During the week, I tend to lower my head, brace my shoulders and just Get. On. With. Teaching. On Monday evening I’m shocked by the new week. On Tuesday evening I’m stifling a yawn. By Wednesday evening I’m tired. And on Thursday evening I’m thinking about 3:30 on Friday. But after our traditional Friday night Waitrose curry in front of whatever crap there is on telly and a ridiculously early bedtime, I’m alive and alert again.
This morning I was fortunate enough to read an article quoted by Greg Ashman about the influence of context on the transfer of knowledge and understanding. The subject immediately engaged me, and I found that I had the conceptual capacity to think through it rather than just read it. I wanted to try out the concepts in my own classroom. I also read John Dexter’s blog about CPD in his school. That excited me too, and gave me some ideas.
But I know that when I get back to work, I’ll stop being the excited twelve year-old who wanted to test every new concept and become the 52 year-old pragmatist. In some ways, it’s unrealistic to expect a teacher to sustain the open curiosity of their younger self: we’ve changed and the context has changed.
But what came to mind this morning was a big think-bubble above me. What if – just possibly WHAT IF – I could experiment at school? That was the twelve year-old talking. The 52 year-old said, “No. We’re too busy and too knackered. Great idea, but we’ll never sustain it.” Somewhere in the conversation, a third voice entered (I’ve yet to work out who it is). Here’s what it said.
Twilight INSET sessions are a living death. Tired teachers ploughing through PowerPoints, pointless exercises, preparation for Ofsted or ‘Show and Tell’ from someone’s recent CPD. Ours is on Wednesday evening. I actively and eagerly participate, mostly because it keeps me awake.
PPA is mostly spent not planning. We chat, we explore resources, we make tea, we chat some more, we look around for some more stuff and we flip listlessly through exercise books.
How about a bit of ‘flipped learning’? Some schools are encouraging their students to read around and prepare in their own time for topics that are then actively and collectively explored in lessons. That worked really well for me as an undergraduate, where my contributions to seminars were animated and well-informed.
I can plan unconsciously. I don’t need to be at my creative best for the ritual of writing and revising my weekly plans. On those Wednesday afternoons, armed with some high octane coffee and a packet of chocolate Hobnobs, I think my colleague and I could motor through our plans for the following week.
And instead of spending our PPA on planning, why not spend it on learning? Whether simply as a pair, or with colleagues who share our PPA slot, why don’t we spend some or all of the time in some intense CPD or pursuit of research into our pupils’ learning? We’ll be more alert for an activity that demands all of our consciousness and a good helping of energy.
Within a school, the cycle might be a half or whole day INSET each term and one twilight INSET and three or four CPD weeks each month. The INSETs might actually be more engaging because they will inform and be informed by our own learning. A wider, more animated ‘show and tell’. And, given a whole-school consensus on what colleagues want to learn and research, the body of professionals might become more active learners as well as great teachers.
It’s a Saturday daydream, just like my plans go enter a team in the national schools swimming relays (which began in a burst of enthusiasm last night and died when I realised I wouldn’t have enough boy and girl swimmers to make up two teams). But maybe it’s worth mentioning to my colleagues. I’ll be interested to hear what they have to say. I’d also be interested to hear what you have to say.