by Susan Keenan,
PD (Lancs) TLA
I have recently joined a North West Professional Exchange Network for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Our first meeting was fascinating as we discussed the common issues and challenges of working in FE. One of our topics of conversation focused on how important it is to look after teachers working in FE and help them maintain their professional confidence as they work long hours with a large groups of learners and ever decreasing budgets. Retaining and recruiting FE teachers is a huge challenge.
Since that meeting I’ve been reflecting on my own career, with many years spent in FE. My teacher career has been fascinating and diverse; I’ve taught in primary schools in Manchester, a secondary school in Ghana, many years in prisons, I’ve taught unemployed adults, teenage FE students and trainee teachers. A wide range of different and fascinating settings, but in all of this rich experience there have been commonalities of ‘when it’s worked’ and ‘when it hasn’t. This of some of the key learning over my career that might just be of interest to teachers in their own practice.
Be authentic – When I first started teaching I observed and worked with loads of great teachers. I thought if I did exactly what they did then that would be the key to success. It wasn’t. I learned that you have to be ‘you’ in your classroom and you can only really find your teaching ‘you’ through practice. Some days were howlers; I got frustrated and demotivated. With practice and experience came confidence and the beginnings of my professional identity.
Enjoy it – This life is precious and too short to spend time wishing you were somewhere else. I’ll fully admit there have been times in the classroom where I’ve wanted to be lying on a beach miles away, but the best part of the job (and there’s a lot to the job) is the classroom teaching. The learners in your class of any age have stories to tell and potential waiting to be unleashed. To teach is a privilege and it’s easy to forget this. Find the fun; it is contagious.
Get rest – This is said often but it couldn’t be more true. There is always something else to do when you are a teacher, you never get to the end of your list. You need to stop, go home, go to the pub, get exercise, go dancing, spend time in the outdoors. It really is time well spent and ensures that you are healthy and well. One of my questions to myself when work is piling up is ‘Will the place burn down and anybody die if I don’t get that finished today?’ If the answer is no, then it’s probably something you can leave for a while.
See other people – At one stage of my life I lived with teachers, worked with teachers, spent my social life with teachers. This can be great; it provides you with a supportive network of friends who understand your job. But it can also become all-consuming and perhaps make you a little insular with a very teacher focused view of the world. Spending time with people who do other jobs gives you a sense of perspective on your own world and gives you some new, refreshing topics of conversation.
Know what you’re talking about – but you don’t need to know it all – I’m a big believer in evidence based teaching and being credible as a teacher has a very high effect size according to Hattie (2012). I get this, learners get this. I get frustrated when I’m in a training session feeling the trainer doesn’t know what they are talking about. Learners need to feel confident in you. They are wanting something out of the class or course, whether it’s a qualification or the stepping stone to the next stage. But you don’t need to be an expert in everything, it’s impossible. One of the keys roles of a teacher is to facilitate learning. Some of my best lessons have been the ones in which I’ve done least. Show the learners where the information is and then let them rummage around in it for themselves. They’ll make their own meanings from this and you can help them process and discuss this.
‘Get your teaching pants on’ – sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You’re tired, you’re not motivated, you’re worried or distracted. The learners are there, they’ve turned up with some expectation and so you need to ‘turn up’. I like the metaphor of getting your ‘teacher pants’ on. There are a bit like WonderWomans or Supermans – they give you strength and presence, they help you to go in there and generate some energy and enthusiasm. My colleague and I use to work with a trainee teacher who we likened to the character ‘Sadness’ from the film ‘Inside Out’. This teacher had so little enthusiasm or motivation we felt depressed within five minutes of observing their lesson. Breaking news: the learners didn’t enjoy it either. Teach like you mean it, you can take your teaching pants off later and lie on the couch.
Do smile before Christmas – In fact smile a lot, it is not a sign of weakness. Learning and teaching are great; they are what makes us who we are. I am a parent as well as a teacher and my kids have had some brilliant teachers who smile, laugh, are interested in them and are helping them to become who they are. They’ve also had some grumpy, tired, demotivated ones too. It may be cheesy, but the teachers who inspired, and continue to inspire, me are the ones who made it fun, let me explore, knew their stuff and had some passion for life.
I’ve worked with trainee teachers and experienced teachers who have some brilliant ideas and energy, but many get worn down with the relentless pressure of the environment they are in. Teaching is a brilliant job but too many people are leaving. It’s a crisis for our children. New and aspiring teachers – look after yourselves, you are valuable and precious. Wear those teaching pants with pride but make sure they go in the wash at weekends.
by Gail Lydon, newly appointed PDNorth Regional Lead for Yorkshire & Humberside
My goodness – nothing stays the same for very long, but it all looks so familiar! That’s what it feels like working in post 16 learning. Constant change, but we feel we have seen it in another guise before. There is something comforting about the familiar though and when I was asked to lead on the Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) in Yorkshire and Humber I heard myself saying yes. Why did I do that!?? Well one reason is my previous experience of networks and how much I have learned from them.
I have been teaching since 1996 and some of the most important learning opportunities I have had have been through networking of some kind or another. Working with my colleagues on projects; safely discussing what was happening in my classroom and carrying out peer observations to develop my practice. Although much is familiar (funding and learner motivation to name but two), I think we could argue that the restraints we work under are tighter than ever. But we love teaching and care for our learners so what to do?
My husband is a massive music fan and Jimi Hendrix is a favourite. One quote of his (Jimi’s not my husbands) is “in order to change the world, you have to get your head together first” (if I haven’t got the quote quite right I hope both of them will forgive me). I get my head together by talking to my colleagues and friends. Refreshing and challenging my thinking and it is fun. It doesn’t mean I always get it right but having the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues is always a powerful learning experience. But so many of us don’t get the opportunity to network. Many of us are now working remotely and can feel isolated. This can also be true even when working inhouse because there just aren’t the structures to support face to face time with colleagues. Staff rooms have often disappeared and lunch times staggered. Networks allow us to interface with colleagues in other organisations too.
I guess you will want to know what the PENs are all about before you sign up? These Networks are about enabling teachers and middle managers to not only share their knowledge and skills but to develop those skills further. PENs are there to support you to investigate some aspect of your practice and perhaps try something new; add something to your toolbox of skills. There is plenty of online support between sessions: Twitter chats, screencasts (just ask) and other CPD opportunities. The four meetings are facilitated by a lead from PDNorth but the focus is driven by the members of the Network. Your membership, your participation is what will drive the Network. What would you like to share? What would you like to investigate further?
I do hope you will get involved with the PENs, come with us and share your expertise, the sector needs you.
Delivering a workshop at a national conference
by Colette Butterworth & Sue Primrose
This year the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages to Adults) conference was held in Birmingham. This national, annual conference is a huge event that is held specifically for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) practitioners. This year there was a variety of workshops, a resources exhibition and an Ascentis Teachmeet.
Sue Primrose and I delivered a workshop called “Unlocking the ESOL mindset”. This workshop looked at how to develop a learner’s mindset so that they can learn more effectively as they gain a better understanding of their own thinking and develop strategies to tackle internal and external barriers. Practical and interactive exercises were demonstrated to show how structured and deeper questioning in the ESOL classroom can guide learners to become more reflective and autonomous thus taking ownership of their progress.
Having never presented at or even attended a national CPD conference, we were unsure what to expect. Would we buckle at the knees and freeze? All these thoughts were flying through my mind so in a state of nervous excitement I began the seminar. Fortuitously, we had provided 30 packs because instead of the 18 delegates we were expecting, there were instead, 29 attendees.
We came up with some ideas for our students to think in a more creative way to enable them to become more independent in their learning. For a warmer exercise, we started with a competition. The prize was a big bag of fruit to keep the winning delegate energised for the weekend. The warmer allows the teachers to work out the students’ starting points and the barriers to their learning. This then allows the teachers to encourage the students with barriers to become responsible for their own learning and think about how they can manage their time. We then moved on to a Padlet which included creative thinking exercises and reading images using ‘wh’ questions and ‘What if…’ questions. The main part of the seminar was to deconstruct the goals of each student to allow them to think about what they want to achieve and how and when they are going to go about achieving it. It allows the students to take personal responsibility for the work they do throughout the year to achieve their goals. Some teachers were unsure how to apply the techniques. This was particularly at lower levels, where the students’ command of English is weaker. However, we were able to offer advice about questioning techniques and showing the value of students taking responsibility for their own learning. The sooner this is done the better!
The seminar was thought-provoking and it gave the delegates some ideas of how to encourage more independent study skills with their students. The feedback we received from NATECLA was tremendous. Delivering at a conference and sharing ideas was a great experience. We can all learn by sharing resources and ideas through conferences, teachmeets, blogging and Twitter. I think these are all worthy ways to bring good practice together. We hope to present again next year and look forward to seeing more innovative teachers delivering at future conferences.
If you’re even reading this, somewhere in your head is the thought that you might write a blog here, for PDNorth. Kudos to you!
The very best blogs are those you write in your own voice – and that’s the point of the PDNorth blog, to hear voices from across the North of England. We know that the diversity of what you know, think and write is going to blow us away.
What you will get out of blog-writing is the chance to find your own voice as a writer educator, in a supportive and supported environment – and of course to share your practice with fellow travellers. Public writing is a very different kind of reflexion to that which you probably do all the time. In a way, it’s a form of teaching…you are wanting to communicate your ideas to others, hopefully to benefit in turn from their freshest thinking too.
What’s the story?
All the best writing has a story to tell, even if it’s professional/technical writing like the PDNorth blog. So – what’s your story? Who are the human and non-human actors? What do they get up to and why might we be interested to read about it? Stories could be fictional or factual and maybe the most compelling of them are FicFactual (not totally a thing, I admit) – a true story fictionalised to show the golden narrative thread at its best.
How do I get started?
Firstly, think about where you want to write. You may have a nice corner of your kitchen, or an allotment shed, or a local café. Maybe you fancy exploring co-working spaces such as my favourite Ziferblat in Manchester (also in Liverpool and Salford at Media City) and, closer to home for me, Doncaster’s lovely Helm. There’s usually a charge which includes drinks and snacks or there may be free offer sessions…overall it’s cheaper than sitting in Costa for a day, unless you can make an Americano last a really long time.
Where you write doesn’t matter, as long as you feel comfortable in the space. Some people like silence, others a little background noise – or high-volume techno – it’s completely up to you. Try to give yourself a clear space and plenty of breaks, walk round the block if you can. Sometimes the thinking needs to catch up with the typing…
The blank page can be scary, so before you do anything else open up a word document (or a clean page in a gorgeous notebook), name it to save it, and throw some words down. You can write FISH twenty times if that will get you started; the words don’t need to survive the editing process so it doesn’t matter if they are clumsy. All that matters is making a start.
Keep on Keeping On
I’m probably not the only person to have a desktop littered with pieces I’ve begun and not completed. Keeping on keeping on is definitely a problem for me. I try to address it with ‘tomato writing’ (strictly speaking, the Pomodoro Technique). I use an app on my phone to break down the time I’ve got into work chunks and breaks, which I’ll usually use to have a brisk walk down the block. Tomato Writing helps you switch off that internal editor, the one who tells you that you’re an impostor. You’re not!
We’ve got a few, hopefully helpful, guidelines to support you:
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 reference other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.
What to write?
Cardinal rule – it’s got to be something you’re bothered about, otherwise your words won’t sound sincere…in fact, they probably won’t flow. So think of an area of work that makes you buzz, even if it’s not without its complications. We’d love you to write about your successes, but sometimes stuff you haven’t quite pulled off is even more interesting – if you explore why.
As you’re writing, keep accessibility in mind. Chloë takes care of all that stuff on the web design side of things but it’s worth having a look at the Plain English Campaign guides, to try and avoid the gobbledygook and jargonese (technical terms) we all fall prey to in education!
You might want Chloë to include images, to break up the text and make it more readable. Just be mindful of copyright; images you’ve taken are fine (if you have obtained the active consent of anyone photographed), or you might like to search a Creative Commons database for freely available images.
How can we help?
We’d love to help you get started as a blogger/writer. Both me and Chloë would be happy to have an initial conversation about what you might write and then I’d be privileged to help you edit your early drafts. There’s something lovely about seeing the shape of a piece emerge, it’s like sculpture.
OK, what next?
The next step is to let Chloë know you’re up for it. You can either email her or, complete the contact form to the left <—
So, don’t be shy! We really hope you’ll go for it 🙂
InTuition columnist Pedagogue