Archive for June, 2018

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The Chartered College Of Not Actually Teaching

June 30, 2018

You may be aware that there is a government subsidised “Chartered College” that was set up to help develop teacher professionalism.

However, unlike some professions, the teaching profession’s biggest obstacle to being treated as professionals, has been working in a system that treats non-teachers and managers as the experts about teaching, and teachers as in need of being told what to do.

Right from the start, any new professional body for teachers was going to need to exclude non-teachers (particularly education lecturers and consultants) and, while including teachers in management positions, make sure senior managers, and particularly headteachers, could not dominate. It would also need to avoid ranking or classifying teachers. Otherwise it could not hope to represent teachers, only those who already had power over teachers, and most classroom teachers would see it as just another group of people claiming to speak for us but actually telling us what to do and judging us.

In the end, classroom teachers didn’t have a hope of being the dominant voice in the Chartered College. The education establishment was too powerful. The Chartered College of Teaching was set up by CPD providers, run by a former headteacher, and based on tiers of membership with non-teachers allowed to join, not just as “associates” but as “fellows” a category that gives them extra recognition for their expertise.

The one possibility that teachers might still be the main voice in the Chartered College was in the repeated promise that the organisation would be “teacher led”.

When it first looked like there would be government support, this was emphasised by the organisation itself:

When the government announced they would support the organisation the prime minister, David Cameron, said this:

…we will be working with the Claim Your College consortium in support of its proposal to establish a brand new, teacher-led College of Teaching.

However, a couple of years ago they appointed a non-teacher as vice chair (as I reported here). Now they have got round to holding elections for their council. Incredibly, fellows, those in the category of membership which allows non-teachers, are deliberately advantaged in the elections:

The Council will be made up of 4 elected officers who must be Fellows of the Chartered College of Teaching (President, 2 Vice Presidents and Treasurer), 8 other Fellows, and 10 Members of the Chartered College of Teaching.

There are fellows who are teachers (although judging by Twitter on the day when people were confirmed as fellows the teachers who are fellows are either a small minority or just much quieter than the non-teachers). But even those teachers who are fellows have been approved as fellows by the organisation, and I am not aware of one single fellow who has been willing to speak out against the direction of the college and in favour of a teacher led professional body for teachers.

We shall see if actual teachers among the fellows do unusually well in this elections, despite the system. If you are a member, please vote only for teachers. In theory there could be a fight back and the Chartered College may end up being “currently teacher led” if not committed to being teacher led. But as things stand this is not set up to be the “teacher led college of teaching” that was promised. The money given to this organisation has been done so on the basis of the lie that it would be teacher led. That cash should be returned and spent on developing the teaching profession, not on yet another education establishment quango.

Incidentally, while I was looking into this, I saw a tweet from a former teacher saying she had free membership of the Chartered College for being a PhD student. I looked into it, and this did seem to be true. If you quit teaching to do a full time qualification in education, you get free membership. A great plan if this was the Chartered College for Educationalists. An absolute disgrace if you remember this organisation was meant to encourage people to remain in the profession, not reward them for leaving.

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The Progressive Narrative on Behaviour Part 3

June 23, 2018

Previously I have discussed two important parts of the progressive narrative on behaviour:

  1. The idea that children are liberated by a lack of discipline.
  2. The idea that children are not responsible for their behaviour.

The third and final strand of progressive thought on discipline can be summarised as “teacher blaming”. The idea is that bad behaviour is caused by individual teachers in the classroom doing the wrong thing for individual students. Slogans used to express this philosophy include:

  • “you make the weather in your classroom”,
  • “good behaviour management is based on good relationships”,
  • “perfect planning prevents poor behavior”,
  • “he/she always behaves for me”.

Teachers do have a responsibility to enforce discipline. We cannot absolve a teacher who refuses to enforce the rules or who undermines their colleagues by lowering expectations. Where a school behaviour policy is clear and workable, any teacher who doesn’t follow it, is making behaviour problems worse, even if only by making life harder for the teachers that do. We all have our part to play if a school behaviour system is to work well.

However, beyond this, you cannot run a school’s behaviour system on the basis that where bad behaviour occurs, it is the fault of the teacher, not the student. There are several reasons for this.

  1. We all make mistakes. We are only human; we all mess up on behaviour management sometimes. If you are relying on every teacher to get it right every time, for 23 lessons a week, you will be disappointed.
  2. Kids coordinate their behaviour based on more than what a teacher does. A teacher may get bad behaviour because they are new, because they are the wrong race/gender/sexual orientation, or because they teach an unpopular subject. Sometimes a teacher will get a lot of bad behaviour just because one ringleader among the children randomly takes a dislike to them.
  3. Some classes are just tougher than others. Your bottom set of 30 year 9 boys is not usually going to be as good as your class of 5 girls doing A-level. Blame the teachers for the bad behaviour, and you create incentive for those with power to use it to get the easiest classes and dump the tough ones on the powerless.
  4. A lot of the strategies for “avoiding” bad behaviour, are actually forms of appeasement. If you get good behaviour by winning over the ringleader among the kids, by making sure the content of the lesson is fun, or by never asking a kid to do something they don’t want to do, you may avoid confrontation, but it will be at a significant cost to their learning. This should not be encouraged.
  5. If teachers will be blamed for bad behaviour they will live in fear of a child “kicking off”. Kids will notice this and exploit it. In the worst schools, kids set the expectations not the teachers, and teachers are deterred from trying to raise expectations.
  6. Many “behaviour management strategies” are only useful at the margins. No matter how skilled you are with them, they cannot change the whole culture of the school in one lesson. If a sufficient mass of kids want a classroom to be in chaos, no amount of phrasing your instructions as a choice, or meeting the kids at the door with a smile will change that.

Working behaviour systems come down to making it easier for all teachers to enforce the rules. If all teachers know exactly what to do about behaviour and the school has the capacity for them to do it, behaviour improves for everyone.

When it comes to behaviour management, the most common criticisms of teachers (other than enforcing rules in the first place which has been covered by my first post) are:

  1. Shouting (and/or showing your emotions). We have all been there, either losing one’s temper, or just raising one’s voice and when that doesn’t work, having nowhere to go with it. No advice is worse for teachers than “remain calm”. If you still have a choice about being calm, then you are calm. This is all just a way of criticising teachers who are upset by bad behaviour, in order to blame them for the bad behaviour. And we all know at least one “shouty” teacher who has perfect behaviour.
  2. Having boring lessons. It may well be the case that if you just showed the kids cartoons instead of making them do quadratic equations, their behaviour would have been much better. So what? We are there to teach, not to entertain. And even then, it’s a lot easier to make a lesson enjoyable if you can trust the kids to behave.
  3. Having “bad relationships” with kids. Some teachers rely on being able to charm the kids into submission. This works to an extent, but often only by appeasement. However, most of us actually find that for the most part it is good behaviour that leads to good relationships and bad behaviour that leads to bad relationships. You can’t take the effect and make it the cause.

Things do differ between contexts. Primary teachers spend a lot more time with the same kids and have more of a chance to set expectations than secondary teachers. Also, the length of time you are at a school seriously affects the chances of being able to set expectations for your classes regardless of what happens elsewhere. Starting at a new school is often enough to quickly learn how little difference one teacher can make to behaviour. It is staggering how often those who claim that an individual classroom teacher can get perfect behaviour in their class without a supportive behaviour system are not themselves classroom teachers. Anyone who thinks they can turn around 9Z6 on a Friday afternoon just using their own personal classroom management skills and good relationships, has a moral obligation to be a classroom teacher in a tough comprehensive in the place of us mere mortals.

Strangely enough, they rarely are.

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#Unpromoted

June 16, 2018

There is a lot of debate in teaching around who speaks for teachers. Classroom teachers are often given very little freedom to express opinions. At times, believing a particular ideology is treated as almost part of the job description. Often union leaders, educationalists and headteachers are treated as if they speak for the profession, even though there are often huge differences between their perspective and those of somebody teaching year 9 on a Friday afternoon.

At its absolute worst we have:

  • Attempts to silence teachers who dare express views that aren’t those of the education establishment.
  • Organisations who are set up to represent teachers, but are actually dominated by non-teachers and/or managers.
  • “Gatekeepers” who may allow teachers to play a part in public debate or in educational research, but only if they are the right sort of teachers.
  • A culture where leaving the classroom, or taking on other responsibilities, can be seen as evidence of having greater expertise about teaching than is possessed by those who have spent the most hours actually teaching.

I am very interested in what expertise we can find in the classroom, and particularly in those who are not seeking to leave the classroom, or to take on much in the way of management responsibilities. Often it is difficult to draw lines. Plenty of lower management positions involve only a minimal loss of teaching time. In a very small school, even senior management positions can be combined with an almost full time table. Yet at the same time, so much debate about teaching seems to have minimal input from the unpromoted teachers who make up the majority of the workforce. The debate over the role of non-teachers in the Chartered College of Teaching; the criticism of researchED for allowing ordinary teachers to speak, and the attempts to silence teachers on social media, all show many people in education believe that classroom teachers need “experts” to tell them what to do, and cannot be experts themselves.

I’ve been thinking for a while about ways to redress the balance. Even a one-off demonstration of what the plebs of the education system can contribute, might have an impact. As a result I recently suggested an “#Unpromoted” conference. This would be an education conference where anyone could attend, but only unpromoted teachers could speak. Those who have moved down from management positions would be welcome to speak, and such a format would not be intended to imply criticism of those who have taken on some management responsibility, or imply that even a TLR 2c makes one into a different species, but to redress a balance and to celebrate those whose only interest is the classroom. This is intended as an experiment, and hopefully as an example, rather than an ongoing series of events. If all it did is remind people that the unpromoted are out there and they matter, I would be happy.

I have a lot of other things to do in the next few weeks, but I would really like to start giving this some serious thought over the summer, with a view to organising it for the half term of summer term 2019. If you are an unpromoted teacher with some relevant expertise (not just as a potential speaker, but anything to do with conference organisation) please get in touch. Similarly, I’d love to hear from potential venues or sponsors.

Thanks.

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The Progressive Narrative on Behaviour. Part 2

June 3, 2018

Last time I discussed how discipline is seen by progressives, and looked in detail at the view that children needed to be liberated from adult authority.

However, I also touched on another aspect of discipline:

We are responsible for our actions. While there must be exceptions to this principle, they are exceptional. Schools are not psychiatric hospitals; children are not insane and discipline is not therapy. Refusing to hold children responsible for their actions can only stunt their moral development. We all need to know we can make the right choices, and we all need the structures that encourage those right choices.

This part, is perhaps the most disputed aspect of discipline. Again, in the progressive tradition, denying personal responsibility goes back at least as far as Dewey. In Experience And Education, right after the passages I quoted last time about how the right sort of activities could reduce the need for discipline, he describes the limits of this approach in this way:

I am not romantic enough about the young to suppose that every pupil will respond or that any child of normally strong impulses will respond on every occasion. There are likely to be some who, when they come to school, are already victims of injurious conditions outside of the school and who have become so passive and unduly docile that they fail to contribute. There will be others who, because of previous experience, are bumptious and unruly and perhaps downright rebellious. But it is certain that the general principle of social control cannot be predicated upon such cases. It is also true that no general rule can be laid down for dealing with such cases. The teacher has to deal with them individually. They fall into general classes, but no two are exactly alike. The educator has to discover as best he or she can the causes for the recalcitrant attitudes. He or she cannot, if the educational process is to go on, make it a question of pitting one will against another in order to see which is strongest, nor yet allow the unruly and nonparticipating pupils to stand permanently in the way of the educative activities of others. Exclusion perhaps is the only available measure at a given juncture, but it is no solution. For it may strengthen the very causes which have brought about the undesirable antisocial attitude, such as desire for attention or to show off.

He then goes on to argue that while progressive schools have often struggled with these students, the right sort of planning would address the problem (something that I will look at in a future post) . This passage illustrates two key progressive beliefs.

  1. Bad behaviour, or lack of motivation, is considered the exception in children.
  2. Where it occurs, it has a cause that can be addressed on an individual basis.

Dealing with the first point, in reality we are all capable of doing wrong and we all do wrong for no good reason other than we felt like it. Moreover, children, particularly teenagers, are social animals. Most will behave badly if it is normal to behave badly. The problem in our schools is not that a small number of children are caused, by circumstances, to behave badly, but that behaviour which obstructs learning is often normal and most children are part of it. We often talk about “low level disruption” to describe behaviour that, far from being “low level”, is massively harmful but extremely common. You cannot deal with bad behaviour if you assume that it is exceptional, rather than something that our systems and methods have to address every day in every lesson.

The second point is probably the most contentious there is in current education debates. Teachers are frequently encouraged to treat behaviour problems as having a cause that can be treated that goes beyond the fact that children had an opportunity to misbehave, and not being natural saints, they took it. This perspective is so unhelpful to running a classroom, that it is mainly advanced in the form of slogans. There are two key slogans I see used most often. The first is “all behaviour is communication”, encouraging teachers to find some message behind the behaviour which will uncover the causes that can then be addressed. The other slogan is “unmet needs” which refers to causes which are specific to a child and something that can be addressed in order to “cure” the behaviour. These two slogans are used to deny human nature and in particular the facts that a) we all feel the temptation to do wrong and b) we adapt our behaviour to match those around us. Instead, bad behaviour is to be located in the child but treated as not under the control of the child.There are several flaws with this approach.

Firstly, with the possible exception of the very youngest children, if a child was genuinely unable to restrain themselves from misbehaviour, regardless of the consequences, that child would be insane. If  you cannot stop yourself from doing something, not for any reward or in response to any threat, you would have gone mad. This is not a pejorative term for mental illness, this is what insanity has always meant. It is what we mean by “diminished responsibility” in criminal trials. It is clear that this is not the normal situation for children. What it is even more clear, is that while such a condition might absolve a child of responsibility for their actions, it would not be something that schools could reasonably address or treat. The argument for specialist provision outside of a mainstream school would be unarguable in the case of a genuinely insane child. To do anything else would be unfair both on the child, and to anyone who could be harmed by their behaviour.

Secondly, if a child isn’t insane then it is likely that their behaviour is best addressed by holding them responsible for it and no “cause” can actually be found. What is particularly problematic for teachers is that the fruitless quest for causes has become almost an industry. There is a widespread belief that bad behaviour can be explained by a special educational need, which can then be addressed. We end up with children being labelled as having a special need because they are badly behaved, and their bad behaviour is then excused because they have a special need. We also end up writing off children with special needs (even special needs that have nothing to do with behaviour) as basically incapable of behaving. You will find people in education who simply cannot separate the concept of having a special need, from the concept of being badly behaved. This is absolutely toxic and entirely dehumanising for children with special needs who can only be disadvantaged further by being written off in terms of behaviour. You also have a proliferation of “theories” to explain bad behaviour. When I started teaching I encountered those who thought all or most bad behaviour was caused by low self-esteem (it isn’t). Nowadays you will find people who think all or most bad behaviour is caused by attachment difficulties (it isn’t). One of the founding fathers of British progressivism, A.S.Neill thought that sexual repression was a key cause of bad behaviour, and claimed that arsonists could be cured by encouraging them to masturbate.

Finally, if bad behaviour is caused by “unmet needs” not bad choices, we then have a tendency to avoid punishment and instead find some other way of addressing bad behaviour. Inevitably this results in pressure to simply let children get away with it, and where necessary, elicit good behaviour through appeasement. If a child kicks off when made to work hard, then their “need” is addressed by not expecting them to work hard. Standards are repeatedly lowered where this ideology is accepted. If a hypothetical child with hypothetical unmet needs could not live up to certain expectations, then the answer is to lower expectations for everyone. Instead of setting rules that almost everyone could follow, and treating the exceptions to that as exceptional, schools are encouraged to set standards so low that we would never even be able to tell the exceptions from the kids that simply couldn’t be bothered to behave better because the school expects so little from them.

The progressive beliefs about behaviour I’ve outlined here are very often just assumed. Teachers are encouraged to believe that they are simply how things are, and that any teacher who does not accept this must be lacking in compassion or sanity. We need to challenge them. We need to argue for realism and honesty about behaviour.

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