Nick Dennis' Blog

History, Technology, Education, Leadership

Legacies of the British Slave Trade

With results out of the way, the focus now turns to planning lessons. For my Year 9 classes this year, I plan to get them to do some research using the Legacies of the British Slave Trade database.  Based on the records of compensation claims after the emancipation of slaves in 1833, it provides an insight into how slavery was intermixed with politics, economics and society in Britain. The British government paid out £20 million from the taxpayer to slave owners as compensation for their loss of ‘goods’. The research suggests that half of that amount remained in Britain and was used in a variety of ways to build or refurbish houses, make donations to charities and extend influence.  The database has also been extended to include the structure and significance of slave ownership from 1763 and as such, they have been able to chart some of the physical, cultural and commercial legacies of the slave trade.

One aspect you can search for is the education establishment/place of residence of names in the database. I immediately checked to see if any former Berkhamsted students/inhabitants were involved in claims or had links. No records were found. Out of interest, I searched for other institutions attended by claimants/individuals associated with the slave trade/compensation claims. The raw figures are below:

  • Harrow School – 25
  • Eton College – 70
  • Westminster – 15
  • Charterhouse – 19
  • University of Oxford – 137
  • University of Cambridge – 133

It is worth pointing out again that the figures above are just the basic returns and it is only by going through the individual records do you get the detail. For example, the Rev John Wilson of Queen’s College, Oxford was awarded £2165 17S 10D. The Rev. Samuel Edward Bernard (attended Winchester and then Cambridge) claimed £3,983 12S 4D. There are children of slaves and planters in the records too reinforcing the view that the numbers cited above should not be used as a blunt instrument to tell a particular and limited story. My plan is to use the database to help the students understand the legacies by examining the records related to Hertfordshire and places close to Berkhamsted (like Tring).  The hope is that rather than something that occurred ‘out there’ in the past and in another place, they will grasp that the slave trade had a considerable impact on British society.

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One approach to adolescence

One of the most enjoyable books I have read this summer is Tony Little’s ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Education’. Covering topics such as headship, character education and vocation in teaching, there is something for everyone, regardless of the school you work in or attended. One story in particular struck me as an ideal piece to share with new parents at a boys’ school. Little quotes John McConnell, a Housemaster at Eton in 1967 who imagines a letter written to all mothers on their son’s fifteenth birthday. Text below from pages 52-53:

Today is Tom’s 15th birthday. You will be glad to hear that he received a nice bundle of envelopes and packages in the post this morning. The cake you ordered has arrived safely and I have given him leave to go home to lunch with you next Sunday.

However, the real purpose of the this letter is to try and prepare you for an imminent change in the relationship between yourself and your son. The affectionate small boy who has quite justifiably been your pride and joy is about to undergo such a transformation that you may begin to wonder if you have mothered a monster. The piping treble voice, you will observe, has already begun to crack. The down on his cheeks and chin is stiffening into defiant bristles and there is an angry hue about the blemishes on his skin. Perhaps you have started to wonder where you have gone wrong, and what you have done to deserve his new found anger. You, who have shown him most affection, will seem to be the butt for his most barbed and unkindly remarks. That is because you are still the most important woman in his life and the most convenient target for his burgeoning masculine aggressiveness.

Do not despair. Ride out the storm. Be firm but affectionate. At this moment when he seems to need you least, he needs you the most. Make a stand about the principles you regard as fundamental. Give him rope about the less important things. Do not worry too much about his wearing of apparel or the length of his hair. Comfort yoursellf with the knowledge that his present mood is transitory. If you do this and stand firm as a rock in the midst of his tempestuous life, the small boy whom you thought you had lost will return to you a charming young man – well groomed in appearance and with delightful manners. He will have been worth waiting for.

Meanwhile, we are both of us in for one hell of a time.

I wonder if there is something similar written from a girls’ school point of view?

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How to read a research paper

After Ben Goldacre’s intervention about the need for greater evidence in education,  I thought it best to speak to someone who reads a great deal of medical research for a living and knows a bit about the research process too. Paul Simpson is the Deputy Editor of PLOS Medicine and a former researcher at Cambridge and Birmingham. As I peppered him with questions over what should have been a very relaxing lunch about a year ago, he recommended that I read Trisha Greenhalgh’s ‘How To Read a Paper’. Targeted at medical and nursing students, it gives the basics  of evidence-based medicine, the issues to consider when reading research papers, and the arguments for and against an evidence-based approach.

I believe that the science of finding, evaluating and implementing the results of medical research can, and often does, make patient care more objective, more logical and more cost-effective…Nevertheless, I believe that when applied in a vacuum (that is, in the absence of common sense and without regard to the individual circumstances and priorities of the person being offered treatment or to the complex nature of clinical practice and policymaking), ‘evidence-based’ decision-making is a reductionist process with real potential for harm. p. xvii

One clear line of argument made by Greenhalgh’s is that the research used is ‘research on populations to inform decisions on individuals.’ As stated near the end of the book:

But as many others before me have pointed out, a patient is not a mean or a median but an individual, whose illness inevitably has unique and unclassifiable features. Not only does over-standardisation make the care offered less aligned to individual needs, it also de-skills the practitioner so that he or she loses the ability to customise and personalise care (or, in the case of recently trained clinicians, fails to gain that ability in the first place. p,236

This is an important point to remember as we think about using research in our classrooms/schools. One useful comparison is  student baseline data. The baseline scores give an idea of what someone with the same score might achieve, but it does not tell us about the individual.  Although not aimed at the education sector, with the growing call for research to inform/influence decision-making on pedagogy/pastoral care and well-being, it should be read, especially if you really want to ask some interesting questions at the forthcoming ResearchEd conference or your next inset day when a speaker is parachuted in and starts talking about the research papers they have used as the basis for their talk.

Greenhalgh provides a number of checklists to help you on your way and the chapters provide a variety of nuggets and fascinating stories. I found the diagram below to be particularly interesting.

Simple Hierarchy of Evidence

Simple Hierarchy of Evidence p.18

Note that anecdote, case studies and personal opinion are still useful despite the lack of quality when compared to other forms of evidence.

The book also considers the issues involved in applying research in the ‘real world’, recognising that possessing evidence is not enough because the difficult job of influencing/changing behaviour has to occur (your habits and that of other people).  The comparison with ‘eLearning’/ICT in schools is instructive. As many have pointed out (often in favour for research in education), all the new tech (iPads/IWBs/VLEs) in the world is not going to create change by itself.  If the use of research evidence in schools is not planned and thought about in a sensible way, especially when it comes to engaging colleagues and being realistic about timeframes, I can foresee that the ‘research champions’ and their projects for change may look like many of the ‘eLearning’/ICT projects in schools. Ignored, unloved and an easy target for when the next ‘revolution’ in education occurs.

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The Blind Men and the Elephant – the role of research in the history classroom

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

 

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!”

 

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!”

 

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!”

 

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he:

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!”

 

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!”

 

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!”

 

Moral:

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

As teachers, we have a tendency to be on a ‘Grail Quest’. One approach or activity that will make such a difference that it everyone else will think, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ when they see it (or hear about it). A new spin on analysing sources. A novel approach to significance. Technology as the saviour. The forces pushing and prompting us to go searching are immense, and the appeal is great, yet in our pursuit of teaching and learning salvation we can forget what caused us to start the search in the first place – our students and our context – and focus instead on the quest itself.

The latest ‘Grail Quest’ in education is the role of research and how it can guide us to the most efficient and effective practises. John Hattie’s analysis of educational research has gathered a lot of attention in part due to the emphasis on feedback in lessons and also because of his advocacy of ‘visible learning’. Psychologists such Carol Dweck on ‘Growth Mindsets’ and Cognitive Psychologists such as Robert Bjork on ‘Desirable Difficulties’ have indicated new ways to think about learning and student motivation. Other educators are focusing on the role of knowledge and using the work of E D Hirsch to justify a particular style of teaching (and sometimes to show that other forms are really damaging to our students).

Using these authors and the wealth of research is undoubtedly useful. It makes you reflect carefully on your own assumptions and what you are doing with your Y9 lesson on the Corn Laws on a Thursday morning. The danger however, with drawing upon these sources is that many of us appear to become nothing more than advocates for a particular approach. Armed with this new knowledge and the courage of our convictions, there is a danger of falling into the trap that the particular adopted approach is now the answer for all historical learning and educational problems. We seem to forget that it was a particular contextual problem that led us to wondering (and wandering).

One way to avoid the practise of groping around, seizing what is in front of you and using it as the basis for claims about teaching and learning is to do some research yourself. The academic Stuart Hall talks about comprehending the complexity of a situation so that you can make an effective change, and it is this desire for wisdom, rather than knowledge, that has made me by become a MSc student again (part-time). The desire for wisdom is practical (phronesis); comprehending the issue at stake will allow me to make an effective change for my students and the school. This is rather different to the argument that knowledge by itself can make a difference because as we can see form the blind men, poor choices can be made when based on (limited) knowledge.

Aside from all the reading, the best part of this process is getting to really think about Learning and Teaching with a group of other History teachers. The fact that we all come from different types of school and face unique challenges is fascinating and humbling at the same time. It offers a clear reminder that a particular approach is just that and does not speak truth to all contexts.

This post in its original form was on the ThinkingHistory site in January but commitments over the year meant that the following posts I hoped to write did not materialise. However, I’ll be picking up issues of research sporadically over the next academic year as I complete my fieldwork. I hope you’ll join me as I study my elephant carefully and deliberately.

The MSc in Learning and Teaching at the University of Oxford is designed for currently serving teachers. For more information about the course and how you can apply, please click the link:  http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/courses/msc-learning-teaching/

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The 140 character problem

In a post a few months ago, I discussed the growing issue of ‘silence’ in the education debate on Twitter. People keep their views private (but use Direct Messages to share concerns) for fear of reprisal and exclusion if they deviated from a fashionable idea or use of terminology.

Last week, TED released Jon Ronson’s talk on public shaming via Twitter. For him, using Twitter at the start was a vehicle for emancipation:

Voiceless people realised that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent. If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realised we could do something about it. We could get them. We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming. Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.This was like the democratisation of justice. Hierarchies were being levelled out. We were going to do things better.

However, use of the service also has its drawbacks:

Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

Where it really becomes problematic is when poor phrasing and the lack of context around the 140 characters becomes a mechanism of damnation:

You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil. Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favour humans over ideology, and those people who favour ideology over humans. I favour humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

I remember running training sessions urging teachers to use Twitter as a professional development tool with Doug Belshaw in 2008. The sense of idealism driving the workshop has since been dulled because there seems to be more of a ‘surveillance society’ in the use of Twitter in education circles.  If you have a few minutes, I recommend watching the clip below.

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Diversity and the independent sector

GuardianI was interviewed by the Guardian last week and the outcome can be seen here.

There are a few clarifications needed and this is not because the journalist, Hannah Fearn, did not do her job!

The first clarification is that it is mainly colleagues who are not from minority groups who often stop talking to me when I eventually tell them I work in an independent school. The majority are often from other state schools, teaching students who might look like me, and trying to get them to think that their current social and economic status does not have to be their destiny. For them, it seems that the dream of social mobility is a very strange thing when it is made real.

The second clarification is that the two pressures I identified, geography and ‘responsibility’ are not the only ones . I’ll write more when term ends but two factors don’t make even a GCSE history essay on it.

The third clarification is around hiring. Sentence from the article:

I think it’s important that we’re representing society, but if that’s your only driving factor when you’re really looking for someone who’s a good teacher then I’d be slightly worried.

To make recruitment more effective, more should be done on raising awareness of what independent schools look for in candidates before applications are made as this will increase the likelihood of success. Being a great subject teacher is one aspect. Another is offering sport/music/drama/DoE or something else beyond the classroom.

Speaking about recruitment, one factor that has been weighing heavily on my mind are the ‘gatekeepers’ to Headship positions as they refer candidates to governing bodies. This is a interview with Diana Ellis, a Partner at the recruitment firm Odgers Berndston in a book by Dominic Carman called ‘Heads Up’ in 2013:

Of ethnic minority candidates Ellis has recently put forward to governors, she has ‘two that immediately spring to mind, two deputies we’ve interviewed, and one in particular, we’ve really pushed for headship sadly, hasn’t got there. He’s bright, so I think he will in time. He’ll be our first. But he won’t leap into one of the top schools.’ Does she envisage, in twenty years, that we will see more ethnic or mixed- race heads? ‘I wouldn’t think we’d rush to do that,’ she says pointedly, ‘because what people are buying is British education, and therefore, they want to see a British leader.’

I have spoken to the firm since then and they have clearly stated that this is not their belief. However, the thought lingers and I do wonder what a ‘British’ leader means in this context. Let us not forget that the schools funded by government are not really doing well in this area. Nor is government or the media (one editor, at the Independent).

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had some superb mentors through my independent school teaching career. The first person is Mark Lauder, currently Headmaster at Ashville College in Harrogate who was a Deputy Head at my previous school. The second person is my current Principal, Mark Steed. Far from buying into the narrow view of ‘Britishness’ lurking in the above quote, they have encouraged me in a variety of ways and I want to do the same. If you have ever considered a job in the independent sector, get in touch. History has to start somewhere.

 

 

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CPD Review

I took over the CPD programme at Berkhamsted in 2013 and after considering the work at Cramlington Learning Village, I devised a programme that:

  • was role specific;
  • included research bursaries for action research;
  • catered for personal well-being as well as pedagogical concerns;
  • enabled teachers at school to access leading experts through twilight sessions and the TLAB conferences by staying in the school grounds.

 

At the end of each twilight CPD session, I send a survey to all staff asking for a rating and comments on the session itself (comments are anonymous). This is an important part of any project in school – close monitoring allows for calibration and circumvents frustration from colleagues. The stats for this year are below:

  • 89% think the sessions were useful (up from 83% last year);
  • 6% think the sessions were not useful (down from 12% last year).
  • 5% were unsure about the usefulness of the session (same as last year).

Although pleased that the usefulness rating has increased, there is still more work to be done on the making sure the sessions are relevant to everyone and this will form the focus for next year. The online CPD portal (built in SharePoint) will be available for staff to request CPD and be linked to their professional development targets created by the appraisal system. On the ‘unsure’ rating, the contextual comments were usually focussed on the need to think more carefully about the training in relation to the teacher’s work. I think this is a good thing – the ‘slow hunch‘ or diffuse thinking is an essential process in making ideas stick.

Next year, I will hand over the CPD project to my colleague Rosie McColl, Deputy Head at Berkhamsted Girls. There are a few lessons I will take away that will stay with me:

  • Any CPD needs to be part of the wider strategic framework and not some ‘bolt on’ with a trendy speaker launching a ‘big idea’ which is not really mentioned again;
  • Teacher research based on classroom skills/pedagogy is invaluable;
  • Time throughout the year should be given over for CPD;
  • Work should be shared across the school community at regular intervals;
  • You should be wary of the performativity aspect of CPD when considering impact (it may look different but nothing has substantively changed);
  • A relentless focus on a few areas is best (see Greg McKeown’s Essentialism);
  • CPD should take a holistic view (personal well-being as a clear example).

Rosie will do a great job next year as the school moves towards exploring Building Learning Power in greater detail.

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Wrestling with angels

But my own experience of theory – and Marxism is certainly the case in point – is of wrestling with the angels – a metaphor you can take as literally as you like.

Stuart Hall

This could be a very long response and could go on for ever. It seems I was juvenile in making two observations after reading some educational blog posts yesterday:

  1. I am noticing a growing trend where edu bloggers quote/use other bloggers as sources of authority.
  2. It has also become apparent that a limited number of writers are being read and quoted. What happened to intellectual curiosity?

As a result of these two statements, following Stuart Hall, it seems as if the ‘roof has been falling in all over the place, and I want to take the opportunity to pick up one or two of the bricks and heave them back.’ Two major charges have been lobbed through the open spaces. The first, supported by Tom Starkey is that I am against teacher blogging because the work is not academic. The second charge, stated by Jon Brunskill, is that I do not engage with people holding the views I disagree with.

Let me deal with the first brick and as a result, also with the second.

Writing about education has always been a serious matter to me. Serious because it deals with reality (classroom/school/policies) and is also a conscious attempt to change something (an approach/way of viewing an idea/whole school policy). As such, bloggers are intellectuals. Just like everyone is an intellectual. People theorise about life, clothes to wear, places to eat, how people should behave in public forums and what works best for students in their classrooms. So, in this sense, teachers are intellectuals too. If everyone is an intellectual, they should be able to write, comment and be challenged. Blogging, therefore, should not be limited to a ‘legitimate’ few. First brick heaved.

However, there is a difference in that not all of these intellectuals serve the social function of intellectuals in society. I use Gramsci’s example:

Everyone at some time fries a couple of eggs or sews up a tear in a jacket, we do not necessarily say that everyone is a cook or a tailor

The educators who serve the social function as intellectuals are teachers speaking to government departments, invited to speak through a variety of media channels and talk at conferences. Their presence is based on an assumption that they represent teachers as a group and they use their critical voices to ‘speak truth to power’ in an effort to transform the current system. However, what if the critical thought takes precedence over the self-critical reflection? What if instead of fulfilling the role of raising consciousness, the actions are limited to referencing each other? Where might this lead us?

I can ask this question because even though they may not admit it, they serve as my representative as I am part of the group ‘teachers’. I also ask this question because of the apparent danger in limited consensus.

So why the ire? Few questions are asked partly because of the issue of social pressure. What if you gain the disapproval of others by asking difficult questions? Could this lead to a risk of you being excluded from a conversation on Twitter or worse, being ignored at a conference or not invited to drinks/dinner? Should I therefore stick up for them if they are being questioned? Far from being separate, the social media world has everything to do with the real world. People are afraid of offering critiques of what people have written or said at conferences because they are worried about reprisal and being socially excluded. When Alex Quigley suggested that the outcome of the argument would exclude teachers from blogging and other ‘voices’, there was no recognition of the silence that already exists.

Without critical engagement, these intellectuals, and the teachers who follow them, according to Sunstein and Hastie, could run into three problems:

  • They do not fail to correct errors but actually amplify them;
  • Groups may fall victim to cascade effects as group members follow the statements of those who speak or act first (the discussion on Twitter is a great example of this);
  • Groups focus on shared information (what everyone knows already) at the expense of unshared information and thus miss the benefit of critical and troubling information that other people may have.

Now I need to be clear on the purpose of making the original statements. It was not to exclude. It was to ask them to be better. It was to ask them to consider the wider social and intellectual space they work in and to be aware that the scientific truths they may claim today are part of a history of scientific revolutions where previous modes of thought have been refuted. It was asking them to think deeply, carefully, and with humility because social change (what they are interested in) is won with consent.

In relation to the second brick, engagement and challenging views of people I disagree with is more than a ‘conversation’ on Twitter (if people are willing to listen). It is also a desire to act. For my own part, becoming a school governor is one aspect. Organising a teaching and learning conference and bringing together diverse ‘voices’ and lesser-known practitioners is another. Studying for a further degree is also another. I frequently speak about the points of disagreement when asked to speak at conferences and work with individuals in schools. Some of this work is done without fanfare simply because it would demean the serious and personal nature of it to do so. Both within and outside my school environment, I challenge, in a very real and meaningful way, the people I disagree with. But it is not about them. It is because I take the work seriously and it demands the need for action rather than just words.

I have no books to sell. Nor am I asking people to book me for their inset sessions/conferences or vying to write for a particular media outlet. I am not looking for a job outside of teaching nor am I suggesting that I am the paragon of virtue – I know my faults in relation to the above points well enough. I am simply asking whether we can be in a better place than we currently are by actually engaging in a wider conversation. I suspect we can but I am not sure if people are willing to listen.

Selected further reading

Stuart Hall ‘The Big Swipe’ Universities and Left Review 7:1959

Thomas Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie Wiser

Antonio Gramsci Prison Notebooks

Jurgen Habermas The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Rob Phillips Reflective Teaching of History

David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (Eds.) Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies

 

 

 

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Thank You

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opens #TLAB15

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opens #TLAB15

I want to thank all the speakers, workshop leaders and delegates for making the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted (#TLAB15) a memorable one.

You can find a collection of the tweets from the day here.

Blogs posts on the day:

Sally Thorne: http://sallythorne.com/category/cpd-notes/tlab15/

Drew Thomson: http://cupofteaching.com/2015/03/22/tlab15-how-do-we-know-our-cpd-works-the-hidden-lives-of-learners-and-tl-tips-galore/

Jonathan Peel: https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/tlab15-another-great-day-of-cpd-for-the-brain/

Nikki Able: http://nikki-able.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/tlab15-summary-and-takeaways.html?spref=tw

Emma Kell: https://thosethatcanteach.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/tlab15-a-flash-of-light/

Amy Harvey: http://staffrm.io/%40ms_jamdangory/zlJIr4jQ1T

Kevin Carson: http://thelibraryandsteponit.com/2015/03/29/tlab15-the-leadership-workshops/

Kamil Trzebiatowski: http://valuediversity-teacher.co.uk/tlab15-conference-report/

Helena Marsh: http://staffrm.io/@helenamarsh/Dz2x444JzY

Workshop materials:

Dave Stacey: http://blog.mrstacey.org.uk/?p=1001

Tom Boulter: http://thinkingonlearning.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/professional-learning-presentation-from.html

David Fawcett: https://www.dropbox.com/s/hk5ahn7qw7uw7xp/TLAB15.pptx?dl=0

Darren Mead: http://pedagogicalpurposes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/blog-post.html

Mark Steed: http://independenthead.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/appraisal-and-performance-management-in.html

Candida Gould & Crista Hazell presentation

 

An excellent team is taking over next year. Alastair Harrison and Laura Knight will be leading things from the Berkhamsted School end. They will be joined by the Astra Teaching Alliance  & Chesham Grammar School in planning future events. I was asked yesterday whether it is hard to ‘let go’. My answer then (and it is the same answer now) is that the conference was never meant to be linked to one person, school or sector and the teachers attending and leading workshops are proof of this.  I know my colleagues at Berkhamsted and beyond will take the day to new heights as the workshop leaders and speakers already do. They are the leaders we have been waiting for.

Professor Barbara Oakley closes #TLAB15

Professor Barbara Oakley closes #TLAB15

One of the most interesting conversations yesterday was around the need for such events in other areas of the country and beyond. It is just an idea at the moment but will now be floating around in ‘diffuse mode’ so feedback/comments are welcome!

One tweet stood out for me yesterday:

Great education and professional development is not the preserve of a particular education sector yet certain social forces and loud voices seem to suggest otherwise. I hope that when the conversation occurs again (as it will), there will be one concrete and successful example people can point to where all involved are seen as educators who care about the ‘work‘.

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#TLAB15 Welcome

The text below is taken from the #TLAB15 conference booklet. The Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhmasted takes place on the 21st March. http://www.berkhamstedschool.org/TLAB15 

Education is an ever-unfinished conversation yet we seem to forget this fundamental idea as data, inspection judgements, performance reviews and lesson grades crowd our vision. Although important, the supposed finality inherent in these measures often limit our ways of thinking. We don’t see that we are in fact dealing with other humans and their minds as well as reflecting on what we do with ours. This year’s conference, with the theme of ‘All in the Mind’, hopes to put the human element squarely on the agenda. It also seeks to touch upon the latest research from cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience – two exciting contributors to this ever-unfinished conversation.

The theme also pokes fun at the purveyors of limited political vision who suggest that independent and state educators sectors will only work together effectively when money (or the potential prospect of losing it) is on the table. I must thank the workshop leaders for giving up their time freely to share their work because they think it is important. Rebecca Brooks has continued her great work in managing the event and containing her sighs when I discuss conference badges.  I am especially grateful to Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Professor Barbara Oakley for taking the time to talk about their research. As I write this on International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to point out that very few educational conferences have had two women scientists provide the opening and closing keynote sessions. As we reflect on the professional work we do in schools, we should also consider our professional work outside of the classroom.

The final sense of ‘All in the Mind’ is that this conference hopes to lay down a concrete challenge to all attendees. We have heard from a variety of organisations that one-off CPD is fairly ineffective because there is no chance to develop the learning. This view certainly has merit, yet I believe it ignores the possibility (and probability) of leadership.  John Kotter writes that leadership is not what we usually think it is in terms of position or supposed status:

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behaviour. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

If you have not guessed it by now, you are the leaders we have been waiting for. By attending the conference, you have partly accepted the challenge of taking the ever-unfinished conversation about education back to your schools, meetings and training sessions. Since 2013, former attendees have told me how they have left the conference inspired to become teachers, senior leaders and better educators for the students they have in front of them on the Monday morning. Some of them are in the audience or leading workshops today. I can think of no better proof that you too can be part of the conversation and also lead it in your respective organisations and classrooms.

I wish you all a very enjoyable and stimulating conference.

Nick

 

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