Hello

New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact Chloë at chloeh@pdnorth.org.uk

Writer Guidelines:

WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.

STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.

REFERENCES: If you choose to mention other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.

Building Communities, Building Teachers; Communities of Practice in Action

By Debbie Williams, PD North member and Teaching and Learning Manager at Lancaster and Morecambe College

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Having delivered teacher training for many years, I’ve found that one of the greatest pleasures of the role is seeing trainee teachers enlivened, motivated and inspired by the professional discussions they have with others who teach in different areas. Trainees tend to arrive to evening classes weary at the end of their working day, but leave the session energised and with minds buzzing with learning and ideas.

We wanted to bring that positive energy into the staff training for all the teachers at Lancaster and Morecambe College. For many staff it’s a long time since they did their initial training, and a lot of exciting developments have emerged from the evidence base on effective teaching since then. We wanted to build professional communities of teachers who didn’t usually work together, or even really know each other, where they could share ideas and explore emerging research through informed discussion.

Groups of around 10 teachers were groupedinto “Communities of Practice” to meet at the end of a working day on five evenly-spaced weeks throughout the college year. The groups were scheduled for times which all contracted staff would be able to attend, and attendance was mandatory for these teachers – it was optional for non-contracted teachers. Most of the groups met at the same time on the same corridor, which created a feeling that there was something going on!

A small team of enthusiastic and experienced teachers who were keen to facilitate a group were sent materials for the session ahead, along with a plan of how to share these with their group – topics included active learning, marking work, and metacognition. Conference video clips and extracts from research reports were used, and there was plenty of time built in for teachers to share their thoughts and examples of effective practice from their areas.

The group facilitators hugely enjoyed the role, and often reported having lively staffroom discussions on the same topics in the following weeks!

Levels of attendance were good on the whole – a handful of teachers didn’t attend at all, but most attended regularly, with clear expectations from managers contributing to this. It meant that far more staff than usual had attended regular in-house training by the end of the year, in contrast to the low numbers attending the optional training sessions run in previous years.

At the end of this first year the teachers involved completed an anonymous survey about their groups, to see how effective they had been in meeting the aim of improving teaching across the college. A key question was “”What impact has attending the sessions had on your teaching this year?” This was a completely open comment box, giving teachers the clear opportunity to declare “none”!  Unsurprisingly, a few did just that; however, 80% of teachers reported at least one way in which their practice had improved, the majority of them stating that they had increased the range of teaching and learning strategies they used in the classroom.

Next year we will be re-mixing the communities, giving our teachers the chance to hold professional discussions with different colleagues. From our experiences this year it’s clear that the communities have helped to build new cross-college relationships, build teacher confidence and build better teachers.

Overpowering the staff room garlics…

By Sue Keenan, Head of Teaching and Learning at Myerscough College.

Tofu or garlic - the choice to become either is within us!
Tofu or not tofu, that is the question?
Cartoon by Vicky Butterby, PD North

A long time ago, I was on a training course about preparing to work overseas in a new culture. One question posed was ‘are you going to be a garlic or a tofu?’ . The definition of a garlic was someone who went with the attitude that they knew best, their way was best and that things should be done their way. In other words, infusing  and overpowering everything with their strong garlicky flavour so that other flavours were obliterated. In contrast the tofu was someone who absorbed the range of favours around them. A tofu was a person who learned about the new culture and soaked it all up,recognising that they needed to change their world view.

It’s a metaphor that’s stayed with me and can be applied at times to our culture in education. I’ve worked in many staff rooms and offices over my career where there can be a couple of garlics….these are the people that constantly permeate the space with negativity. They moan about the leaders and managers, the learners, teaching, the job….for whatever reason they aren’t positive about the job anymore. I get the challenges. We are in a time of deep cuts in funding in the FE sector. We don’t feel confident about job security.We work hard teaching, marking, planning and preparing.

The garlics in education can be very toxic. They can suck the enthusiasm out of teachers who have come into work feeling positive, they can have a huge impact on staff morale and organisational culture.

That’s why it’s really important to surround yourself at work with the positive sunny people, the ones that love teaching, the ones that get a real buzz from seeing their learners achieve. If we go into lessons feeling negative then this will have a huge impact on how are learners feel and what they achieve. And after all, the learners are the reason we’re all working in education, aren’t they?

We can all be a little bit garlic sometimes, we might not agree with a decision made at a higher level, we might just be a bit fed up, but we need to manage our own behaviour as professionals and keep our outlook positive. We need to recognise if we are becoming a little bit toxic….

Surround yourself at work with the sunny people, the ones who come into work with a smile on their face. The ones who are new to the job and are excited to do it. The ones who have been teaching for a long time and still enjoy it. Lots of sunny people together have great power to do great things in education. They determine the culture of an organisation far more than senior leaders do.

In these tough times, try to keep your outlook and attitude as a teacher sunny side up.Have fun at work and enjoy the job. Have positive impact on those around you. Together lets try to support  those pungent garlics and turn them into tofu, soaking up the sunshine and positivity around them.

Why we teach…

  • By Sue Keenan @suekeenanQTLA
  • Head of Teaching and Learning: Myerscough College

When the North West TLA Professional Exchange Network first met, we were challenged to decide three things we wanted to work on over our year together. There was conversation about the ever present challenges in Further Education and Skills. We discussed the usual suspects; maths and English, motivating reluctant learners, doing more with less etc etc.

Despite all these ‘real and present dangers’ we wanted to focus some of our thinking and time on teachers. Teachers are the sectors greatest resource, they truly are the front line of education. The experience a learner receives when they walk into a classroom is critical. Teachers have an impact on learners’ lives forever. Everyone has a story to tell about the worst teacher they ever had. Mine was Mr X who spent most of his time smoking in the Art room stock cupboard and gave me 2 out 10 for my drawing of a shoe that I’d spent all Sunday doing, therefore destroying any love and interest in that subject for many years. He didn’t tell me why it was a 2 and what I needed to do to get better – hopefully times have moved on as this was in 1984….

The changing face of the teaching and learning environment - keeping learners at the centre of everything that we do.
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We also all have stories about the best teachers we’ve had – those who inspire us, interest us, and make us want to know more. Many of our choices in life and the routes we take are determined by teachers. Just take a moment to think about the teachers who inspired you and the influence they have had on your career and life choices….

We wanted to think about how to develop teachers’ confidence in a world where too often the focus is on what you haven’t done rather than what you have. We decided to go back to the start and ask teachers to think about why they started teaching and what their high points have been. Group member Lynn Naylor set up a Padlet for partners to contribute to.

Using Padlet to capture why we went into teaching and what we love about it!

We have had some amazing contributions from teachers and reading the Padlet truly is rewarding and inspirational.  Teachers’ comments include:

‘It is rewarding in itself to help students create memories, not just in an academic context but through giving them an experience and the tools to enjoy learning all their lives.’

‘It is also great when students share their knowledge and experiences with you, so we all learn together.’

The importance of looking after ourselves and each other as teachers is perfectly summed up by this contribution.

‘I was motivated by an inspirational teacher myself when I was a student. I thought at the time what a great job it must be and it has proved to be the case.

We’d love to keep our Padlet of ‘Why Teaching?’ growing. Please do take five minutes out of another busy day to add your story https://padlet.com/lynn_naylor/q03s1gqjkzwq

Let’s keep this padlet rolling across the sector and capture the reasons that teaching in FE and Skills is such a valuable job. Feeling confident and empowered about our professional results in a great experience for our learners, and that, after all, is the reason that we teach.