that effort the next steps are really important. We devised the diagram below to highlight the importance of actually trying things out an “having a go” at adapting your practice based on your findings from the literature.

iagram

Most times, things won’t be refined on the first attempt. Reflect upon the reasons for this (which may require going back to the research) and try again, refining your strategy. Once you have – well done but the work isn’t quite done yet. This is the time to where you can show your colleagues, department and school leadership and encourage them to trial the idea too!

So what are you waiting for? 

Martha, Emily and Ben

 

References

  • Boyne, M. and Beadle, H. (2017).  Journal Club: A mechanism for bringing EB practice into school. Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Journal. 9(2), pp. 14-23.
  • Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education. Department for Education
  • Manchikanti, L. (2008) Evidence-Based Medicine, Systematic Reviews, and Guidelines in Interventional Pain Management, Part 1: Introduction and General Considerations. ­Pain Physician 11:161-186
  • Profetto-McGrath. J. (2004). Critical Thinking and Evidence-Based Practice. Journal of Professional Nursing. 10.1016
  • Youngblut. J. M., and Brooten. D. (2001) Evidence-Based Nursing Practice: Why is it Important? AACN Clinical Issues. 12(4):468-76

Twitter can be a dangerous world. Be careful out there…

I think that Twitter is brilliant. I mean, it’s not perfect, but for teachers it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities to share creative, practical ideas, to discuss pedagogy in critical dialogue, to encourage reflection of our own practice and that of others, and to develop networks of like-minded professionals who have the improvement of teaching practice – and therefore student outcomes – at the core of all that they do.

However, Martha and I were at the Teacher Researcher Conference at the University of Sussex on Saturday and, amongst presentations of fascinating research and much lively discussion, one comment caught our attention: many teachers are now formulating their teaching approaches from Twitter and blogs, and this is dangerous due to the unaccountability of what they are reading. This got me thinking about the direction that the delivery of pedagogy is taking and of the hazards, but also clear benefits, of the rise of Twitter and the teaching blogosphere.

I agree that there are some risks to the fact that any teacher, regardless of experience or ability, can proffer advice – often seemingly definitive – to the teaching world at large. Our blog, amongst many of others, does it with regularity (although I hope we show enough humility so as not to appear dogmatic or definitive). As a History teacher, I am acutely aware of the inherent dangers of sources with unreliable provenance and the teaching community at large must show the same discretion. Blogs are, by their very nature, personal opinions which may, or may not, be accurate or rooted in evidence. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many great teaching strategies and ideas haven’t yet been subjected to objective research methods and analysis. Indeed, many simple classroom ideas don’t warrant such detailed research and even the most thoroughly evidenced approaches are subject to scrutiny and conflicting views. Furthermore, I’m sure we have all tried using critically accepted approaches to teaching and found that for our teaching style or with specific classes that they don’t work. However, it is hard to separate the good advice from the bad, especially when there is such an overwhelming range of often conflicting opinions being put forward. So what can we, as individuals and a community, do about this?

I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer, but allow me to share some tentative thoughts. Evidence-based practice is undeniably important – indeed it is the bedrock of our personal approach to teaching – and it would be remiss of any teacher to not consider whether their teaching strategies reflect what has been evidenced to make the most impact. Yet this doesn’t really help us in the world of Twitter, where so many new, creative or challenging ideas are put forward which haven’t yet been subjected to the rigours of research. I don’t think we should avoid reading or trusting personal opinions, or only follow advice that is rooted in research, but that we must be critical of all that we read, whilst also having an open mind. I am aware that this sounds like an oxymoron and perhaps to an extent it is, but it is what we must do to both teach in the ‘best’ possible way, whilst also continuing to learn and develop our practice. We must consider whether we believe the advice we are reading to be accurate, if it matches our own thoughts and experiences, whilst also be willing to have our views challenged. We must consider typicality and whether the idea put forward has been backed up by other sources or goes against the grain, whilst not dismissing alternative views out of hand. We should consider if the advice is evidenced or not. It doesn’t have to be, but we then need to be aware that as an opinion it has its own attached weaknesses, whilst also not in any way necessarily being wrong because of this.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps the frequency and sheer amount of blogs being posted is so overwhelmingly large that there is no panacea. There is, however, one thing that we can all do: be reflective of our own teaching practice. Whilst being willing to listen to and try out a range of strategies and ideas, you must also consider what is working in your classroom and for your students. This is something in your control, negating the provenance of the pedagogical input you receive. If you try something out and, upon reflection, you feel it has improved the progress your students are making, then keep doing it (and keep reflecting upon it). Likewise, if upon reflection the impact has been small or even negative, then don’t feel you have to keep following this approach. Or perhaps consider adapting or tweaking it. Or try it with another class. Classrooms are so diverse, that what works for you may not for someone else, and vice versa. This is what makes teaching such a stimulating and challenging profession to be in. The key is to keep reflecting upon what is or isn’t working for you. This, I believe, is what may make it possible to approach the range of ideas and strategies out there with a degree of confidence.

The world of Twitter is a dangerous one, but approaching its offerings with a degree of care and a reflective mindset should help to keep you safe.

Ben Wright