The lead practitioners share their thoughts about setting professional goals and outline what they hope to achieve over the coming academic year.
JAS: Choosing the areas I want to develop this year
All of us will be completing our Professional Review page over the next few weeks, reflecting upon aims we set last year and thinking ahead about the goals we would like to work towards next. Striving to reflect, question, change and improve is an attitude we encourage in our pupils and one which we should be mindful of ourselves. However how does one decide what to focus on? And realistically, how can we make sure we achieve what we set out to do?
This year I have tried to set goals directly related to my every day teaching in the lower school. This is currently a big area of change that links developments I began last year and some reading I conducted over the summer break. Creating and trialling the new MYP scheme of work with the first form French over the past two terms gave me much food for thought, and inspired me to experiment with new approaches to teaching MFL. Tasked with planning the first unit for the second form programme over the summer holidays I tried to implement what I have found to be effective so far. I have been influenced by Daisy Christodoulou’s controversial ‘Seven Myths about Education’ (2014), which I have read and considered from an MYP and inquiry learning perspective. I concluded that while up-front teacher-directed learning is absolutely essential pupils must also be taught how to explore and develop their learning independently with appropriate support. With this in mind, my aims for the coming term are as follows:
Goal 1: Let pupils ask as many questions as they like and try to find ways to incorporate them into the SoW
When planning an MYP unit we have to consider the content in terms of the questions we hope to answer. When asked at the beginning of a topic I found that my pupils last year were keen to engage with the questions, especially when I invited them to add their own. Indeed I was encouraged by the enthusiasm these first formers showed when ‘their’ question was addressed. So, although I hadn’t planned to teach twenty different flavours of ice cream when I covered vocabulary for holidays, this actually became one of the most entertaining lessons I taught last term, inspiring a challenge to describe the most disgusting ice cream ever. Similarly, a digression to answer pupils’ questions about colonialism and Morocco led to a pleasingly mature discussion about inequalities in education.
I will relax my control over the content of some lessons to allow for digression and the pursuit of pupils specific interests in the topic area.
Goal 2: Take time to teach the Approaches to Learning properly
Pupils cannot be expected to know how to carry out research, how to work in a group or how to reflect without first being taught any more than we can expect them to know a French verb or scientific fact without being given that knowledge first. In line with Christodoulou’s thinking, I believe that teaching the ATL must be approached in the same way we would teach any other part of the curriculum.
Last year the 1st form practised filling in a reflection journal every week and progressively got better at it. For best results pupils need to see examples, copy them, get it wrong, receive feedback, have another go…. We cannot expect them to know how to give a presentation and get it right first time! These skills may take years to master, so we need to start with the very basics.
I will model effective ATL and allow pupils ample opportunities to practise them and improve.
Goal 3: Maintain a flexible approach to planning
I used to like to plan a week’s worth of lessons in one sitting and then relax knowing exactly where my class would get to before the end of the week. I was forced to think differently last year when every new lesson with the first form was a form of trial and error. I have learned the value of thoughtful experimentation (careful planning and execution) but also how to let go of an idea that just doesn’t work! As a team the French MYP teachers are a passionate and enthusiastic group but some of our ideas were unrealistic and impractical when we tried to implement them. Risk taking is nevertheless valuable – ask any of the current second form about their Moroccan food tasting experience and I am sure they will remember it well!
I will experiment and be creative in my teaching but will amend and adapt schemes of work when an actitivy doesn’t work.
Goal 4: Explore the target cultures
For years French text books have been about France with the only acknowledgement of the wealth of other francophone cultures being the replacement of names such as ‘Marcel’ or ‘Marie’ with ‘Mohamed’ and ‘Mouna’. The MYP like the IB holds international-mindedness at its core and whilst pupils are likely to be most familiar with France, equal teaching time should also be given to exploring other French speaking countries. Christodoulou dismisses the fact that pupils learn best when knowledge is relatable to them, suggesting that all knowledge is new at some point. I wholeheartedly agree and some of my best lessons last year were those where I had researched and talked to pupils about Morocco or Tahiti and where pupils left the classroom buzzing with new information.
I will teach pupils about a range of francophone cultures (in English where necessary) and research them myself to broaden my knowledge base.
SMB Setting goals for the year ahead:
Over the last few days of the summer holiday I took the time to have a very good think about what I want to achieve this year. Having attending the Schools History Project Conference in early July and having read a number of Teaching and Learning and History-related books, my brain was awhirl with the possibilities. The more I thought, however, the more I considered that it would be unrealistic to try to achieve more than three main professional goals this year if I was to really make them work. How to choose? Well, I personally thought of those which are likely to have the most impact upon my students, and to also give me the most professional satisfaction so that I am still keen to implement them as the long winter days drag in:
Goal 1: Become more attuned to the literacy demands of my subject
Having read David Didau’s (2014) The Secret of Literacy: Making the implicit explicit and attended an excellent workshop at the SHP Conference run by Anne Jackson, my niggling feeling that I could be doing more to help my students with the literacy demands of my subject was crystallised to a determination to find ways that work. I will ensure that I flag up vocabulary or concepts such as ‘monarchy’ or ‘kingship’ or ‘government’ not just so that students can say it or spell it, but so they are confident in how to use these words or variations thereof in sentences, and that they are given regular practice in this. This is likely to mean that I have to set aside DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) devoted to literacy so that students can get better, and it may even take devising some comprehension or extension activities to enable students to become more confident.
Goal 2: Embed revision from the very first lesson
The retention of knowledge was a key theme at the SHP Conference, not just for individual topics but over the entirety of the curriculum. After all, if students are not expected to retain it, then why should we bother teaching it in the first place? There is also a key argument that the more that students retain, the more becomes instinctual, and the more that students mental processing capacity can be freed to take on new concepts. Inspired by Brown, Roedinger III & McDaniel’s (2014) Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, I have decided to experiment on my GCSE students to try to convince them of the need to revise from the very start of Form 5, rather than having the last minute panic before their final exams when they realise they cannot possibly learn everything they have done over the past two years. I will give regular revision activities in class which require students to work hard to recall knowledge previously taught in order to strengthen their retrieval of this knowledge. This is likely to involve regular prep/homework activities which require them to recall knowledge, but also to sequence it in some way whether that is in timelines, brief stories, or constructing full paragraphs.
Goal 3: Ensure full representation of women’s experiences in Russian History
This year I am very excited to be teaching a new A-level on Russian History from 1865-1965. Experience with other courses suggests to me that women’s experiences will frequently be marginalised or even completely absent from some topics. I have been particularly inspired by Barbara Engel’s (2003)Women in Russian History 1800 – 2000 in which she expertly moves from startling breadth and analysis of vast periods of history, to including anecdotes and stories from real, lived experience. I will use every opportunity to include women’s experiences in the course content, regardless of whether they are specifically referred to in the textbook or not. By doing this, students will gain excellent analytical insight of issues from multiple perspectives, and should also hopefully understand the real, human experiences of History while still maintaining breadth.
JKS My areas of focus this year
Most of the targets I set for myself last year were chopped, changed and amended as new ideas were explored and new challenges presented themselves. However, over the course of the summer term and holidays, three areas have come to the fore as longer-term areas for development. These focus areas were crystallised by my practical involvement with FOSIL, our whole-school T&L priorities and my summer reading of a number of books, including Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers (2016), edited by Katharine Birbalsingh, which inspired and infuriated in equal measure.
Goal 1: Collaborate more across departments
My extensive work in utilising FOSIL last year was just the starting point. I hope to launch a lesson study this year on a whole-school issue, which can draw in teachers across departments. At this stage, this could involve a focus on reading for pleasure or literacy. I have had the opportunity to work with teachers from other subjects on creating a whole-school strategy on boosting reading for pleasure. In its early stages, this small team has already come up with practical and exciting ideas. Running a lesson study is all about experimenting in order to solve a perceived problem. Having read about, witnessed, and participated in brilliant lesson studies in the past it is clear the Oakham has the potential to become a hot bed for teacher collaboration. Within my department, I will now be working towards teaching the global politics side of the course, something that is relatively alien to me since my undergraduate days (I’m a far too British social scientist). For the good of the department, my students and myself I will further collaborate on how to deliver international politics in an accessible and engaging way over the coming months.
Goal 2: Take more time to get to know the interests, hopes and fears of my students and tutees.
Alongside my work as Lead Practitioner I am also the Form 5 Coordinator. As the person that designs the tutorial sessions for Form 5 each week, I often get lost in the big picture of what needs to be covered. This means that, too often, I forget about the value of tutors getting to know their tutees. I am guilty of it myself, particularly when I’m in a rush to talk through a report, discuss an important pastoral matter or whisk the boys off to a talk. However, the best conversations I have are when things are allowed to slow down and you can grab a few minutes of genuine conversation with tutees. You get to learn their strengths, blind spots and passions. Not only does this provide you with an effective way into future conversations, but it also means you can deal with potential issues more easily. Every single book and piece of literature I have read on behaviour management and dealing with student issues places ‘knowing your students’ at the heart of an effective school strategy. Paul Dix calls it ‘botheredness’. I will show that I care. It’s a simple message and one I hope to stick to.
Goal 3: Maintain high expectations of behaviour
Part of this focus does not seem overtly related to behaviour at first glance, but revolves around the creation of engaging learning materials. Though high expectations of classroom conduct should start outside the classroom, and regardless of learning activities, producing tailored, helpful and fun resources is seen to maintain the focus of the most easily distracted students. My work on inquiry learning through FOSIL last year has opened my eyes to the opportunities in rethinking the active, independent, learning my students participate in. The other side of this coin is to model excellence in behaviour management habits. I do not believe any of us has a foolproof toolkit to deal with disruption, low-level issues and a breakdown in classroom relationships. But I will strive to uphold a consistent line of ‘no excuses’, respect in the classroom and silent habits that speed up sanctions. My reading of educationalists such as Birbalsingh, Bennett and Cowley provided contrasting approaches to behaviour management. I will draw out the best ideas and experiences and use them in our own Oakham context.