I was unloading the dishwasher yesterday and I dropped a mug. Not just any mug either; it was my brand new, most favourite mug (it’s a dinosaur mug, by the way, but a cool one, obviously). Seconds before it smashed to smithereens on my kitchen floor, I threw out my foot, bounced it off my ankle and caught it mid-air. In your face, mug-smash sadness! I looked around triumphantly and saw… no one. No one to witness my small (but epic) win.
Teaching’s a bit like that sometimes. You plan the lesson. You teach the lesson and somewhere in the middle of the teaching your classroom goes through that indefinable change that means your learners are totally engaged. You know the change I mean- that tiny difference that lets you know something really good is going on. A little quieter (even the serial rustlers and fidgeters are with you on this one) or a little louder (is that the kid whose only spoken twice in the last 6 months getting in on the discussion?!).
Whatever it is, it’s magic. It’s what happens when, as educators, we get it right. That magical moment can feel surprisingly elusive; behaviour issues, wide variations in ability, time constraints and general pressure can sometimes make real, quality engagement with learning feel like a needle in a very large haystack.
And it’s sad that there’s no other teacher in the room to see you make the good stuff happen. If you were a professional footballer having a really good day at work, people would be jumping on you and hugging you round the head right now.
And much, much worse than the fact there’s no actual witness to your great lesson, (which would be a nice, though clearly not essential, ego boost) is that a lot of the time there’s also no one around whose up for a debrief. Footballers have to sit as a team and watch action replays over and over, analysing exactly what went right, what didn’t and why. Working together to identify good practice, agreeing pathways for ensuring more of the good stuff happens. That kind of in-depth analysis of your practice is foreign to most of us as educators. I’m not suggesting we start recording lessons and organising playback sessions, but how great would it be to have a team of your peers watch what you do best and then give you high quality feedback on how to do even better?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘That would not be great’. You’re thinking ‘I’d rather stick my head in a basket of rats than teach in front of my colleagues.’ And I get that. But you know what? It’s time to get over it. Would you accept the basket-of-rats response from your learners? Hardly! We are constantly encouraging our young people to seek out and give each other high quality feedback- it’s the mantra we embed for all improvement; know where you are, know where you’re going, know how to get there.
It’s time to practise what we teach.
I understand that the ick-factor is high. Most of us have limited experience of being observed by our peers. Those of us that have experienced it usually find the experience less than enlightening. Once a session peer observation at the behest of management is a box-ticking exercise. Watching a colleague teach for twenty minutes and then telling them how wonderful they are in every possibly way (regardless of whether you actually think this) is a big, fat waste of everyone’s time. What I’m talking about here is actual discussion. Professional dialogue that results in measurable, improved practice. Sharing what you believe is excellent about what you do. Putting it in front of others and discovering if they agree.
Scary? Absolutely. It means taking a chance. Trusting others to be respectful with something you have invested in. But it’s no more than what you ask kids to do every day. Share your learning. Ask for feedback. Use the feedback to make your performance better.
I want to be part of a profession where sharing what I do is just part of what I do. It shouldn’t be scary, or icky, or involve baskets of rats. It should just be what we do in order to get better. And wherever possible, it should involve cake. So I set up #PedagooPeebles.
I’ll be there, being brave and sharing what I do.
Ready to join me?
If you don’t know about the brilliant stuff that’s happening at pedagoo.org you should go there immediately. Fellow tweeters will know that #PedagooFriday is one of the best and easiest ways to share what you do and see what others are doing.