Appraisal Cycle Traditions

Second Half of Autumn Term starts in traditional fashion with yearly anxiety about end of appraisal cycle review meetings. Tradition consists largely of colleagues panicking because they have variously not: Documented evidence of progress towards meeting targets during year and have left everything to last minute; Scheduled end of cycle review meeting for sometime before week ending 31st October; Completed self-review against the teachers’s standards; Remembered what the school-set targets were anyway. Admit with no small degree of irony that own adherence to these traditions is almost absolute but nevertheless point out that details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) were sent out early in the calendar year. Colleagues suggest, in adherence to other traditional activities, that they may need reminding about these kinds of things, to which point out that message including details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) was indeed posted several times during rest of calendar year. Follow additional tradition by resisting temptation to suggest actual reading of documentation may be more valuable than filing email in folder marked ‘I’m sure this will be helpful and/or important, but let’s be honest, I’m never going to do anything about it’. Immediately create own folder marked thus and set up rule directing all messages about appraisal into said folder. Proceed to making third coffee of morning.

Back to the howling old owl in the woods

As end of half term hysteria reaches fever pitch in the Provincial High School, forlorn attempt to reflect on most recent Leadership Meetings results in memory only of Conversations About Chicken Burgers In Refectory. This is reasonable development since Chicken Burgers In Refectory seems to be what majority of Leadership Focus has been spent on over entire first half term of academic year.

Pitch of hysteria also results in M sharing Interwebs Meme about Mental Health, drawing comparison to brain being like an Interwebs browser open with a thousand tabs, most of which are frozen and with no idea where music is coming from. In bizarre volte-face on usual Thoughts About Memes find this strangely amusing and reflect that in truth the music is almost always entirely within own head. Today, for example, the chorus of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Sir Elton John repeats endlessly in loop that walks fine line between pleasure and irritation. Feel certain this is entirely fitting metaphor for entire existence.

Mental

Today, as I understand it, was designated Mental Health Day and so everyone in school encouraged to wear something yellow in order to show students that we are Someone They Can Talk To about mental health issues. Uncertain as to why wearing something yellow is significant and how this changes everyday job expectation of Caring For Young People but nevertheless made some concession to conformity by donning tiny vintage Mustard Club badge from the 1920s for the day. Impact of doing so, I feel, has been minimal.

Mental health of colleagues during day certainly not helped by Failure Of The Internets. This results (again) in significant amount of hand wringing and heightened anxiety about How Can We Safeguard Children When We Have No Internet (actually probably written in ALL CAPS followed by too many exclamation points). Quietly suggest to some colleagues that history of school did not begin with the invention of The Internet in Provincial Settings (perhaps circa 2014 or so) and that children were safeguarded prior to instantaneous, continuous surveillance of attendance (electronic registers). Idly reflect on vicious cycle of paranoia created by such technologies and enjoy complete absence of email traffic during day.

Superhero

Struck by number of times in past weeks when have been expected to be in three entirely different places, doing three different activities, at exactly the same moment in time and space. Decide this makes the Provincial Teacher some kind of Superhero and start to sketch ideas for Costume and Mask on back of School Improvement Plan. Current mood suggests colour palette of black, not unlike The Batman.

On Meetings

Leadership is a Strange Old Bird. Such are thoughts running through mind after recent Meetings in which much time is spent arguing about When Is A Flyer A Poster (own contribution: ‘Does it matter?’; ‘I can’t believe we are talking about this.’ And ‘Well that’s twenty minutes of my life I won’t get back.’); relevance or otherwise of a DIP for every subject in the school (this conversation one that arises every year, follows same tortuous, circular route and is Never Fully Resolved, thereby storing up the pleasure for an infinite number of re-runs); and Suitable Prizes For Reading. To this last item firmly resist temptation to suggest that Pleasure is the finest prize. Mood of meeting very much not aligned with own thinking and therefore also refrain from voicing possibility of Book Tokens or similar, thereby rewarding Those Who Read with even more opportunity to read (at this point remind self – because no-one else appears to be listening – of coaching mantra: What is going well? How can we do more of that?). Resist too temptation to quote from Wilfred Bramble to Ringo in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and suggest kids should be out parading instead of having their heads stuck in books because that’s Not Really The Kind Of Thing We Should Be Promoting.

Meetings also include multitude of items brain has since consigned to trash can of memory, never to be retrieved again. Or at least until next meeting when Minutes bring horrifying reminder of stultifying tedium and Wasted Opportunity.

speaking as a scientist et cetera

Entire morning Leadership meeting spent discussing (for which read Arguing) about term dates, whole day staff training days, twilight training sessions, start and end dates and Anything Else We Can Think Of.

Make cogent point about effective models for staff CPD being best delivered through regular twilight sessions before discussion veers wholeheartedly into reasons why we will apparently be moving away from doing this. Decide at this point to Shut Up and spend time responding to emails.

Reflect on previous Diary Entry about value of creating cognitive capacity for specialist subject CPD and realise that This Is Never Going To Happen. Decide at this point to Stop Thinking About Education and pick up Auden’s ‘The Orators’. Thoroughly enjoy reading ‘Journal Of An Airman’.

three terms of enemy speech:
I mean
quite frankly
speaking as a scientist et cetera

Teaching Makes You Stupid (or, in praise of Subject Specialist CPD)

Poet W.H. Auden writing poetry in a bookkeeping ledger at his home on Fire Island, New York. (Photo by Jerry Cooke/Corbis via Getty Images)

Am currently reading a book about W.H. Auden, or more specifically about Auden’s poem ‘September 1, 1939’. Although actually it’s not specifically about that poem, even though it is, and it’s not completely about Auden, even though it is. By which I mean that author Ian Sansom makes it partly about himself and partly about The Bigger Picture and partly about Auden and partly about poetry and partly about this particular poem. It is a great book, but it makes me feel Really Stupid, and that in turn makes me sad and frustrated.

For whilst Sansom’s book is Not An Academic Text, it does throw in quite a few references to Academics and Academic Texts and Other Poets and Literature and Literary Criticism which, had I the time, energy and space (in other words if I had the spare cognitive capacity) I would probably rather enjoy. But I don’t. And I don’t. And it’s because it’s barely the second week of term and already I feel like I Have No Life. Or rather it is that life has already ebbed from my sickened body and left me a shattered husk. Not that I want to be over dramatic.

I recognise that were I to be reading a similarly pitched book about Teaching and Learning then I would probably Not Feel Quite So Stupid, but frankly also strongly suspect that I would find such a book to be A Lot Less Interesting. Where is the Auden of the contemporary (Secondary) Education world? Probably busy being a Twitter Celebrity.

Suspect that The Point Of All This (and there may be one, so bear with me) is that whilst the past two/nearly three decades of teaching may have left me Well Versed in an understanding of the Science/Craft (delete as appropriate) of Teaching, it has had detrimental impact on my knowledge and understanding of Subject. It has, in effect, left me (feeling) stupid.

Not stupid in the context of the level to which I am teaching (am fairly confident I could bring home a ‘9’ in the GCSE) but certainly in the broader, deeper context of my subject specialist knowledge. So whilst I am highly skilled (this is not the moment to be modest) at empowering students to think more deeply about the texts that they are reading in order to get a level 6, or 7 or 9 at GCSE, what I/we lack as teachers is that cognitive capacity to either ask each other those challenging questions about SUBJECT, or to ask ourselves.

Which is why more opportunities for subject specialist CPD is so vital. And not CPD that focuses on Subject at the level to which we teach (though there is need for that of course, to make us secure and confident teachers of that content) but the deeper knowledge of our subjects in the broader sense. Where are the opportunities for our History colleagues to talk/argue about the connections between 1970’s Britain and Our Present Predicament? Or indeed to argue about whose books are best: Dominic Sandbrook’s or Andy Beckett’s? Where are the opportunities for our Art colleagues to talk about the work of Robert Frank (including whether ‘Pull My Daisy’ is actually any good or not) or to argue about the value of John Berger’s critical writing and whether it is still relevant to approach Art from a Marxist viewpoint in 2019? Let’s face it: Ten minutes over a rushed instant coffee between a quick pee and Year 7 isn’t really the most productive time for such topics, is it?

Yet when Leadership discussions about Staff CPD take place we continually promote Skills Of Teaching as the Only Valuable Topics for Training. We say it is in response to What Our Staff Want but really, is it? Always? Again? And again? And even if it’s what they think they want, are they always right?

So. How to build cognitive capacity into our daily grind such that we can enjoy the developing treasures of the subjects we fell in love with? (Because we DID fall in love with our subject long before we fell in love with the idea of teaching that subject).

When I start to feel less stupid I will let you know.

Sanctions, Actions, Warnings, Recordings

Much hilarity in leadership meeting in which team discuss minutiae of sanctions, actions, warnings, recordings and loggings for multitude of breaches of uniform, equipment and behaviour expectations. Eagerly awaiting minutes of meeting in desperate hope that they will include lengthy list detailing All The Things I Need To Sanction. Hope too that minutes will explain distinction between recording and logging but remain doubtful that such nuances will ever become fully clear.

Knowledge Organiser = Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopædia

Knowledge Organisers circa 1954

Much time spent producing Knowledge Organisers with students these past few days. As red books are filled with printed sheets of Things To Remember it occurs to me that what we are doing is reinventing a vastly abridged Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia (younger readers are encouraged to Look It Up). Undecided about Value in doing so but cannot deny glow of nostalgia that results from remembering blissful days spent gazing on endless pages of coloured plates showing Flags Of The World and illustrations of Flowers Of The Forest.

Tiny Treasures

Despite best efforts to ease self into new term by setting progressively earlier wake-up alarms during last week of freedom, shock of actually having to get up at 5.45am still acutely felt. Disheartened to discover that daylight has not yet crept over distant horizon at this time in the morning and so day begins in darkness. Feel certain this is a metaphor for the State Of The Nation in these dark times.

Upside to Early Rising however is seeing the provincial landscape waking up, shrouded in wispy cloaks of mist. Tiny treasures and all that.