#rED15 Adventures in Meatspace

Again, it was a packed day of talks, familiar faces, forgotten names and interesting chats. As always, it is good to meet up with the people who I normally prefix with @, and to frequent that ‘Dream Staffroom’ of likeminded colleagues. Yesterday though, when I wasn’t being derailed by Charlie Payne’s snorts of laughter, my train of thought was quite meandering and smooth. I found myself listening more deeply, probably because I tweeted less, and as such, ended up constantly linking everything to what goes on in my class, with my kids, my colleagues and my school.

First I went to Andrew Old’s talk. I found it interesting.

The Primary Panel was great but too too short! Chaired by one of the multiple other Johns there (The Brunskill) and featuring Sinead Gaffney (@shinpad2), Bill Lord (@Joga5), Chris Andrew (@kitandrew1) and Rich Farrow (@FarrowMr) was wide spanning and interesting. Hearing the diversity of ways in which research is finding its place in primary schools was fascinating. Whether it is through the individual teacher led research such as that led by Sinead, or through exploring how Bill is very open to his teachers persuading his decision-making if they can make a good case for it, it is clear that there has been a shift towards recognising the importance of not acting solely on whim, curiosity and impulse.

I recently became Assistant Director of our Teaching School, and part of my brief is going to be about research – how can we embed good small-scale research projects and a wider research literacy within our 40 alliance partner schools (primaries, secondaries, sixth form college, specialist provision) ? The discussion today left me with some more ideas, so thanks to everyone.

Then on to Donna Barrett and Catherine Brown from Glebe Primary, who shared their school’s impressively research-grounded and systematic approach to supporting the language development of EAL learners. One thing that stood out for me was something incidental, rather than central: the headteacher mentioned how, very early on in the process, she decided to support staff to take up further academic study on EAL language development, so put the money in for Masters level study. If more headteachers thought like this, we would be well on the way to become a more informed profession. The front-loading of staff development into ITT is problematic, and a timely nudge into Masters study once a teacher can manage the bread and butter of the classroom is a great way to promote staff learning, raise learning outcomes and, I would hazard, retain staff. I am fortunate enough to be in a similar position, with my school financially supporting me through a Masters Degree at the IoE. It is an investment worth making (he says, self-servingly).

The presentation itself was great, and the rigorous way in which personalised learning profiles were created was something that seemed to go down very well in the room. The school creates fairly detailed language profiles, outlining the child and the family situation in a very holistic way that certainly seems to insulate teachers from falling into traps of low expectation, stereotyping and so on. As a teacher in a school which also has almost all pupils speaking English as an Additional Language, and with pupils drawn primarily from ethnic minority communities, it is good to see what other similar schools do. Thanks.

The lasagne was great. I love lasagne. This lasagne had Pancetta in it, which is a step up from last year, though I was promised foie gras.

After lunch I went with Charlie and Rachel Rossiter to see Dr Sharples, who sounds like a man who will slice you up in your dreams but is actually a fellow Jonathan who is very good at numbers. His talk was a further exploration of the work of the Education Endowment Fund, and it was good to see the balanced approach taken to research which yields no dynamite findings, such as their recent study into peer tutoring. I attended primarily out of a curiosity in Philosophy 4 Children. My school does nothing of the sort, but local schools are passionate advocates and I want to know more. I remain curious what precisely it is about the P4C approach that brings wider academic benefit, though I echo the other Jonathan in suggesting that the worth of an educational intervention should not be solely measured by its impact on test scores. This set my mind wandering.

I wanted to go to Harry Fletcher Wood’s talk but it looked too busy and my legs are too long for squatting. Instead, I awkwardly sat outside, and was relieved to be joined by Emma Ann Hardy (@emmaannhardy) and Chris Andrew (kitandrew1). I allowed my spindly legs to unfurl, and enjoyed discussing such things as the financial burden of SATS, the misery of SPAG, Nick Gibb, research and what not. Then we got biscuits.

I didn’t want to miss Katie Ashford’s talk, partly because she is a young and relatively inexperienced TeachFirst teacher with four years experience like little me, and partly due to Katherine Birbalsingh’s tweets which seemed to imply that primary teachers don’t care much for teaching reading. Katie managed to cram at least a four hour session into her forty minutes with her breathless whistlestop of her school’s approach to literacy and, actually, there wasn’t much not to like about the approach. I was struck by the parallels with our school, which advocates Ruth Miskin Literacy. Having personally found RML to be really effective when taught alongside wider reading of a range of good ambitious texts… I found myself thinking that when it comes to teaching reading, all Michaela is guilty of is a passionate geeky keenness, which as a bespectacled young TeachFirster teacher giving up his Saturday for a conference on Research Literacy, is clearly not something I am averse to.

A couple of quick questions for Katie if she gets a chance to read this – how do your kids approach creative writing? Is it built into the English curriculum and if so, how? I ask largely because this is something I ask about my own kids (8 year olds) – whilst I know that our focus on comprehension, grammar, punctuation, spelling and handwriting is the reason our kids do so well on measured assessments, I don’t have many pupils who have a thirst for writing fiction in the same way that I have pupils with a thirst for reading fiction. Given some similarities between our approaches, despite the age gap, I was wondering whether you see similar things at Michaela.

My final session was with David McQueen who, as well as being an extremely engaging speaker, also demonstrated that neon yellow is not solely the domain of Laura McInerney. David’s talk on leadership, what it looks like and on the need to make time for ourselves as human beings to avoid burnout was a message that we all need to hear, and regularly. David spoke about his unease with the way the term ‘disadvantaged’ is used to describe children and young people growing up in poorer areas (which he was keen to point out are not simply Inner City but can be found perhaps even more vividly in coastal towns).

My mind began to wander, in a good way, to a question that I have pondered a few other times when teaching my pupils. If David happened to be reading this, I would love a discussion on it.

In order for children and young people to triumph in our schooling system, should they be made passionate, determined and conscious of the harsh injustices and realities of its inequity, or instead, should we downplay the obstacles and give the pupils the sense of invincibility and inevitability that the most ‘advantaged’ pupils have?

Big question, I know. I think of it in the context of Islamophobia. The majority of pupils I teach are Muslim and we live in an area with a South Asian Muslim majority. My pupils have not directly experienced the same kind of blunt blatant Islamophobia and racism that is being experienced by young Muslim pupils in some predominantly white areas around the UK. So for me, as a teacher who wants my kids to be able to lead, to succeed and to access whatever route they want in life, should I be the one to clue them up on the fact that in many ways, society has stacked the odds against them through barriers of exclusion, expectation and stereotype?

David, if you were wondering why the bald bearded chap was looking a bit glazed over, this meandering thought is your answer.

Right, this post got too long so nobody is likely to have got to this point. I just want to say that it was really great and to once again commend everyone involved in setting it up, presenting and making it what it is. I include the lasagna maker in this.


2 thoughts on “#rED15 Adventures in Meatspace

  1. Interesting to read, Jonny – and I had no problem getting to the end!

    I know you weren’t asking me, but re: your thoughts about leadership and obstacles and how honest and open we should be with those we teach – I would always advocate honesty. My view is we need to be straight about the challenges, and then do all in our power to help those we teach to face and overcome the challenges they may meet.

    Does that help?

  2. Hey Johnny, I sent a response by DM on Twitter, but will repeat it here.

    I did read all the way to the bottom and thanks for the write up. Yes I do think that children should be made aware of the harsh realties. Even if it is something done across lessons that make them think more or become a bit more resilient if challenged. Obviously we should not just focus on the negative but we do our children a disservice if we don’t empower them around choices they can make on this.

    My daughters have to be aware that wherever they go in the world, that some people will be inconsiderate of their race and gender. I will debate and discuss how they would handle such a a situation but allow them to also know their identity is not bound up in other peoples ignorance(s)


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