Reading about #Michaela (part 1)

Curled up in a chair next to the Christmas tree looking out over the Northumberland countryside, school and last term feels like another life. Being able to switch off from the day to day world of education is the perfect time to delve into the pile of education books I’ve been meaning to read. First up is ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way’; a book stirring up debate and one I picked up expecting to have very mixed emotions about. 9 chapters and 100 pages in and I’m alternating between rage and admiration.

I used to work ‘down the road’ from Michaela and listened to conversations at SLG meetings about the possibility of competition from ‘that new free school’ in the lead up to it’s opening. It was clear it was going to be controversial from the start. And the style of the book is certainly that!

It was hard at first to see past the ‘we’re right, you’re all wrong’, almost judgemental preaching, style of writing. I applaud the devotion of the teachers in ensuring disadvantaged students get an education equal to that of Public Schools that shines through every chapter but at times the writing appears sanctimonious which detracts attention from the core business of finding out why they do what they do. Bearing in mind many of the teachers passed through the Teach First programme and would have encountered schools in challenging circumstances (and, possibly, poor leadership trying to fire fight to stay afloat), the comments about other schools and their leadership make more sense. But not all schools with high levels of disadvantaged students are like that and l’m not sure we all deserve to be tarred with the same brush – comments about senior leaders only teaching one class made me see red. In the four schools (all urban comprehensives in areas of high deprivation) I’ve worked in, it’s the senior leaders who are most likely to be found teaching over and above in subjects outside their specialism to plug gaps and ensure students do not suffer. However, reading past this to unpick the teaching and learning, I’ve started to find some really interesting ideas worth exploring.

1. I’ve always been a big advocate of direct teaching and that some things just need to be learnt (in Geography, case study facts spring to mind) so it’s good to see didactic teaching and fact drilling championed as having an important place in education. I’m not sure I’d agree with only teaching this way but increasing its incorporation into our daily practice is something I’m going to explore next term in Humanities.

2. Embedding reading daily, particularly reading aloud, is something I know we could do better. The chapter on embedding reading has suggestions I’m taking back to SLG in January.

3. In considering how to improve staff workload and wellbeing, as Joe Kirby discusses, homework in its traditional format is a big ask for teachers. The idea of rethinking homework as revision is compelling.

I’ll keep reading…

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