Last Saturday I attended the Chartered College of Teaching Inaugural Conference in Sheffield. The key message of the Conference centred on the importance of being a research centred profession and this is what drew me to the College to begin with. Sat in the lecture hall and listening to the speakers I could have unpicked many of the arguments and I am still cautious about how the College will develop and its impact to stimulate much needed change but I do think it could give an opportunity for teachers to get back in the driving seat of education.
However, reflecting back on the day and my own vision and interpretation of where we need to focus in education, two phrases have stuck in my head – ‘We can all teach well and we can all teach badly. So we can all teach better.’ (Professor Chris Husbands) and ‘We need to separate the noise from the signal.’ (John Tomsett). Here is where my reflections have led me to this week.
Wellbeing, workload, recruitment, retention, assessment, outcomes, mental health, funding, resources, social mobility…all permeate discussions in education today. These are all important and need addressing but to solve these I think we need to zone out all the ‘noise’ and focus on what really matters – changing our students’ lives for the better. I whole heartedly agree with John Tomsett when he says the best thing we can give a student from a disadvantaged background is a strong set of qualifications that will open more doors and give them more options in the future – they may never thank us but whether it is the day after they leave us or twenty years later when they have hit rock bottom, qualifications gained in school give them a starting point to pursue their dreams positively. As teachers and students we all deal with so much ‘stuff’ that it’s easy to get lost and bogged down. We all need to start zoning out the noise.
Professor Chris Husbands talked about the importance of focusing on teaching. Curriculum, funding, resources, assessment, feedback all play a part but are nothing compared to the impact of the teaching. We can all teach well and we can all teach badly. So we can all teach better. We need to all work to improve teaching, zoning out the noise that pulls us in different directions, to focus on what goes on in the classroom so we are always working at how to get better at teaching. Getting better at teaching in classrooms should mean student outcomes improve, teacher workload decreases as all the ‘extra’ interventions/triple marking/catch up sessions/etc are not needed and teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction increases – now while this is, arguably, idealistic it also makes logical sense. For the rest of this year I want to focus with the departments in school I work with on collaborative planning and classroom practice to support the teachers to zone out the noise and focus on teaching.
In the same way that teachers need to get back to their core purpose of focusing on teaching, our students also have to learn to zone out the noise in their lives to be successful and we need to help them to do that. Students are growing up in an ever changing world that is challenging, scary and often immensely confusing. Friendship issues are played out in social media so even the smallest comment can blow up to involve an entire community. Childhood and adulthood spaces are becoming blurred with children spending less time playing out and more time accessing the same YouTube, instagram and video games as adults. The mental health of young people today is a serious concern as they try to navigate their way through this world without having the resilience and experiences to cope; they can’t distinguish between the ‘noise’ and what really matters.
With the adolescent mental health system in crisis as schools and teachers we are the front line for our students; as Professor Tanya Byron said at the Conference there are trained psychologists who should be working with young people but the reality is that there isn’t enough access to these and we can’t just ignore the problem. We need to support students in being able to deal with this noise in their lives so they can get on when in school with learning. Resilient, emotionally and mentally healthy students are better equipped to be taught better and to be successful in their learning and in achieving their full potential. This half term we are looking at school into how to work with students on building resilience and emotional intelligence and to improve emotional and mental wellbeing with a whole school focus on this from after Easter.
Ultimately I’ve stayed in teaching for 12 years because I know education has the power to be life-changing when it works well. I’m hoping that by zoning out the noise and spending some time focusing on us becoming better at teaching and supporting students to become resilient and mentally strong we’ll change some more lives. The day at the Conference (and a week of rest over half term!) has reinvigorated the idealistic me over my usual cynicism!