The start of a new term is such a special construct. There is so much hope and eager expectation and a joy that flows from knowing that hard work actually achieves things, that I tend to suffer from the condition known well to heads of trying to get everything done in the first week, so as to “set up the year”. It is not a bad feeling, but I want this year to be seasoned with grace, so that we do not merely look for the obvious, but also for that which is sown, and for which we wait, to use Wendell Berry’s words “whilst darkness does its work”.
Last year showed us a number of things, not least that with persistence and high expectations we could excel in things we valued. Looking at the data that has come from pupil achievement presents a picture that is extraordinary, in terms of where we were even a year ago, never mind two. But a lot of that has been hidden. There was little of the input-output thinking that can easily characterise a government’s approach to education. This year’s school development plan talks about being exceptional within the terms of our agreed vision as our deeper purpose. And that cannot be done mechanically.
So, when we gathered together on Wednesday for training and to focus on our minds on the great task that is leading children’s learning, there was a strong and special sense of mission – that we could really go places if we put our energies to it and yet allowed plenty of space for the grace of God to begin its work as we pray and trust. The training that was given, on cooperative learning approaches (90 minutes), on the use of an improved model for ensuring progress for children with SEN (an hour) and on the use of video to improve our practice (90 minutes) was of sustained high quality, and followed an exhortation from me to improve as teachers using a model that is perhaps characterised by this picture, of Maltese glassblowers in a workshop – they can all see each other’s work, all comment on each other’s work, and yet have responsibility and joy in creating something that is of a standard they are pleased with, as well as bringing honour to the cooperative of which they are a part. This represents a collective desire to succeed that we might term communal craftsmanship. This is not production line education, but high quality mutual submission and service for the benefit of those we teach.
I am not sure how many of us can subscribe easily to this model. Teaching has become highly individualistic, and yet the presentation from Tracey Feil on cooperative learning, based on the work of Roger and David Johnson in the 80s and 90s, that we heard on Wednesday, will not only impact children’s learning, but make us more conscious of the debt we owe each other in our practice. In this, OFSTED has unwittingly helped us, by making an overall judgment on teaching, rather than separating out the number of outstanding/good/RI lessons.
These things will come quietly, hidden, even secretly, as an outcome of following the disciplines of hard work and mutual submission to achieve a greater goal for which we are all accountable.
So may it secretly begin.