WHAT A PERFORMANCE!

It is really difficult not to show off when your teaching is being observed.  The stakes are high and if you, like me, consider teaching an art form, you are metaphorically laying your soul out for someone to scrutinise.  Of course you want to show yourself in the best possible light.  Of course you want everything to go right…who wouldn’t?  We may do a little extra if we know our classrooms will be visited – it’s natural. Some may teach completely differently to normal when being observed. How can you separate blatant performance from reality?  Does it really matter?

This blog is about showing off unnecessarily (or necessarily for some!)  Putting on a show lesson – a one off.  In other words….NOT typical!

The kids know when their teachers are doing it.  They’re not daft.  The monotony suddenly gives way like a ray of light through the football marked window.  Resources suddenly appear on lots of different coloured sheets, there is a flashy presentation to match.  Those pupils that struggle are suddenly helped with some scaffolding and keywords sheets.  Absolutely EVERYTHING is announced by the teacher as if they are narrating the lesson as well as teaching it.  The coloured worksheets are loudly and unashamedly put down in front of the pupils.  You have never heard so many ‘WOW – that’s excellent,’ or ‘you’re making amazing progress’ (for underlining a title) or ‘let’s just flip back and check the objectives.’  You notice it’s ALL teacher….are the pupils as excited? Are they giving as much as the teacher, or is there an imbalance?  Every time you go to a pupil to speak, the teacher is suddenly there directing the conversation you were about to have, until you manage to break free and a pupil says to you ‘we never normally have lessons like this.’

Technically, everything this lesson should contain in terms of ingredients was right there loud, proud and totally in your face.  You notice though, that the pupils are not giving 100%.  They passively get through the lesson doing as the teacher asks, but not much else.  The pupils arrived to the lesson in dribs and drabs.  The T.A stares vacantly out of the window.  When students ‘get it’ they are given more of the same – even the pupils who understood it 5 minutes into the lesson.  Mysteriously, all the pupils are working on sheets – not an exercise book in sight.  As the teacher patrols the room, they stamp random pupil work with a smiling green frog that says ‘well done!’

OK – that example is totally fictitious and possibly a bit cynical but a couple of years ago, a teacher may have been able to get away with a bit of a performance in a lesson and be held up as a good example of teaching and learning.  Not any more.  It’s great to show off and vital when you want to show the best of your practice and share great ideas and pedagogy with others, but…..who are you showing off to?  What are you putting a performance on for?  What is the purpose? Why?

Teaching with passion and enthusiasm and enjoying what you do consistently can not be faked.  Neither can progress over time and ensuring good rules, routines and relationships are set up from the beginning.   Progress is a process.  It can be seen and is a pleasure and privilege to observe.  When the teacher asks questions, pupils answer confidently or feel challenged but supported.  The learners ask questions too.  The pupils know when it’s time to apply their knowledge.  They take pride in their work.  Learning and teaching is not binary….it cannot be switched on and off.  The relationships and expectations are constant – by observing, you are witnessing a very small part of a long journey.  You know it, the teacher knows it and the pupils know it.  When you see great teaching, you have no choice but to encourage the teacher to ‘show off’ their great teaching for the benefit of others.  Whether you are charismatic or quietly confident in what you do – solid, consistent typical teaching and the impact on learning can be seen without exaggerating teaching strategies, making different coloured worksheets or ensuring you have ‘included’ everything in the lesson like a tick box exercise or a recipe list.  It’s much deeper than that.  Get the basics absolutely spot on first before adding the frills.

I was looking into the psychology of showing off and there are many different reasons for it, and I’m sure we can all think of people we may have met that fit into each category – where would you place yourself?! – here are a couple of examples:

  • Those that show off to mask something about themselves or their performance
  • Those that think they are wonderful and HAVE to let everyone know about their talents
  • Those that genuinely are not showing off but seem like they are because they are so good

Putting on a performance can skew the whole school picture of teaching and learning if you are not really examining typical teaching or daily practice.  This can be avoided by following the steps below:

1) Think about the pre-conditions needed to secure progress over time – these should be great, staple habits in every classroom
  • Student engagement – attitude to learning
  • Recap, refocus and intervention – this includes written and verbal feedback
  • Effective explanation and modelling
  • Student application of knowledge
  • Appropriate pitch and differentiation
  • Questioning to check understanding
2) Have well organised lesson observations that serve only the improvement of teaching and learning
3) Do NOT grade the teaching – instead focus on strengths to share and improvements to master
4) Be thorough – to determine the true quality of teaching look at the teaching, the pupils’ work and the data
5) Ensure feedback to staff is a dialogue – be honest, suggest improvements – sometimes the dialogue might be tough but worth it

I have blogged about lesson evaluation here – click the link below:

https://te4chl3arn.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/evaluating-teaching/

6) Develop a no-nonsense approach to improving DAILY teaching – dig in, involve everyone!
7) Organise and encourage learning walks, open door events and informal peer-peer observations

I have blogged about our TEACHWEEK event here – click the link below:

https://te4chl3arn.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/teachweek/

8) TRUST AND BE TRUSTED!

Finally, my absolute belief in the fact that adopting great habits gives rise to excellent daily practice was written about here https://te4chl3arn.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/thats-just-typical/ and is my most re-blogged and viewed.  I really am passionate that we should monitor the the quality of teaching and learning to develop, share and improve it, not to point score and prove ourselves.  Be genuine – aim for great daily practice, keep planning fresh – know when it’s time to pull all the stops out WITHOUT having to put on a big performance!  Aim to be the teacher who delivers amazing lessons where the pupils say….’yeah – it’s normally like this in this lesson – that’s why we love it!

The White Room

JUST A THOUGHT……What would teaching be like without resources?  No interactive whiteboard, no equipment, no i Pads, no computers, no Prezi, no PowerPoint, no nothing?  Just you, your class and your combined brain power.

I often wonder this, and when I do, my imagination goes off into my metaphorical white classroom.  An empty white room. No posters, no display….just me and my pupils to give life to the learning…..(OK, maybe I have a flipchart and marker!)

create reality

In fact, my planning often starts from this extremely weird place.  If I can get my point across in there….I can do it anywhere! My white room, as a concept, is in my head and never will be a reality thank goodness!  But I find it quite refreshing to strip my teaching RIGHT back to the basics for the sake of the learning.

I sometimes create my lessons from this strange ideological beginning, because it really helps draw out my passion and enthusiasm, fluent and clear explanations and anecdotes to keep my subject alive and inspiring.   I strongly believe the most substantial resource in the classroom is straightforward people power – the teacher, the pupils!  The learning is about questions, discussions and explanations.  I suppose you could call it Socratic learning, where the power of ‘talk’ and ‘inquiry’ puts key ideas and concepts on the slab to be dissected, de-constructed and built up again into real knowledge.

Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely love using a wide variety of ICT/resources/equipment – I have to.  But, I do not plan around the resource.  If I visualise the objective and flow of the lesson and the discussions/questions that will arise, and add resources in after, the lesson is more rigorous. The resources become purposeful and necessary, and not just time fillers or gimmicks that can sometimes get in the way of actual learning – for example, a three year old, 15 minute card-sort that someone from your department created.  You still use it because it is there and ready, it has reduced your workload….result! However- is it really addressing the learning?  If it’s not having an impact – don’t use it!

I also realise that some subjects are more suited to practical and resource based learning…..couldn’t imagine trying to teach some aspects of design technology or PE in the ‘white room,’ with nothing but teacher and pupils. You kind of need a lathe or a javelin. Yet, other aspects of these subjects really lend themselves to the socratic way of doing things.  The discussions and enthusiasm are still vitally important.  A lesson is like a good joke I guess…..it’s the way you tell it.  A really great teacher could get their point across in a meaningful way, anywhere!

I challenge everyone to step into their own version of the white room – have a switch off from ICT, resources and all things gimmicky.  Think deeply about HOW you make your pupils learn.  We ARE the ‘change agents’ (Hattie).

Finally I have to make the point about how unbelievably lucky we are to be so resource-rich.  I’m happy that we have fantastic ICT, equipment, texts and stationery readily available in the UK, and in some cases brand new school buildings.  We are so fortunate and our children need to realise how lucky they are.  Use resources well, wisely and for impact in learning gains!  #loveteaching

school in poverty