Lord, give me grace and dancing feet. Let me outshine the moon

While I was delivering TEEP training a while ago someone came into the room I was working in and asked about the impact that the programme has. I explained how I’d seen it work to improve teachers in my own school as well as schools where it had helped with whole school improvement. The teacher replied. “Yes. But will it work with our sort of kids?”

 I’m sure she was asking the question based on her own experiences and wondering whether or not it was easier in schools where there was already a good work ethic, or where students were motivated and keen to do well but it brought to mind a comment someone made when I was training staff in my own school and was asked whether this will work with “Lowestoft children.”

Bearing in mind this was the last two days of the summer holiday and this was a member of staff yet to meet or work with the students in my school and I was in my eleventh of twelfth year working with what I’d aways found to be great kids I had to work hard not to leap down his throat! Wanting to be supportive of new colleagues I have to say I did fairly well but I think it was clear how outrageous a comment I thought this was.

Having shared these comments with a fellow trainer last week our discussion moved on to aspiration and expectation and whether or not we were creating enough of this among our students.

A few years ago we had a group of girls who were referred to as “the Saturn girls.” Our houses are named after planets and despite only one or two of these twelve or so students being in the house the name stuck. These were girls who you’d recognise from either of the “Educating..” programmes as being a bit mouthy, going round in a group, worrying about everything outside of school, little inside and generally driving their teachers mad. But they were good kids. Myself and Giles Barrow – a man for whom the title consultant is so ridiculous in comparison to what he offers schools, students and teachers it’s untrue – sat down with these girls to see what made them tick. In conversation it became clear that these kids had made quite a conscious decision about school and what it had to offer them. 

There was little chance of worthwhile employment as young women in the area so for some their best prospect was marriage, for others there were low level jobs available or perhaps college courses with low level entry requirements. Any or all of these destinations required little by way of qualifications so these girls had to find some value in their time at school so socialising was as good a way as any to spend it while they waited for the end of Year 11. It was a sad state of affairs but what was equally worrying was that here they were about half way through their final year and up until this point nobody had had this conversation with them. They had been written off so wrote themselves off too and everyone carried on – they confirmed everyone’s expectations as nobody had much expectation for them.

I’m pleased to say that the majority of these girls did get stuck in and were spurred on to look at college courses and careers and they did build their aspirations to something more than finding a nice man to look after them. Indeed these girls who knew they would have to fight for themselves did more to push themselves on than some others from more comfortable backgrounds who settled with ‘ok’ grades as they’d been looked after up until this point so would be ok from now on as well.

The issue raised its head again for me though while interviewing the current Year 11 about how they were getting on and their next steps. We were working on the simple premise of seeing where students are meeting targets or otherwise and reasons why or why not. But something more came out of it. 

During the interviews I saw student after student who were meeting their target grades and being quite happy with this. This was also echoed by teachers who hadn’t raised concerns over these students or suggested any more needed to be done. My alarm bells rang because these were students who we were discussing their last reports with, the reports from May last year, who had already hit these target grades and rather than pushing forward were quite content. Once I and others discussed the notion of these not being targets but minimum expectations and then discussing where they might go next the eyes of these kids lit up. Once again it was a conversation that clearly nobody had had with them previously.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of our teachers. They have been working as I’m sure many teachers have to ensure they were getting students past the ‘C’ grade which we have enshrined as a gold standard or most recently working to ensure students are making appropriate progress and these guys were clearly doing it. But just think what they could have done – or rather what they will do now we have the chance to change minds and refocus expectations. The way in which we are forced to work means teachers and students have their aspirations held back because of having to play safe and get the expected grades rather than having the confidence to experiment and explore more creative teaching and push for the very best grades. I posted yesterday on early entry and won’t go over those arguments but will add a supplemental comment linked to this issue as teachers in our school and I’m sure others are using early entry not as gaming or cheating but to ensure a safety net for students so they don’t fall down. Unfortunately the knock on effect of this is teachers potentially trying to cover course content in time for a November entry and moving through things so quickly that the learning may be sacrificed and the whole process becomes self defeating – regardless of whether it counts for league tables or not. It’s no wonder that in this environment staff and students are settling rather than pushing and both parties are working together not to achieve the very best but in a conspiracy of apathy.

It’s vital that we help our students to develop aspiration and confidence to be the very best that they can be and crucial that we give our teachers the freedom and belief that they should have the highest expectations for their students and that they have the skills to work with their classes to reach these heights. It’s not about pressure and fear of failure, it’s about challenge, expectations and allowing everyone to know that they are the greatest.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzBp12TqAZs

 

Lots of Love

 

Colin

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