We Can Have Both

Some time ago when at a teacher training recruitment event a chap interested in teaching maths asked me if we’d figured out how to do it yet. We’d been at it for a while now so surely we must have it sorted and teaching made significantly straightforward and easy by following the logical slot ‘a’ into tab ‘b’ procedure that leads to learning.

Obviously, being a more rounded and wider thinking literature graduate and English teacher, I extended sympathy towards the poor fellow and his simplistic view of life shaped by years of certain answers and equations with clear patterns and formulae. Of course there is no ‘way’ to do it. That’s what makes the job so interesting, diverse and stimulating. The human agency of teacher and student and the almost endless possibilities created by the various computations of adult and child and combinations of children in different groups for different subjects, the excitement of a subject that enthralls them, the persistence in the face of those that provide more of a challenge are what gives the variety and reward. Although thinking about it the chap at the event could perhaps have generated an algorithm to work these things out.

And yet I read more and more about different attempts to generate checklists, scripts and models that would seemingly reduce the need to take this human agency into account. I can see the appeal of these. Life would be more straightforward, no need to worry about the differing needs of different groups, no need for planning, assessment could almost run itself and a simple behavioural system generated and administered centrally would remove the need to worry about building relationships with any children.

I’m not suggesting that these materials, curricula and lessons won’t be of high quality. That descends into an either/or debate which is reductive and unhelpful. There are without doubt a range of people with huge levels of expertise in creation of subject materials or assessment (some of whom don’t even have twitter accounts – I know!) and building curriculum models who will and should be sharing this expertise and providing ideas and resources for us all. It would be petulant to not see the value in this and want to make something of it but I wonder in this era of polarization and seeking of ‘the answer’ whether this is fast becoming all we look for and value and what gets left behind in the process.

Imagine yourself at the finest restaurant, designed with architecture as classical or as modern as your heart desires with food prepared from the finest (probably locally sourced if TV chefs are to be believed) ingredients and blended into the most wonderful culinary creations you could ever contemplate. Then picture your waiter/waitress. What do you have in mind?

I’d imagine it’s someone who knows the menu inside and out, can make recommendations, wine suggestions. Someone that can answer your questions and make you feel like they are interested in you and want to make sure that you get everything possible from the meal. A full experience that goes further than the simple filling of a belly with fuel to get you through.

Someone who can do that does more than just serve food and no matter how well prepared that food is and how fantastic the ingredients simply won’t take anything from the meal – or want to return – if it’s missing.

As I’ve said already I’m not saying we shouldn’t want subject specific excellence or work to build teacher experience and expertise in whatever field it is they’ve decided to teach but let’s not leave out the more complex relational work that is essential if we want this curriculum work to have the impact that we want and need it to. Your well prepared ingredients left on the very expensive and stylish plates and dishes they were dumped on the table on.

Someone posted question on Twitter in the week asking if scripted lessons and policies could lead to a deskilling of the profession and when you combine this with funding cuts meaning schools may start to look at people other than teachers to deliver a scripted curriculum (if it’s all written for them why do you need the qualifications?) then there is a definite possibility that a certain skillset interns of relational work could well be lost and I think we and our schools will be poorer for it.

As a form teacher I can remember getting home from school and turning round to drive back to discuss with (for discuss read go ballistic at) another teacher what they’d said to a member of my form. I used to walk my form to assembly and take them for fire drills and feel they were an extension of me. I made the calls home, wanted to know where they were, why they were late etc. I felt responsibility for them and their actions and shared their hurt and their successes. As more support roles were introduced the distance between form teacher and home seemed to grow, or at least could if you let it, and while this meant greater efficiencies (they could make the calls home there and then etc) and certainly reduced workload I fear that in a number of cases it reduced the relationship and lessened the support. I remember opposing vehemently the suggestion that heads of subject shouldn’t have tutor groups – what a way to signify that pastoral roles are less valuable! When we allocate roles and jobs in school to people other than teachers we have to be vigilant for any signs that these jobs don’t lose their status and their work starts to be seen as less important as a result. If we genuinely want to educate our students and enable them to make a better world we have to look at more rounded ways to shape this future than replacing Harry Potter with Homer and thinking that will do the job. Children need help working out the world and how to be part of it and that needs to be more than being told “I know better” as this doesn’t really deliver without an understanding of why.

So let’s keep developing the subject expertise, building the curriculum and assessment models. Let’s continue to look at the range of roles we need in schools and make sure that the people with the capacity and the expertise to best support our students and ensure they are able to learn and make the most of every opportunity afforded them – I work with one of the best behaviour support mentors you could wish for. But let’s not do so at the expense of recognising the importance of, and rewards that come from, the relational work that we as classroom teachers do. To do a terrible disservice to a great work in search of a snappy finish the human agency in our classrooms might be harder to unpick and understand than criteria, and riskier to work with, but when it’s realised it can be bloody beautiful.

Go well

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Don’t you know? Don’t you care? Don’t you know – about Love?

Oh Christ, he's using Freire..abandon hope all who enter here...

Oh Christ, he’s using Freire..abandon hope all who enter here…

 

I remember a poster appearing in the kitchen of my halls of residence some time between the warm bottle of free Labatt’s Ice we were given during fresher’s week and the point we realised that we might have to hide our U2 tapes and pretend to like Jeff Buckley if were to hope to maintain any of the mystique of cool we might have arrived with. Either that or get a telly. The poster in question was, I think, put up by the student arm of the Socialist Worker and celebrated the fact that a student at another university had been chased off the campus and been forced to leave for holding extreme right wing views. His views did seem abhorrent to my way of thinking and my approach to life but all the same it seemed to me that forcing him out of education and institutions where we should champion freedom of speech and expression was a case of using the tactics of those that were supposed to disgust his opponents to get rid of him.

This kind of extremism is always something that I’ve had trouble with and while I’ve held very firm convictions myself – and still do – I’ve tried to always be willing to listen to some of the ideas being expressed in opposition and see if there’s some way to find something in the other person’s argument that was worth taking on board. I’ve not always been very good at it I’ll admit but it’s a starting point. I’ve written and spoken before about the concept of I’m Ok, You’re Ok and always working hard to see everyone else in a positive light, somewhere, possibly deeply hidden, but somewhere. Like I say I’m not always that successful in maintaining that viewpoint but I think some of that comes from my mum who always inserts a “try to” when saying the line in The Lord’s Prayer about forgiving others for their trespasses.

It’s the apparent disappearance of this willingness to see any value whatsoever in the views or opinions of others that led me to duck out of Twitter for a bit. I’ve recently been reading James Hoggan’s book on the state of public discourse, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot” and this with the backdrop of a Trump electoral campaign, itself coming hot on the heels of a referendum result that seemed to embolden a wide range of extreme views and groups, was enough to make me start to get quite agitated. Hoggan makes a quite simple point that there is no validity in describing what you do as dialogue or debate if all you are interested in doing is battering the other person until they concede that your idea or stance is the only one and abandon their own. And on twitter of late this seems to be brought about to a greater extent but calling up a group of friends (pack of wolves?!) through quoted retweet or similar. This is why I think a number of debates are stale or lame. Not because there is no merit in discussion but parties only want to carry on the debate to prove they are the ones in the right or and to satiate ego not further exploration and discovery. As Freire (and that’ll be enough to enrage some!) put it,

How can I enter into a dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never see my own? How can I enter into dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from other men – mere ‘its’ in whom I cannot recognise other ‘I’s? How can I enter into dialogue if I consider myself to be part of the in-group of ‘pure’ men, the owners of truth and knowledge, for whom all non-members are ‘these people’ or ‘the great unwashed’? 

The other way this extremism has manifested is in extreme standpoints on a range of issues, all of which again remove the chances for any true dialogue and progress. I am happy to concede that there are behavioural issues that need to be addressed in almost all schools and that it is a key part of what we do to to develop better, positive behaviours in the young people we work with if they aren’t there already but I distance myself from the suggestion that schools are war zones. I am sure that there are leaders who are so focused on results and data for fear of their own vulnerable positions that they find it hard to protect staff from this leading to extra burden and workload that others have found strategies to fend off and the confidence and support to resist but I can’t subscribe to the view that senior leaders automatically transform into bastards at the moment of appointment. I am equally sure that in a number of schools there are teachers who struggle to cope with the classes they have and are disillusioned with the profession and need support and energy to enable them to see what they joined the profession for but I find it just as difficult to condemn these teachers to the scrapheap or ‘put a bomb under them’ as I do to swallow the ‘blame SLT’ mantra.

So dear reader (and I use the singular advisedly) I began to tire. I have also opened a new school and taken the lead on pastoral matters which is guaranteed to emotionally impact on you, and this coupled with the loss of my dad in the first week of term left me a little open to being scarred and as I’ve got quite an impulsive nature and can respond based on this with little recourse to thought and consideration at the best of times I decided to take a little time out to refresh and refocus.

But I’m back now…

I started my rebirth with a tweet about how everyone seems to have started to hate kids and part of my reason to return (hopefully in a reasonable state of mind) is the worry caused by lots of what I’ve read recently and what it seems to suggest about the way people are considering children. I hope I’m not right and have been overly sensitive but something makes me think I’m not when I see responses to these views being challenged.

There seems to be a pervading view that children don’t have that much to offer and bring little to the table. That they are ignorant vessels with little idea how to behave who are unworthy of interaction and dialogue. Who need to obey and bow down to the greatness of the teacher simply because we are the teacher and accept our greatness whether we demonstrate any worthiness of it or not.

At this point in most posts I’d dropping something about exaggerating for effect but this time I’m not and while I’m not quoting word for word what’s been written and have amalgamated some phrases this isn’t far off what’s been said.

Now before I wander into hypocrisy and looking like I don’t swallow my own calpol (nostalgic reference to get you back on side) raising my concerns here doesn’t mean I don’t think that students should behave (duh), or that we don’t have things to teach them. That they can all get it through Google or be left alone in a classroom to explore their way to exam success or personal development. But I certainly question that they have nothing to offer, that they have no idea how to behave or moral framework unless we impose one on them or that they need to unquestioningly obey. What concerns me (or let’s be honest starts to anger me) is that these ideas seem to be applied most readily to students in disadvantaged communities as if we have made decision as a profession that the wealthier kids will automatically behave while the poor ones need it drummed in to them and can only be saved by some sort of modern day missionary taking civilisation to the savages – very much an I’m Ok, You’re Not mentality.

I’ve spent my life and my career in disadvantaged communities and schools and my current role means I spend time with the students who are some of the most complex in times of emotional and educational need, display the most challenging behaviours and, when I work with some families in my capacity as safeguarding lead, have been involved and exposed to some of the darkest parts of human nature. Do I want them to improve behaviour? Yes. Do I want them to make greater progress academically? Yes Do I view them as lesser people because they aren’t doing these things yet? No.

Every student in my school has shown me that they can do what is asked of them and what is required for them to make a success of their time with us. There’s not one who doesn’t know what good behaviour is and hasn’t felt the glow when they get it right either in terms of actions or classroom tasks. Who hasn’t held a door, or said good morning, or please or thank you, who doesn’t stand up when an adult enters the room. And yet these would be exactly the sort of students that seem to be in the minds of those espousing this form of obedience. Self esteem and self efficacy are they keys to ensuring these students are able to demonstrate these things each and every day and, most importantly, want to do them as they see the intrinsic value and impact of their actions as something more than avoiding being told off. I know these students will respond to negative reinforcement – they get it everywhere – but I don’t think we are really offering educational excellence if we use the same methods.

I also worry about other impacts of this approach and the detrimental effect it could have on students’ feelings of safety and community, of being part of something. If we consider our students to be of lower status with views that are less valid and as someone who shouldn’t be taught to challenge and question in the safe environment of a school, with teachers comfortable enough in themselves to allow the development of true discussion and argument ,will they have the skills to question those around them with less noble motives? Think back through safeguarding training and your Prevent agenda work and consider what you went through when identifying what made students vulnerable. If we don’t develop self esteem and we look at any group of students as ‘these people’ or the ‘great unwashed’ of Freire in our classrooms then they can be in danger of starting to look elsewhere for this affirmation.

The thing is I can see the appeal of this mindset. It takes time to develop self esteem in a young person, it’s very quick to put them in their place and tell them to obey. The same can be said for enabling children to understand number, or metaphor, or to be able to analyse a source. It’s much easier and quicker to just tell them the answers and have them repeat them back. But none of these are long term approaches and all provide false comfort for a struggling or inexperienced teacher looking to gain some success and confidence, or equally to the headteacher expecting a visit from a luminary and wanting to give an appearance of order and educational advancement. Yes, the kids all stood and recited Shakespeare and were neat and tidy while you glowered and drilled it into them for the local MP or Secretary of State but how many understood the words they were saying, could remember it a month later or gave a damn about what they’d read and said afterwards? I once asked Hirsch if we were in danger of cultural reproduction but sometimes I feel we’re in danger of not even achieving that as we look for quick wins and only really manage cultural imitation. We’re not even giving these students the knowledge to join the club, we’re kidding them (and ourselves?) that we are while the doors stay firmly shut and those inside relax in their leather chairs.

I’ve documented how I came to work with The Inspiration Trust and to be in my job before but when I think back the starting point was my umbrage at the thought of someone coming along and seeming to suggest they had all of the answers to offer to us poor little Norfolk people muddling along in our confused little ways without any recognition of what he had to offer. I was wrong two years ago and am prepared to be wrong now. I hope I’m wrong now, because while I’m prepared to listen and take on board ideas and suggestions I can’t comprehend or countenance an approach to teaching huge numbers young people seemingly based around seeing them as of lesser value and a belief that they are lacking any civility.

Bet you’ve missed me…

Lots of Love

Colin

As anybody with a kind word would know…

dramaticpictureofjuneandpeter_amatteroflifeanddeath

“You’re life June…”

In a review of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet a Billboard journalist summed the record up as condensing a theory of Dr Frances Cress Welsing that, “color‘s an issue created and concocted to take advantage of people of various characteristics with the benefit of a few,” and this need to create an other has really come to the forefront of my thinking lately in the run up to the neverendum and more sharply with the events of the past week.

The fear of the other leading to its demonisation is nothing new. It has characterised the human race for centuries from wild descriptions and drawings of peoples in newly discovered (at least by the European explorers that drew them) countries to children when I was growing up asking where mum was and being told she’d, “run away with a black man,” as if it was the worst fate that could befall anyone. The Prevent agenda too has been taken and confused and examples come out of trained professionals succumbing to looking for and blaming the other in a climate of suspicion and fear.

The violence at football matches in Euro 2016 involving English fans is the same, and while right thinking people would never condone such actions or come within a million miles of getting close to committing them, the thought processes involved in those throwing chairs and bottles is only distanced by the choice of action from those shouting, “Fuck you Bale,” at tv screens on Thursday afternoon when England made recompense for the centuries of wrong doing and oppression inflicted on their proud nation by the scurrilous and empire building Welsh with a 2-1 win. As Sick Boy reflected when looking at the family medicine cabinet maybe there are many more in their own safe middle class ways that are just as much an addict.

We seem predisposed to attack what we fear and find difference unnerving even when we’re not entirely sure what we are protecting. In a conversation yesterday I overheard someone working out what the traditional British dress was that everyone would have to wear when Boris, Michael and Nige win and the country becomes the Merchant Ivory film we all know it will be after next weekend. The best thing about the conversation for me was that nobody involved could work out what it should be. I say the best thing as, while in some quarters this would be seen as a shameful reflection of a society where we’ve lost a sense of identity, for me it’s a sign of where we’re doing things right as there is so much variation and diversity that you can’t say this or that equals English or British. And that’s a good thing.

I’m often asked why, with both English and Irish heritage, I wear emerald green not white during the six nations and tournaments like the one we’re now in the middle of and shy away from group photographs behind a St George’s flag in the pub on the 23rd April each year. Aside from the obvious differences between the two countries and how they choose to express themselves when their, “country’s patriots are hunting down below,” as illustrated in the two contrasting videos of Irish and English fans it’s an unwillingness, a fear, a refusal among so many to see the multicultural blend of the country as a positive and a beautiful reflection of what England is or, at least could be, if we wanted to make it that way.

I’ve linked to his work already so let’s do it properly and quote from Billy Bragg when comparing love for his country to that for his son;

“My son is part of me, and I want the best for him; I want him to flourish, to be at ease with himself,to be admired. But I recognise that he is not perfect, and when he makes mistakes I am compelled to speak out and correct him – I can’t merely accept and applaud everything he does just because he’s my son. Why not? Because I don’t want him to grow up to be a spoiled brat whom others despise – I want him to understand that there are consequences for his actions in the wide world. When he lives up to my expectations I am immensely proud and when we are apart, I think of him every day.

If I love my country in the same way, does that make me a patriot? Well, no, not in the traditional sense. Patriots seem unable to accept any criticism, however constructive. They value loyalty above honesty, deference over respect.”

Yesterday I was involved in a group iMessage where someone referred to England having completely outplayed both Russia and Wales and it made me think of those sentiments. It might be pedantic or semantics – and I’m equally irritating in my use of both – but the match with Russia ended in a draw in which it took England over 70 mins to score before the opposition equalised because of Joe “treacle hands” Hart and there’s something about completely outplaying someone that to me kind of needs to include winning – “loyalty above honesty.” Last night’s conversation perhaps inevitably included the violence around the stadiums and here again it was a look to the other as the Russians were “thugs that had spent ten years getting ready for this,” which I can only assume means that the English fans involved were simply victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. Inside the stadium I think there’s a huge argument for this and the sight of children being caught up in the violence was a deeply upsetting sight and a real contrast to the scenes of joy and celebration and community seen in other grounds in other matches when the tournament really showed what it should be about. But in the streets of Marseilles weren’t just Russians that had travelled there for trouble but English fans banned from grounds up and down the country who had gone to incredible lengths to get into a city long enough before a match not to be picked up just so they could kick off.

We can’t characterise a nation by the actions of a few (as Britain First have kindly reminded us today with what appears to be no sense of irony) and I’m not, but we can recognise that there are negative elements in any group, accept and acknowledge this and, more importantly, do something about it. On The Last Leg last week  I think it was Russell Crowe that asked why this happens so much around the English to which Alex Brooker replied, “because we piss more people off than anyone else,” which made me think of my favourite film A Matter of Life and Death where David Niven is a pilot on trial and a jury is pulled together of various nations and generations (it’s in heaven, go watch it and this will make sense) all of which have been wronged by England. The Squadron Leader’s counsel then pulls together another jury having had an exchange with the American prosecutor about these grievances and asks for a jury;

“Of Americans, sir, selected from every walk of American life. If one has fought in the Wars of Independence, I want one who has fought with us against our enemies in this century.If the third has a mind that can only think 170 years back, I want the fourth to be thinking 170 years ahead. I cannot deny that I hope, that I know that this jury will be prejudiced in favour of my case for I am pleading for the rights of the individual against the system.”

He also invokes John Donne, Dryden, Pope and others to which Raymond Massey’s embittered American concedes as I do that there is greatness to be celebrated and great things to be proud of but we can’t do so and ignore the other side of the coin. Give me a patriotism that does both and and I’ll wear the rose – but I’m still not singing an appropriated slave song!

In the end love wins out and Peter Carter returns to earth with June (“Are you in love with anybody? No, don’t answer.” “I could love a man like you, Peter.” “I love you, June, you’re life and I‘m leaving you” – seriously go watch it) and there’s been lots of talk of how we have more love than hate and this is what’s come to the fore this week. I hope that it has, but it seems that in the aftermath of all of the events like those this week we talk about vigils and marches and hashtags of solidarity before it fading away gradually and the voices of hate and division coming to the fore again. In the hours following the shooting of Jo Cox people started by looking for why and that’s understandable, we try to make some sense of an act that defies any sense, but shortly after that and possibly due to the lack of any rationalisation that search turned to blame. Was the man linked to a far right organisation so we could use the death to justify hatred towards them? Nick Griffin sensed this and immediately tweeted that he hoped the “crumbling” remain campaign wouldn’t use this for political gain (what is it with the right and a lack of grasping the disgusting hypocrisy of their statements?). Similarly in Orlando the instant reaction was to try and find a group other than the one we belong to to place the shooter among. He was a muslim so clearly this was an act of terrorism based on hatred of homosexuality, oh but hang on he frequented the club so erm, he was gay as well? That’s more tricky to put in a box on the Fox News shelf and that’s without getting into the seemingly homophobic governmental and legal system in Orlando.

So what do we do when we can’t find an ideology or religion to place someone in and categorise them? We need the other in these circumstances as they’ve now been transformed from something to fear as something to blame, or perhaps more accurately someone to look to and be able to use to distance ourselves from any kind of responsibility and mental illness is a great way to do this and always delivers. No matter who we are and what our faith or political beliefs are we can take solace in the fact that mental illness puts anyone who commits an act that we can’t comprehend a comfortable distance from us and sit back safely knowing that it was because there was something wrong with the individual, the loner, the confused and deranged NOT LIKE ME person who does these things.

Despite one in four people suffering some form of mental illness each year and many more being touched by it, despite the funding for help lines, education, medication and beds being reduced each year we are safe knowing that there really was nothing that could have been done. The rhetoric of our politicians spewing hate and fear across the airwaves for their own gain that some don’t have the capacity to filter isn’t at fault: the stigma in society that means those suffering from mental illnesses can’t speak up isn’t at fault; that mental health patients have an invisible illness so suffer benefit cuts (and their disgracefully not alone in this) isn’t at fault; the fact that they find it massively difficult to get back into work and build a life even after they have got to point where they manage their conditions isn’t at fault. It’s just something wrong with them that most importantly isn’t wrong with me.

I read a tweet yesterday where someone said that no matter what your ideology someone who is mentally deviant will always act this way. I’ve tried to find a generous interpretation of what he was trying to say regarding the vulnerable in society being prone to exploitation or something but that language. Deviant? Always? Can you imagine some being called a cancer deviant or a heart attack deviant? Or, “well you know those people on dialysis they’re always going to do horrendous things”? What was even more troubling was that in the string of tweets full of arguments on creed, colour, nationality and sexuality neither the author of the tweet this was responding to or any of the others in the exchanges seemed to notice or question the terminology.

Earlier I mentioned the doubts I have over the power of vigils and hashtags to lead to real change and I’ve written previous posts about how these things run the risk of making people feel like they are taking action while becoming dangerously close to tokenism. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve a fantastically important purpose in giving a sense of belonging and community but let’s not let it stop there and let’s not let that feeling of solidarity be at the expense of others. If we do then we are as divisive as any of those we might oppose. Also let’s do what we can to turn the outpouring of emotion and expressions of love over hatred into positive action not just a rainbow across our Twitter avatar.

In the aftermath of Jo Cox’s shooting Thank Your MP was being used as a hashtag. There were some fantastic examples of public servants doing great things for their communities but with a cynical head on how many others using it have engaged with politics or politicians even at this local level? And how many others are there that the community around them would question whether they really deserve the gratitude? If they don’t then do something about it and get them acting to challenge the actions and words of those they may share a platform with so they are helping to resolve the problems we face and prevent further hatred and tragedy. As educators let’s work with our children and communities to challenge ignorance, fear and hatred wherever we see it and equip future generations with the understanding, foresight, and courage to do so in the future. And let’s do it every day; let’s make our words ones of kindness, our thoughts full of compassion and our actions full of love – joining in like the “big mushy lads” below and helping EVERYONE to do the same.

Lots of Love

Colin

I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out… Thank you, drop dead.

dean

YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!

A few weeks ago I was lucky to have some time with John Hattie as part of a small group invited by Visible Learning. I’m going to write more about the day and the conversation but I wanted to explore on topic here as it links to an earlier post and something that has been plaguing my thoughts for a while.

Stemming from my work with the Office of the Regional Schools Commissioner (which was how I managed to be among a group of about eight meeting with a global luminary in education!) I have been wondering why teachers don’t seem to engage in research and had been batting around a couple of ideas. Firstly I think a lot of research is just disappointing to the regular classroom teacher and that a number of those who talk about research are basically reshaping CPD in another form. When I’ve looked at job descriptions for research leads in school they’re pretty much just that – a rehash of someone to over see staff training and development but couched in more attractive terms to ride the zeitgeist. If research can be seen as zeitgeisty.

It’s also disappointing as it doesn’t seem to deliver much in terms of providing answers and direction. I heard two presentations recently which were labelled as offering answers to that old question of ‘what works.’ One was looking at different groups of schools to see how they supported progress among disadvantaged children in comparison with each other. What was revealed – and hold on here – was that in some cases one group did better and in some cases the other did.

Amazing.

What would have been great was for this to be the first step and for the session to then follow on to say exactly what the schools that had done great things with disadvantaged kids so that as a teacher and school leader I could learn from this and perhaps take some of it back to the poorest ward in one of the poorest parts of the country. There were lots of nods and smiles in the room as some people saw they could get politically excited by their favoured group being seen as better or worse than the other lot at times (interestingly from some who are fairly vocal about the awful way education is being politicised) but in terms of what came from it to improve the lot of our kids I couldn’t really say it offered much.

Similar was a later opportunity to hear from someone at the forefront of educational research – surely some insight here. What was offered was a breakdown of why research is difficult to do and as such using any results to support any particular approach is quite unlikely and as such conclusions are pretty hard to draw.

Useful.

I’m being overly arsey about this I know and actually the discussion around research methods in both examples were interesting and did encourage some thinking but had I gone to either to find useful ideas that I could apply working with children in classrooms or schools as opposed to with numbers in an office I would have been disappointed, disillusioned or just depressed. This is, I think one of the genuine issues with why people shy away from research as it’s currently presented. It just doesn’t offer much in most people’s worlds.

The other issue and the one that linked to the conversation that day is that there is just so much material out there that it’s hard to know where to look, what to believe and what to leave out. Not only is there a plethora of ideas that keep coming and keep contradicting previous ideas (even from the same people) but the prevalence of blogging and tweeting in some sectors – and always remember it’s an incredibly small part of the teaching community when you look to it for guidance/affirmation – leads to people referencing themselves or other bloggers as an evidence base even when the original piece was opinion rather than having any factual basis.

Finding your way in the educational world takes every gift you’ve got and I sometimes wonder what on earth people make of it when they are trying to find their path through it and make some sense of what the bloody hell the world wants from them. The issue of cognitive burnout was raised in our discussion group and I think it links directly to this. Outside of the cliche (they only become cliches  because they have a foundation in a truth we can all recognise) of ‘initiative overload’ which again I’ve made references to previously when a colleague was clearing laminated sheets from a classroom cupboard the well intentioned teacher looking to kind hearted – if we’re being nice – colleagues, fellow teachers and consultants for some sense of direction will be equally baffled.

I do think there’s a light on the horizon and glimmers of hope when people resist reinventing the wheel (and just update the alloys? maybe not) which I’ll go onto next time but for now maybe we just need, as was suggested to me recently, to play with our kids/read a book/watch tv/play a record and give ourselves a break for a bit.

Lots of Love

Colin x

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EW5xxdR9RE

This is not a post about Learning Styles…

learningstyles001h

So as the title suggest this is not a post about learning styles. I am going to refer to them but only in the wider context of ideas that seem to me to have been shared, clung to, used (poorly in a number of cases – and there’s the rub) and then condemned.

What’s interesting in the debate around learning styles is that there seems to be some sense of agreement that people access different things in different ways and that a variety of approaches is useful for ensuring that learners have a way in. In a study of effective teaching methods summing up lots of other studies of effective teaching methods that I have been using to refine our Trust Principles of Learning, the understanding of student misconceptions and the need to look at the way the learner approaches problems in order to help them overcome them was seen as being pretty useful and this seems fairly similar to understanding the need for different ways in.

I also remember when I was exploring poetry with a pretty boy heavy and sharp year 11 class in the tiniest room in the school, last thing every Friday. Their focus and contributions were great. We never did those lists of poetic techniques or device spotting or pretty grids from the ‘How to Teach’ the anthology type books because we didn’t need them and didn’t like them. Well, I didn’t. This was all very well for the majority but there in the class was Hannah, a very intelligent, diligent, hard working girl who was desperate for a grid as it was the way she organised her thinking and she couldn’t access the free form fast moving conversations we were having.

I don’t ever remember calling it Learning Styles but there was something that I wasn’t doing (because it didn’t match or suit the way I liked to work or learn) that I needed to do to support this learner. So I changed my practice. I probably would have, and looking back I’m pretty sure I did, approached it differently with a group of students working at a lower level as I would have thought more about the need for structure. So maybe it wasn’t learning styles, maybe it was differentiation? Maybe it was personalisation? But then I’ve heard both of those decried as well, or at least talked about in hushed tones as if they were dirty words. What it was about was knowing the students and making sure they had the best opportunity to learn.

But this isn’t a post about learning styles. I’m not here to defend them but not really here to bury them either. It seems to me this sort of issue crops up a lot with ideas that clearly have some validity (knowing your students, anticipating, understanding and addressing misconceptions to help them make sense of what it is you’re teaching is a good thing yeah?) but seem to have been implemented badly or used as some sort of bolt on or panacea and as a result now seem to be massively flawed.

This gap between the idea and the implementation first screamed out at me when I was visiting a school which was championed as being expert in using Kagan strategies. I visited three classrooms and saw teachers who were using the tools and timers and students were responding well. They understood the way things were done and the routines and it provided a great environment for learning. Perhaps not enough to convince me to build a school around the approach but it was having impact.

The fourth classroom was different though. One example typified the issue here when the teacher used the classic countdown from five to zero to bring the class to order. Now I’ve seen this used really well when a teacher adjusts the countdown speed to enable students to register what’s going on, comments positively on students that have put things away or are sitting silently, moves to stand near those that haven’t while counting etc. But what was happening here was a poor soul happily looking at us as visitors to his room while he counted down from five and was happily ignored by 28 kids who, while they were grouped in fours with opposite partners and neighbour partners as suggested by Kagan, seemed to learn very little.

Again I’m not writing this to criticise Kagan any more than learning styles or anything else but to encourage us to consider implementation when we decide that something does or does not have value. All too often teachers and schools are in a situation where they are so desperate to do well and improve practice that they look for quick wins and off the shelf solutions without real consideration about how these need to be adapted and integrated into schools and classrooms. Without this they don’t have the desired impact so are dismissed and everyone moves on to something else which again isn’t thought through. It has its messianic moment in the sun prior to being thrown out with all the other naughty boys and its beautifully laminated posters are left filling up filing cabinets and drawers everywhere you look. So the bank accounts of the quick fixers providing solutions that require little thought or effort and never really work are filling up as quickly as the frustration at ‘another bloody initiative’ grows and the good will of a staff dissipates. And even if it’s a well thought out and considered approach that can have real benefit poor implementation leads to the same end result.

When we deliver TEEP (Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme) training there is a slide that features on the third day but I always bring in earlier. Here are the main points from it:

When considering an activity to use, think about:

  • What will the students actually learn?
  • Will it encourage them to link prior learning with the new things they need to learn?
  • Will it demand active learning behaviours?
  • Do they have all the learning skills they need to do the activity?
  • Can these skills be transferred across different discipline areas of the curriculum?
  • Will it demonstrate the individual student’s knowledge and understanding?

I bring it in earlier because I think it’s crucial that we encourage people to consider why they are using any strategy and technique and to make sure they have an answer that goes deeper than, “because I got shown it on a course” or, “someone said they did it and it was good.”

One of the things that’s always asked on TEEP training when participants are given the opportunity to comment on what trainers could do to help them is to provide a resources pack, a set of tips and tricks “that you can use the very next day and that will make you an outstanding teacher of x.” Come on, you’ve all seen the CPD flyers! While we do take people through some examples to, erm, exemplify what the stages of the cycle are about we resist presenting these as any sort of quick solution. At each stage it’s about understanding what you are trying to achieve for your learners not just about repeating what you did on the training or performing simplistic tricks. Much as it’s great to hear people engage positively, when people tell you they’ve “TEEPed” a lesson it often causes a shudder as it can mean that things have been bolted on or chucked in to existing plans rather than any substantial (re)thinking around approaches to planning overall. One of the worst examples of this was seeing an NQT copying an old plan across word for word on to the TEEP layout and supplying this as an example of applying the training. In the schools where the programme really has impact it becomes an integral part of what the school is about, the shape for the language of learning and is used by every teacher in every classroom in every lesson. Where it fails is where it’s taken or left, an optional extra or actually an extra at all as opposed to being central.

And it happens everywhere no matter where you sit on the edu-spectrum and whatever label you find yourself being given. Guy Claxton spoke of how his work has been poorly implemented by people chucking the ‘Rs’ in without in depth understanding or fundamental and as a result not had the impact he believes it can – I wonder how much this has contributed to the perception of his work as ‘woolly will-o’-the-whisp’ that he is charged with?

A colleague also told me recently that Dylan William once remarked on how the application of his ideas in some quarters was so far removed and distorted from the original thinking that they are hardly recognisable as his work. I wonder how long it will be before a current favourite of the educational chattering classes Doug Lemov comes under attack and is put down by those who currently advocate his work because of diminishing returns? When it happens I’d imagine that it will be in no small part due to people that are, as one teacher put it to me “choosing one idea and doing it over and over” with the intention of getting good at it, but without consideration as to whether this idea is appropriate or relevant to the children being taught and their needs – or whether they might need more than one strategy…

So this isn’t about learning styles – defending or condemning them – any more than it’s about TEEP, Claxton, William or teaching like a champion. On the simplest level it’s about ensuring that we have a deeper consideration as to why something hasn’t had the impact that it might have done and I think in many cases it’s the application of these ideas, or too simplistic an understanding of them, that’s often at the heart of the issue. Which isn’t to say that we can excuse every idea that doesn’t deliver by suggesting it’s simply a lack of understanding (otherwise we would be suggesting that my complete bewilderment around Mrs Brown’s Boys is because I haven’t understood rather than it just being awful) but maybe the ones that seem to cause such controversy or have been championed and then turned on. Perhaps their popularity has led to a clamour to use them which in turn heightens the possibility for dilution and misunderstanding as everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Mastery statements anyone…?

On another level I suppose I’d like to encourage us to think about why we get into this position in the first place. In some cases there is a tendency to look for quick fixes or the path of least resistance/work; the message about tenacity that was given out by a key argument against mixed ability teaching being it was hard work for the teacher was an interesting one, and I often react to suggestions that group work is ineffective because students take a back seat with “don’t just put them in groups and expect it to happen then, maybe teach some effective collaboration skills and create and environment where all students take responsibility and want to contribute!” However in the vast majority of cases I’m sure that teachers are looking for something that will make things better for their learners and simply don’t have the opportunity to really investigate and explore these ideas and approaches to ensure that they are fully understood and implemented in a way that means they really have a chance to deliver. It’s because of this that I’d suggest these ideas fall down and teachers and schools lose faith before moving on to the next idea that will probably suffer the same fate.

One of the reasons why I think TEEP (this isn’t an advert by the way it’s just something I know more about the strengths – and potential failings – of) was identified by the Teacher Development Trust as having impact in schools is because where it is done well it’s prepared for in advance, becomes the sole focus for teaching development, given time to develop and be understood (the training itself is spread over three of four months in the best examples) and while it will have impact and make a real difference it’s not seen as being a quick fix or something you can start monitoring teachers against after the first day.

So yes, if learning styles (which this is certainly not about) equates to a student being told he is a kinaesthetic learner at ten and then learning about every topic by running around or representing Hamlet by building lego models and never writing anything, while someone next to him is doing it in song or only reading poetry and never hearing it aloud then something is wrong. Similarly if you have a skills based curriculum that is never actually used to develop knowledge or understanding, or a knowledge based curriculum that fails to include the knowledge of how, building expertise alongside the knowledge of what, then you’re on an unhelpful tangent too.

How about we think a little more and look a little deeper? Help everyone to work out where they are by giving ideas the chance to be fully understood before we decide they have no worth? Can you imagine being a teacher in need of help and ideas and coming on twitter to get direction? For everyone promoting something there’s a gang ready to run it down and on both sides people determined that the way forward is to have the opposing voice silenced with no room for both. No scope for building on each other and seeing if there might actually be a better way that enables us to be stronger by listening to other voices and combining them with our own. We have days set up entirely around confrontation and one idea vs another, we have bloggers chopping and changing ideas and seeming to be at odds even with themselves at times.

Perhaps it’s not just those confused NQTs and bewildered teachers and school leaders that are trying to grab on to a quick fix that need some sort of affirmation by being sure that they have THE answer? Maybe we could all stop trying to be so bloody right all the time and see that things are a little more complex than soundbites and how clever we can look in 140 characters.

Lots of Love

Colin

 

 

Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall

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When I was delivering training in a school just before Christmas last year I was asked by one teacher why I thought it was that students no longer had the love and enthusiasm for literature or history that characterised her time in school. I answered her question with one of my own asking when the last time was she’d taught a text for anything other than for the exam and she said she hadn’t.

This came to mind a while ago when I was presenting about Trafalgar College at TLT15 in Southampton and more recently when the subject of testing was in the media and our minds once again. In a career that’s pushing two decades I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to teach to the test. I’ve taught classes that have taken tests from SATs to A Level and they’ve always done well but that’s not the same thing. I’ve taught children in GCSE classes but I never just taught them GCSE English or Literature – I taught them how to communicate in written and verbal forms, how to read and understand, and how to explore the world, its cultures and histories through poetry prose and drama.

When you’re teaching somebody poetry they can quite often understand poetry, be able to discuss it and explain the meanings and the ideas that the poet is trying to express but not be able initially to write about it. Similarly, when I was working with a fantastic music teacher last week she discussed how students are encouraged within her subject to “show me if you can’t tell me.” If I assessed my poetry students and her the musicians by their ability to write up their understanding as the first thing we did then not only would they look as if they had no understanding but they would most likely lose confidence in their ability to understand and interpret music or poems. The same is true of Maths lessons where students make an error somewhere in an equation and then through the sets of questions presented to them make the same mistake again ten or twenty times over and walk away thinking they can’t do Maths. These psychological standpoints and mindsets are incredibly difficult to shift and do long term damage to students who have a belief that they ‘can’t do’ which overshadows what they genuinely can and we should be aware of any actions that we take which might create or reinforce these feelings.

I also remember discussing with a colleague his plan for baseline testing on arrival into a department and questioning whether this was the most dynamic way to introduce students to high school. Even leaving aside the fact that we had assessments from the feeder schools, examples of work and the fact that we know performance in a period of transition dips so these results would be skewed I’m just not convinced that sitting a test is likely to lead to students rushing home to tell their parents what a great school they’ve signed up to. Or have them rushing back in the morning for more.

So all of this would make it seem like I’m about to get on the bandwagon and shout about how weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter and how testing is going to diminish students’ chances of a rounded education was we all abandon anything other than lessons upon lessons, days upon days and term after term of preparing for tests, testing and the testing again. Well I would do if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s within our gift to make this situation our reality or do something different.

I have no issue with testing. Just like I have no issue with a ‘traditional’ curriculum. Or a curriculum with a heavy vocational element. What I do take issue with is the sense that the final outcome or assessment is seen as being the controlling influence in everything that we do, and it’s really down to us to make sure that this isn’t the case. For us as teachers to see that if we teach students the subjects that we love and do so in a well considered and rounded way that when we test them along the way to see progress and when they come to that final assessment they’ll do well in those tests. For us to maybe consider the counter-productive nature of “teaching to the test” not just in terms of the long term understanding or passion for the subject but also in terms of test performance itself, as the ability to deal with unexpected questions that weren’t drilled into the students just isn’t there – never mind the boredom and lack of interest from the constant repetition. For us to realise that we have the power to do this and control it in our own classrooms and to maybe borrow from the Hi Tech High teacher who responded to a question about exam preparation with, “Everything we teach them in the exam is harder than anything they do in the exam so they ace them.”

As I’ve written before sometimes we feel powerless in teaching with the number of changes around us but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless in every aspect of what we do or that we should hand over the power that we have because sometimes, just sometimes, it’s easier to bend with the rainfall rather than stand up and take ownership. But who does that help? I remember an A Level English group I once shared made up in the larger part of students I’d taught Media Studies to at GCSE and a number of who I was also teaching A Level Media to. I’d seen these students devour adverts, magazine covers, film posters, hours of documentary working independently in Media for a couple of years and they did the same in the A Level Media lessons but when tasked with taking some verses of a poem or pages of a novel in an A Level English class they were at a loss. Before we start to get carried away with accusations of Mickey Mouse subjects and the ridiculous notion of studying the media I can tell you it’s nothing to do with that and if you want to get into a debate about the narrative complexities of the Sopranos as opposed to Gulliver’s Travels, well, that’s for another time! I was baffled by their inability to analyse and the way that a group of students who were so independent, articulate and confident with one sort of text were so lost with another and as to why they seemed to be waiting for me to tell them all of the answers.

The answer was simple. As well as having me for GCSE Media and then A Level (and half of their English as well – poor buggers) they’d had the same teacher for English at both key stages and had learned that the way you do well was to copy the notes about the poem from the board into your anthology, learn the model answer, and reproduce it when asked. Reduced to a basic level this is like being told ten points being asked ten questions and getting ten out of ten – everyone does well, everyone feels happy, nobody learns very much.

This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of the teacher. They were a good teacher but this was in a time where progress wasn’t a factor and getting children to a C or above was the be all and end all so playing to this and playing it safe that’s what happened. But what of the students who ended up on C that should have been B or A? What about the ones who started with the creativity to push to A* answers who had it dulled by the routine? What about the student who got so turned off that they dropped below the golden threshold?

It’s that damned system again!

But it’s not. Or at least it doesn’t need to be. In the same corridor there I was with the naivety of being relatively new to the profession or arrogance of youth(!) but I wasn’t holding back or giving answers to be parroted back to me. That’s not what English is about is it? Or history? Or science? Within our classrooms we have the power and the influence and we can make sure that the final destination doesn’t determine the first step of the journey. I know that at some point my poetry student will need to write and exam answer in the same way that the music student will need to account for themselves on a written paper – and to be fair if we can’t get students to the point where they can’t express themselves coherently through writing then we have failed to foster and important life skill – but there is absolutely nothing that means we can’t explore the subject and develop an understanding in a raft of other ways before we get there. As I mentioned before a friend of mine expresses this through the metaphor of train tracks saying that we educate children on one track with a mind to what’s going on on the other before switching points to the exam track when we need to.

Of course school leaders have a key role to play here. When Tom Sherrington wrote his ‘What if there were no Oftsed etc…’ tweet telling teachers to do it anyway it was for me both a call to arms for the profession as well as an empowering message and as school leaders, at whatever level, we need to make sure that we are giving this confidence to our teachers. Not to indulge in a free for all but to be able to teach to the very best of their abilities and not be hamstrung by the method of assessment. We have to create the environment where teachers who feel that this is a risky approach (good teaching is risky????) in an anxious and risk averse profession not just feel ok doing this but recognise that it is the best way to get the best results in the assessments that they feel they are currently preparing for by staying within ‘Mind forg’d manacles.’

So no, this isn’t a rant against testing. Nor is it meant to suggest that the current assessment situation is perfect. Testing can’t be ignored and is often useful as a diagnostic or a measure of where we are so far. It’s certainly something that can motivate students and we can’t escape from the fact that in the end for us – and crucially our students – exam performance is the final measure and the key to the next set of doors. Like I’ve said keep an eye of that other train track.  It’s more against what to me to be simplistic and defeatist arguments around ideas such as, “teaching to the test,” or, “exam factories,” and the suggestion that testing is in someway inherently linked to dull teaching or mindless robot students – it is possible to be happy and nurtured and do well! Don’t allow yourself or your teachers to get trapped like that and don’t hide behind it as a reason not to stretch, challenge and excite your students.

We’re better than that.

Lots of Love

Colin

When The World Won’t Listen…

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It’s all been rather Hirsch focused around the place lately. We were lucky enough to host E D Hirsch, or Don as he was introduced, when he visited the UK to give three lectures. His first on these shores. As well as one in London for Policy Exchange and one in Cambridge he gave one in Norwich last week at The Hewett Academy. I’m going to blog on that at another time if I can get my hands on his notes and do a write up for those that weren’t there – and those that were who want to go back over what was said.

For this post I thought I’d pick up on something from a piece I read that Hirsch had referenced in his Cambridge talk.

I’m always going from one text to the next exploring references and I suppose at times not actually finishing the original source material. It always seems that when you’re on the internet it’s just far too easy to flit from one to another and end up somewhere you didn’t expect to be at all! This time I found myself reading, “Cultural Pathways Through Universal Development” by Greenfield et al.

The section that struck me particularly was around the exploration of the ‘Cultural Values’ approach and the distinction that is drawn between independent and interdependent pathways of development. What is suggested is that this is linked to ethnotheories (beliefs and ideas concerning the nature of the child and socialisation) and that there is, “a cognitive separation of self and world – as a result of the Western institution of formal schooling,” while in Africa for example there is an emphasis on, “contributing to the social world.”

This brought to mind an assembly that I had done where I discussed concept of Ubuntu or harmony which was used by leaders such as Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela. Ubuntu suggests that we all have not just a duty, but a link to each other that means we all either succeed or fail based on a collective sense of success of failure. This in turn echoed words whose origin I’m embarrassed to have forgotten but used to teach concerning the idea that while one man is weeping the happiness of millions counts for nothing.

I had always used that assembly and read those words and thought that as schools and teachers we were the vehicle that encouraged social responsibility and framed a sense of community. While wanting to make sure each and every one of my students could be as successful as possible I’d always stressed that they should determine what that success meant and wanted to make sure that each of them realised we could only get individual success through shared goals, ideals and virtues. Yet here I read that, “High socio-economic status and formal education are associated with a more individualistic orientation” and that the practices that reinforce this can even be seen to begin before birth. So not only are we leading kids in the wrong direction by having them in school in the first place but we couldn’t do anything about averting their journey to selfishness as it’s written in the stars – or at least the cultural norms – and when we move to the ecocultural approach, maternal behaviours. Seems Larkin has some basis in universal development.

Just to make sure we go full circle with this and get back to the 87 year old emeritus professor I’m going to draw on a question that I put to him that evening and the twenty minutes or so of one to one time I was lucky enough to get over dinner. Following an exchange with Tait Coles I asked Don Hirsch the following;

Some teachers in the UK feel that, as Bourdieu puts it education can lead to “cultural reproduction.” With this in mind what or where do you feel the source of our new core knowledge should be and how can we ensure a sense of pluralism in the search for it?

It was really good to see him respond to the question with the genuine excitement of someone that wants to discuss and debate ideas. The general perception of Hirsch is someone with a very specific and fixed approach and it was good to see these myths dispelled when he spoke of how he was frustrated by any side of a political spectrum trying to “own” what he had written and that political ideology was a block to learning. In response to the question of reproduction he said that he wasn’t going to argue that it didn’t but that reproduction was the first step to change, citing the Black Panthers as an example of a group that had a clear understanding of the language and the dominant culture of the day and who used this understanding in order to challenge orthodoxy.

When I shared this with Tait he asked about Ferguson or the Umbrella Revolution and whether or not there was a voice there. He asked if social media gave an alternative voice as opposed to simply replicating that already used by those in society with the power. Didn’t things like #blacklivesmatter or #icantbreathe suggest that other voices were being used and being heard?

I would have liked to be sharp enough to have followed up Hirsch’s answer with the Ferguson question and got his response but I’ll give what I think he might have said blended a bit with my own thoughts on social media. I’d imagine he’d maybe suggest that the lack of what was seen as an authoritative or legitimate voice was the reason for those lives being seen as less valuable than others in the first place and that had they been able at least to access – without necessarily being shaped by – the mainstream cultural knowledge or literacy then these situations wouldn’t have arisen. That if the black or other minority voice was given the same credence as others there wouldn’t be a need to go to twitter and other alternative forms. Now of course any right minded person would know that these voices and these lives are not less valid and that the suggestion would seem to be that they lose their own voice if they take the language of the oppressor to be given permission to enter the conversation. I’m not sure that Hirsch or anyone would disagree that there’s injustice there but perhaps we can protect the message even if we change the form of expression. His conversation seemed to suggest that far from any sense of acceptance of status quo or that hegemony was something to be strived for he was recognising the inequality and suggesting that the strategy to overcome it was to use the weapons and language of the oppressors to get in the room and make the changes. In the tent rather than outside of it.

Personally I’m not  incredibly convinced that hashtags etc. change a huge amount and wonder perhaps if the use of them gives more an appearance of a voice and potential for change than any genuine impact. There’s also a part of me that thinks governments and institutions are happy to allow these avenues for expression as they fulfil the speaker’s need to feel they are being listened to and affirmed – even with that affirmation coming from a group that are likely to share their views – while not having to genuinely engage and make any changes as a result. In examples of debate ranging from radio phone ins, to Question Time to the dispatch box those controlling the agenda will point out that the negative voices can be just that and offer nothing concrete while the positive ones are coherent, concrete and offer something that shows an understanding of the topic, the debate and crucially the rules of engagement. Whether there is a genuine intention on behalf of those in the position of power to listen or not, the nature of the opposition can too often provide an opportunity to dismiss it as those with the power were able to suggest that the arguments weren’t ones that warranted attention, response or credence because of the way in which they were framed or offered. I’d link this to twitter through things like twitter storms and hashtags etc or adding Nicky Morgan’s twitter handle at the end of a tweet to give yourself the impression and the solace that you’ve really stuck it to someone.

At this point another voice joins the conversation, that of Giles Barrow who I have mentioned in previous blogs (and whose piece on Educator as Cultivator you can and should  download from the same webpage) and along with Tait is someone who I thoroughly enjoy discussions with and again in a similar vein to my PuNk friend always energises me.

Through email exchanges Giles commented that he problem with social media is that despite having a permanent existence its very nature makes any influence transitory.

He went on to say that suppressed groups can’t rely on hashtags to change anything as it’s not seen as serious or sustainable and that those in power will wait for the wave to be crashed out by a subsequent one. As he put it, “ They may accommodate the language and format, but if there’s little direct relationship with power it remains ungrounded, separate from the landscape in which the subjugation takes place.” While there can be individuals that are affected or indeed hounded out by such action sustained systematic change has not been brought about by individuals tapping on gadgets in private. The reason for this he suggested was that reactive tapping doesn’t have to make a difference and if doesn’t equate to changes in democratic participation, targeted voting patterns and so on then the establishment are able to ignore it and re-frame it in the ways I’ve suggested above.

None of this means it’s not wrong that voices are subjugated, that alternative voices shouldn’t be heard, or that their language forms are wrong or less valid. It’s rather that they are easier to dismiss because they don’t conform to what’s expected and that it is harder to influence and change anything when those with the power can simply point to that difference as a reason not to listen and as a way to suggest illegitimacy. Seems that we need to use the accepted forms and the structures that exist in order to create a platform where we can provide some equality of voice – we knowingly reproduce it in order to revolutionise it.

And perhaps that was what Hirsch was saying and where we have to look to ensure that we don’t allow formal schooling to lead to the selfishness and individualism that Greenfield suggested. Just because we provide the same framework, the same knowledge and the same language of those in power to those without it doesn’t mean that they have to turn out the same. If as educators we want to reform and change an unfair society we must make those we care for aware of the world that they are in and what the rules of that game are. If we sit outside of that world pining for change and angrily shouting, while not seeing that we can effect change by being part of that and working from within, we are as responsible for the hegemony as those happily chuckling at a ranty twitter timeline.

Lots of Love

Colin