Hi there, welcome to the club! It’s a club of one so far so you are very welcome.
I’ve come to the conclusion over the last couple of years, that there are a vanishingly small number of sensible people in the world of education. I am lucky enough to have met and worked with several of them, but more often find myself having to concentrate very, very hard on controlling the face as yet another earnest soul proclaims the oracle they see before them in their beautifully crafted spreadsheet or uses the inevitably flawed data that represents children to make important decisions about teachers’ or children’s futures. Sure, data has a place and everyone working in education needs to be responsible for the quality of their work, but education is so much more than reducing children to an algorithm and the job teachers do to moving children from one number to another.
Unfortunately real life children have a tendency of not following the ‘flight path’ that would take their school into the desirable Ofsted categories that their school would like them to be in, and secure their teachers the peace of mind and promotions that come from being part of such a winning team. At some point teachers moved away from the joy of inspiring learning that motivated them to join the profession and towards being either a part of the exams machine as a school leader, or a disenfranchised and demotivated foot soldier, sadly putting children through their exam preparation paces and dreaming of retraining or retirement, whichever comes first.
A wise ex-colleague once wrote to the entire teaching staff of my school about the enormous power of a teacher in the run up to an Ofsted inspection. The fact we had a couple of weeks notice speaks of how long ago this was and although it was paraphrased and pasted onto an Ofsted framework, the sentiment set seed and had influenced me ever since. The snippet was from a longer quote by Haim G Ginnott: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
That quote scared me. It carries such responsibility. We, as teachers and leaders have a responsibility to set clement weather in our classrooms and schools. If we carry a raincloud of sadness it will dampen the spirits of all around us. If we teach and lead with joy and humanity, despite the daft data and dafter politics, we will change the climate in our schools.
So that brings me to the point of this blog. I’ve had enough of controlling the face when children are reduced to numbers and teachers are ‘held to account’ or more accurately bashed over the head with flawed data. Children get lost in such data and it’s time to get back to what’s really important in our classrooms – children. Real life children with real life problems and flaws and talents and personalities. They will get to the magical land of progress and exam results and whatever else is important to ministers in any given week, if they have teachers who teach their subject really flipping well, as exam results will naturally follow. But they are an add-on; a by-product of excellent teaching by brave teachers confident that they are doing the right thing.
So where does the brave thing come in? it is really hard to do the right thing sometimes. Just teaching flipping well and not to an exam is a brave thing to do in some schools. I’m hoping to share how I’ve done this personally and what I’ve learned from working at Ofqual and with DfE. This is not a blue print or ‘how to’ guide and I’ve not always got it right. But hopefully there is learning in my mistakes, and the brave theme will certainly extend to me in sharing the cringy stuff!