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

Routines: Why I’m so set in my ways.

 

I am well aware I have particular routines which I stick to religiously both at work and at home. However, I have come to find my obsession with routines has had a positive impact in my classroom and is something I now see as an important part of my behaviour management toolbox.

Why I like routines

Routines mean nothing is left to the unexpected.  Students like to know exactly what to expect and how things will be done For example, what do students do when they enter your classroom? Where do they put their bags? What equipment do they need? Where do they sit? What do they do upon entry, do they write the date and title? Or is there an exam question for them? These are all questions students have to deal with when entering each teacher’s classroom. The anticipation of the unexpected can be tiresome for students and when most secondary school students often have more than ten teachers, can become rather exhausting. With a fixed routine I have found my students know exactly what to do as they enter my classroom. Clear entry routines means my classroom is ordered, calm, quiet and students quickly get on with the task at hand. I have found I can take the register quickly, speak to individual students, who owe homework for example, and generally get the lesson started quicker than if there was no routine in place.

Routines set high standards for all students. For something to be a routine is has to be elicited in every lesson. Allowing some students to come in one lesson, have a chat or sit in another seat as a one-off will only lead to poor behaviour and lower standards. Routines are an example of proactive management, organising the classroom and learners to enable a productive learning environment. Having a high learning standards promotes a positive and successful culture for learning.

Time saving! Firstly, it saves me time from battling with students. They know exactly what to expect from me, they know what learning looks like in my classroom and therefore what is expected of them behaviour wise. I spend less time engaging in conversations about small behaviour issues and more time teaching. As teachers we have 101 things to think about, I often refer to it as having 15 tabs open on a web browser. By having a clear routine I spend more time thinking about other parts of my lesson rather than the small issues of getting the students quiet and ready to work.

Student Example

An example of where my routines have had a clear impact was when I was given a present from a student. This lovely student happens to be obsessed with Lego and we have had many conversations about Lego this past year, I have learnt a lot! I was handed a female Lego robot, apparently she had to find me the right character which represented me. When I asked why I was a robot, her response was ‘you say the same thing when I come into your classroom, underline your date and title, you’re a robot!’ I have taken this as a positive as she can often be seen a poorly behaved student in school, but for me, every page in her book the date and title is underlined and she has even taken it upon herself to hand out rulers to those students who need them at the beginning of the lesson!

image1 (2)
The Female Robot

 

 

 
Martha Boyne

 

References:

Henley. M., (2010) Classroom Management: A Proactive Approach. 2nd Edition. Pearson.

What about our language? How we can use words to give our classrooms the nudge.

In teaching, we have all been talking about Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset. The education endowment foundation found that students received training on growth mindset made an extra two months progress compared to control groups in English and Maths lessons.  Many schools are trying in helping students develop from a fixed to a growth mindset through simple changes to the language they use. In our school we have been doing this through displays, assemblies and during deliberate one to one interaction with students. Some examples of the language we’ve tried to get students to use are below:

Mindset

But what about our language?

This week I have been thinking about student engagement in our classrooms. While observing some lessons I picked up on the subtle effect of the teachers’ language choice of words on students’ engagement with the task at hand. I was surprised by how much of an emotional impact I felt as a result of the words spoken by the class teacher, particularly when they seemed more in line with the fixed mind-set examples above. To give you an idea of what I am talking about:

Teacher A: “What I am going to get you to do now is…”

The problem with this one is that we are suggesting the activity is going to be onerous before they even get started. As a result of this instruction, I saw students become more apathetic, and even I found that I wasn’t too interested in getting involved in the task.

Teacher B: “In case you are interested…”

Again, we are suggesting here that students probably aren’t interested, or even worse that they shouldn’t be!

Using positive language to increase engagement

As teachers, part of our role is encouraging students to see the value in our subjects and in the subject matter we are covering in that particular lesson. I think one of the easiest ways we can start to do this is in careful selection of the language we use. Moving away from the negative and passive language seen above, and instead using positive active language that will help carry students along with us. I have found that I can make students believe that even doing an extended bit of writing is exciting when I introduce it as such.

For example, this Friday afternoon I was teaching concentration calculations to a Year 10 group that are yet to realise how amazing science is and sometimes (dare I admit it) lack engagement. Through deliberate selection of the language I used to introduce tasks I managed to have every student in the room complete at least 10 calculations quite happily.

This idea is supported by “Nudge Theory” which is discussed by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their (non-teaching) book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”. The theory goes that indirect suggestion and positive reinforcing can help us achieve non-forced compliance.

I thought about the language the teachers above had used and how they could have changed it (see below). These small changes in our behaviour will help to nudge students towards making the right choices and increase their willingness to engage with us and our subjects.
Nudge

So, next time you are finding engagement waning in your classroom, think about the language you use to deliver your instructions. Changing teacher habits like this does take deliberate practice, so maybe try to come up with a few phrases you can rely on and see if you can’t give your class the nudge!

Emily Clements

References:

Changing Mindsets, a project by the education endowment foundation (2015).

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2009)

Nudge Theory, find out more on Wikipedia

How can you add value to your teaching? Connect with your students.

Whenever I have the privilege of observing another teacher’s lesson, the thing that strikes me first is always the relationship that the teacher has with their students. You can sense this through the emanating atmosphere when you enter the classroom; sometimes uneasy, tense, staid or – dare I say it – rebellious, at others focused and respectful, full of positive energy, motivation and application. There are manifest reasons for why this may be the case, some a result of the teacher or lesson, others the particular topic, room or time of day. Yet the most positive atmospheres have a common thread running through them: excellent teacher-student relationships.

The importance of teachers building positive connections with students has been highlighted in recent and seminal studies. These suggest that students are more motivated when teachers take a genuine interest in them (Ferlazzo, 2015) and create inclusive classroom conditions (Ryan and Deci, 2000). The damaging impact of not building these relationships has also been stressed (Ginsberg, 2015). My own small-scale research for my MA in Education also highlighted the importance of positive teacher-student connections. Across interviews with a number of my students, ‘getting to know students as individuals’ was the most frequently coded reason given for the development of motivation-encouraging relationships.

Why is fostering these positive individual relationships with students so important? Well, apart from the pleasure that comes from getting to know another human being at more than a surface level, they have a positive impact on the quality of learning that occurs. Having these positive connections won’t in themselves make for excellent lessons, but what they can do is to add value to every aspect of your teaching. Students will be better behaved, work harder, respond better to feedback, show increased motivation, be more sympathetic to your misjudgements and in sum drive your class forwards more positively than if these connections haven’t been made.

So how can we go about building these individual connections with our students? The most important thing may be just finding (in reality, making) the time for the many small inputs that help forge these positive connections. Here are some of the things – and I’m sure there are many others besides – that I believe are worth making time for to build these connections:

– Learn the name of every student that you teach as soon as possible at the start of the year. Don’t just hope this will happen naturally over time. Get your class photo lists out and consciously learn them. Nothing that follows will work without this essential prerequisite.

– Get to your lessons a couple of minutes early and spend that time talking to individual students as you wait to begin, trying to find out something of their lives and interests outside of your lesson.

– Greet each student at the door of your classroom by name as they enter, saying good morning and asking how they are. Do the same as students leave, this time highlighting something positive they have done in the lesson, for example asking great questions, showing improved concentration or finally nailing that 8-mark exam question.

– Always say hello to your students in the corridor or around school. Make this an active approach; be the one to make the first move. If you can, stop to have a chat with them. Remind them about a due homework or test. Ask them how their half term was. You will find that over time students will start to seek you out as well, further developing the teacher-student relationship (and brightening up your day).

– When returning tests or assessments, find time to speak with each student individually about it. Let them know what you were pleased about and reinforce areas they need to improve. Support them if they under-performed and stretch them if they had success. Make your students aware that their results are not just a ‘number’ for you, but a signal of their progress and a spotlight on their strengths and weaknesses.

– When you ask a student a question in class, be sure to always listen to their answer. It can be easy to ‘switch off’ sometimes when teaching and only half-listen – especially if you are concerned about time or monitoring behaviour – but nothing will hinder these connections more than your students feeling as if their contributions aren’t valued.

– Following on from this, don’t tolerate anything less than total respect in your lessons, not only between you and your students, but also between the students themselves. Make sure everyone feels like they can make a valuable contribution to your lesson in a supportive and respectful environment. Encourage your students to make mistakes (and learn from them). Encourage all students to get fully involved in tasks and activities. Don’t let a student fall ‘under the radar’ as every student needs to feel like a valued part of your class.

– Share something of yourself with your students. You are their teacher, but don’t feel you have to act like a ‘teacher’ all the time. Show some humanity. Share a story about your past, demonstrate empathy with struggling students or relay an amusing anecdote from your weekend. 

Ben Wright

References:

  • Ferlazzo, L. (2015) Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Ginsberg, M. (2015) ‘Shadowing a student shows how to make learning more relevant’, Phi Delta Kappan, 97(4), pp.26-30.  SAGE [Online] Available at: www.sagepub.com
  • Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000) ‘Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), pp. 54-67.