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A search through my blogs for the word craftsmanship has generated 20 posts in which it is mentioned, so I imagine there won’t be much more to say here that I have not said already. It is just such an important feature of our work, though, that talking about it again keeps it fresh in my mind. The government have just published the Standards for Teacher Professional Development, a well-thought out and mercifully short document that will help schools focus on the technical aspects of how to develop their teaching workforce effectively. In the middle of it all, though not mentioned by name, is the craft of teaching. There is nothing startlingly new in the document, but it has the curious effect of making you want to put it into practice, possibly because it all seems so do-able. Having attended a conference on the subject a month before its publication, I sort of knew what was coming, but still, I am pleased to read it, to affirm its intentions and am looking forward to seeing it put to use through performance appraisal and our own CPD program this year.

Changing tack, but not by much, this quilted blanket, the possession of my eldest daughter, was made for her by her best friend from New Zealand, who grew up in southern Germany. The number of school leavers in the UK who could design and make something so wonderful is, I am certain, not large, and yet my daughter’s friends said that all of her classmates made these when she was still at school. It made me think on the link between ourselves as creators – teachers I am talking about – and the way we impact on children’s creativity and craftsmanship. The link between intentionality and craftsmanship is well established and I have commented on it at length here and here. I am more interested here to think about the link between ourselves as creative people with a deliberately purposeful and intentional approach to crafting good things for our children, and the craftmanship they learn from us.

Modelling work for children is clearly important. I know several talented artists who happen to be teachers, but few of them think about demonstrating their talents to the children, to inspire and to motivate them. I know some people who write well, but who are reticent about bringing that writing to children. Ditto sportsmen and women, and musicians. Modelling how to listen to music, how to learn to “read” a painting or a sculpture – I don’t see as much of this as I expect to.

2014+14oakeshott2(1)If my much-loved quote from Michael Oakeshott is correct, and we must “make available to our children their inheritance” then some of that is in the skills and crafts that we ourselves have learnt. The idea of teaching children to do something you have not yet mastered is crazy. Surely, as teachers, we learn to do those things effectively and then teach them to children. Next term I want to lead my art club in printmaking, because I think it has an immediacy that I love and I think children will love it too. So, I have to learn to make prints myself, otherwise I may as well be a Youtube video – deeply uninteresting to a child on a wet Tuesday afternoon. I am not going to be the world’s greatest printmaker, but if I know three techniques well, and can demonstrate them with confidence, I can help and evaluate their work when the children try it out. So far, this week, I have learnt one – lino-cut, and am practising it every day for a little while. If I am not a competent writer, then I practise until I am one. I do no child a favour by demonstrating handwriting that is below the standard expected in Year 6. What we value, what we treasure, we pay craftsmanlike attention to. I was a hopeless PE teacher when I began teaching, and despite the 28 hours of PE in my PGCE course, really did not know what I was doing. So I spent hours planning and practising, learning to do jumps and sit-ups and press-ups until I could demonstrate a reasonable approximation of these to children.

The Standards do not really talk about this except obliquely. However, the first standard is: Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes. In the back of somebody’s mind, pupil outcomes are often those measurably assessed in the core subjects, because this is what matters to government. However, a focus on improving art outcomes for children must surely mean that the teachers themselves become better artists. This is a professional matter, of course, but the standards are really amateur, driven by love of the children and love of the material taught, and by the delight of learning.

Now of course I really am beginning to repeat myself, so shall stop.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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