Yesterday evening, 70 or so teachers and leaders from Milton Keynes and further afield met at St Paul’s Catholic School in Leadenhall for a regional launch of the Chartered College of Teaching. Dame Alison Peacock, who is the CEO of the college, was there with a small team, and there were folk from the LA and some heads, who like me, are committed to making the college a meaningful part of the lives of teachers.
It was all very – and I mean this in the best possible way – homely. It had the feeling – and I have seen Alison engender this often – of being a family affair. It was an evening of empowerment of teachers as leaders and policy makers and changers of lives. For me, it restored the imagination, dusted off the professional fatigue and enabled us to emerge into a place of sunlight where more things were possible than when we had gone in. I had come to it straight after watching a fantastic Y6 rehearsal of The Amazing Adventures of Superstan which was almost the perfect prelude to the evening at St Paul’s – placing children, their experiences and development, their courage and rising to a challenge, right in front of me so I could not forget – as we all sometimes do – that teaching is for and about them.
Alison spoke for just under an hour, punctuated with such hilarity as this (as an illustration of an irresistible curriculum!) and in the process took us to a place where the Chartered College of Teaching was the most natural and purposeful next step in our lives as teachers.
Maxine Low, executive head at Brooklands Farm Primary School in Broughton introduced Alison – reminding us of the CCT’s purpose in providing a developmental continuum for teachers throughout their careers; in enabling and fostering partnerships across the educational landscape; and providing tools and a voice for teachers to share and build together, through linking research, CPD and individual teachers in a principled way.
Alison began by reiterating that in a time of political change such as ours is, the answer lies with us to achieve amazing things in an environment which is more accepting and encouraging than it has been for a while. She challenged teachers to engage with evidence-informed practice, because the research gave us courage, backing up our desire to try out new things with some evidence that it has worked elsewhere. We have to build trust in this way, not only among and between ourselves and our children in our schools, but learning to gain it from those who seek to control us. We are still subject to policy announcements, made for a range of not very good reasons on the steps of No 10, but policy must really come from us, from what we know and what we have learnt, and not based on some politician’s idea of what worked when he (and it usually is a he) went to school. If we want a great, self-improving system, we need to listen to teachers, to trust children, build a high degree of self-regulation and adapt the way we work so that we generate what we desire. It means we need to take seriously child development and all its research, modern pedagogy and the huge mountain of learning that stands behind it, lest we limit our own capacity for learning and for change.
Alison quoted the work of Paul Browning on the factors that build trust:
- admitting mistakes
- offering trust to others
- actively listening
- providing affirmation
- being genuinely consultative
- being visible
- having a consistent demeanour
- coaching and mentoring staff
- offering care and concern
- keeping confidences
I felt straightaway, as it happens, that there is plenty of learning here for me!
Partnership and collaboration are buzz words that are just very hard to do. Showing us a video from Wroxham School on learning from learning partners, Alison used children as a model for partnership. The video demonstrated: helping each other and looking for clues that help might be needed; looking for support when stuck; helping each other get around problems; discussing methods of achieving something; exploring different approaches to the same problem; demonstrating kindness. This, maintained Alison, is what it should feel like among and between schools, and in staffrooms. Competitiveness as a result of hyper-accountability has been destructive. However, when we seek to learn from each other, we needed to root that in the kind of school we aimed to be, otherwise we are just adding on more and more stuff, without letting the unnecessary or out-of-date wither and be replaced. Developing such partnerships requires support and it was one of the reasons the CCT existed. In building partnerships, listening becomes really critical, and has been at the heart of the approach that the CCT has taken since it began at the start of the year.
Using the imagination that led to the creation of Wroxham School’s music garden, Alison challenged us in the area of empowering teachers’ agency. This I found really inspiring, in trying to find ways of allowing teachers’ ideas to flourish, and it began to seed in me the start of an idea of having a fund where teachers’ ideas for the renewal of the school could be brought into practice. This will have to wriggle around in my mind over the summer, I think, especially given our budgetary constraints at the moment.
An inclusive pedagogy was an essential to the thinking of the CCT and Alison argued that we cannot get away from this. This video of Ian Wright meeting his former teacher shows the impact of inclusive approaches! We all have a real moral imperative to ensure that every single child is “unlabelled” when it comes to the opportunity that they have when it comes to accessing all the learning that they need. But she realised that the obstacles to this were often large, and that the obstacles lay in the teacher understanding of how to teach those with ASD, or what works best for weak readers in KS3, or whatever – and it was here that the CCT could play an effective role, working with subject associations, royal colleges, SEN bodies, etc, to create an online bank of easily-accessible resources in all media, so that teachers would not have to go on lengthy courses but be able quickly to find what they needed.
We need, today, an irresistible curriculum! This is vital, and a source of much of my concern around the way the curriculum looks at the moment. All sorts of ideas flowed into my mind straight away, whether or not we have the opportunity to build anything on the scale of Alison’s Celtic roundhouse at Wroxham. |The key message is that teachers need to be confident about curriculum design.
In the interests of brevity, I will summarise the rest of the talk in a single paragraph, but that doesn’t mean it was not just as informative and inspiring to those who had met together: Alison discussed the need for a proper dialogue about assessment, something that the CCT has already put into practice in a series of 9 conferences on the subject since an inaugural one at Sheffield Hallam University in May. We needed to learn from each other, because nobody has a system that is really working as perfectly as we would like. For that reason, we need more and more to resist labels for children – this can create a huge sense of optimism (again an excellent clip of two Y6 children discussing their progress helped us see this) and allow learning space that we had not permitted to be there before – as well as for schools. There is a danger in being labelled that we lose optimism or gain complacency. We need, therefore, a degree of professional courage to explain what we are doing and why. We need to trust the evidence, trust our efforts, trust our children, and have a clear understanding of the impact that we are making on the lives of many.
There are other issues to think about: whether we embrace school membership of the CCT, how we engage with the conferences that the CCT put on, and how we take this forward in Milton Keynes and the surrounding district. I made a few contacts and will be interested to see how it all progresses. I will also look for opportunities to write for the CCT. It is a great and well-planned program that Alison and her team have created, and in that very act, she has created enough trust to fascinate teachers into joining her.
Right now I am off to a morning looking to how the MK school improvement team can help us. It will be interesting to see what rubbed off from last night….