Helping teachers find their voice

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While I was still teaching, my main leadership responsibility was for the development of teachers at the foothills of their careers, so it may be fitting that – now that teacher and leader development is my full time job – I still spend a sizeable proportion of my time with teachers less than half my age.

This year, with Liz Luka, I have been running a programme similar to this one  for the Future Zone group of schools in Islington. We call it ‘early career development’ but, to be honest, the focus is not on career except in the sense that we want to see these teachers still in the classroom many years from now. The purpose of the programme is for everyone to find their voice, their identity as professionals; the means is through a series of evidence-informed enquiries.

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The participants, at the start of the programme, got to choose from a range of pedagogical themes. They selected differences between boys and girls, assessment, differentiation, pupil grouping and practitioner research. In each session, I would introduce something from the literature on one of the chosen themes – nothing too heavy, material that they could readily grapple with and imagine applying in their own classrooms. Then they would plan a lesson (or, more often, a series of lessons) where they introduced an innovation inspired by the literature. They would then decide how they would collect evidence: these were often in the form of pupil voice, teacher observation, or analysis of work in books or other artefacts. With one session per half term, they would normally have five to six weeks to conduct their enquiry, before returning to the group and sharing their insights.

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They did not always find what they expected to. One teacher was certain his boy-heavy Year 6s favoured the curriculum presented in a boy-friendly (despite research suggesting otherwise). He discovered the opposite. Often they found that an innovation applied with one group of pupils in mind had just as positive an effect on a different group. A common finding was that pupils initially responded well to a new way of learning, only to ‘regress to the mean’ after a few lessons of the same. We explored the potential pitfalls of practitioner enquiry – tiny data sets, short treatment periods, innovation bias – but believed that the sum of learning was much greater. We asked them how they felt the enquiries had changed them as teachers. The gains to their confidence were enormous.

‘Trying new things is scary, but I am more open to doing new things having done it a bit.’

 ‘Made us try new things that we might not have tried otherwise.’

‘More confident to allow children to attempt different levels of work.’

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Another huge takeaway from the programme is the changed relationships they have with their classes and, more than that, how they increasingly began to see the children as partners in learning.

 “I will allow children to have more ownership.”

“Give children more of a purpose and to assess their own learning.”

 “Created more of a collaborative approach, working together with children.”

“I have changed my attitude, giving over more control to the children.”

 ‘More aware of who actually needs support, and trusting the children to help each other.’

‘Trusting self to take risks; trusting children too – both can be successful.’

 

In finding their identity as teachers, they have become more able to speak up for themselves. Sometimes teachers are faced with policies and practices that they just comply with because they have little or no experience of other ways. As a result of undertaking enquiries into evidence-informed practice, they can now engage more critically as professionals.

 ‘Made us re-evaluate why we are doing something – is it really effective?’

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For the final session, with a free choice of research theme, they returned in most cases to an enquiry from earlier in the programme. They wanted to collect more data, or collect it in a new way. They wanted to tweak their innovation, having learned from their mistakes. They shared their new insights with their peers, now in the form of research posters. Perhaps for the first time, they truly felt like evidence-informed teachers.

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Wise Young Teachers

Teachers in England – and especially in London – are being encouraged to take on their first leadership positions at ever-younger ages. If good leadership depends on wisdom, and wisdom derives from experience, how can our leaders be both wise and young?

The IOE has a long-established CPD relationship with Newham schools. For several years we have run programmes on behalf of three Teaching School Alliances, for NQTs during induction and for those in the second year of their careers (often called NQT+1s.). These have been popular and successful and, through them, reached hundreds of teachers serving children and families in the area.

The design of the current programme arose out of my work over several years with NQTs in Chace Community School in Enfield.

Read more about this UCL Case Study here. If you happen to be a teacher in Newham, you might also want to check out the Newham Early Career Teacher programme here.

I am now running a similar programme for the Tapscott Learning Trust also based in Newham.

They are working on research themes with the (hopefully) catchy titles of Boys and Girls: the same only different? Differentiation: reaching all learners? and Providing effective feedback: it’s not just your marking!

Finally, I am working with a marvellous group of young teachers from the Future Zone group of schools in Islington. They completed their first enquiries, taking inspiration from Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and Realities, the report written for the DCSF by Gemma Moss, Becky Francis and Christine Skelton. This Year 6 teacher, from Tufnell Park primary school, Kieran Boulton, was so taken by his discoveries he committed it to video.

Enquiries such as these are accelerating the practice experience of these young teachers, giving them insights into research that provide them with stories to tell their colleagues. This is the sort of ‘practice wisdom’ they will need as they move into leadership.

Is technology addiction just FOMO?

With colleagues at UCL Institute of Education I have worked with teachers at the City of London School for a few years on individual practitioner enquiries. Below is an edited version of Matt Kerr’s report.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

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THE ISSUE

The idea for me to study the notion of Technology Addiction came when the School was about to embark on banning mobile phone use for some year groups. Up until quite recently the School’s approach to mobile phone use was somewhat light touch. Academic year 2017 – 18 was the first year that 2nd Form boys were not allowed to use their phones at all during the school day. Subsequently, this ban has been extended to 3rd Form boys for academic year 2018 – 19.

Technology addiction — sometimes called Internet addiction, Internet use disorder (IUD) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD) — is a fairly new phenomenon. It’s often described as a serious problem involving the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, in particular the Internet, smartphones, tablets and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Now that it’s effortless to text and access the Web and social media from almost anywhere, more of us are dependent on communicating via the tiny computers we carry with us. So it’s no surprise that health experts are seeing a rise in addictive tendencies that involve technology.

Technology addiction, and the related and more common term Internet addiction disorder, are not recognised as addictions or disorders in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the reference used by health care providers to diagnose mental health conditions. However, Internet Use Gaming Disorder – excessive playing of video games — was added to the DSM-5 in June 2018. Although my study does not look solely at Internet Gaming, but rather technology addiction in its broader sense, it is compelling to see the WHO recognise the dangers of too much time spent gaming.

Even if addiction to different types of technology isn’t yet a recognised disorder on its own, the problem has been on the radar of health professionals since the 1990s. In 1995, Kimberly Young, PsyD, established the Centre for Internet Addiction and created the first treatment plan for technology addiction based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. That same year, the term “Internet addiction disorder” was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Goldberg.

The way tech addiction is diagnosed can differ from country to country, but surveys in the U.S. and Europe show that between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffers from Internet addiction. Technology addiction is recognised as a widespread health problem in other countries, including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which have established dedicated clinics to address this growing issue.

Like other types of addiction, technology addiction can range from moderate to severe, and some researchers say that like other addictions, people who use their phones or stay online for many hours a day experience a similar “high” — and also feel withdrawal when cut off. It’s not simply the amount of time spent with the digital device that defines an addict, though, but how excessive use adversely affects someone’s mental and physical health, daily life, relationships and academic or job performance.

According to Hilarie Cash, PhD., co-founder of an Internet Addiction Recovery Program, symptoms can include:

  • Compulsive checking of text messages
  • Frequent changing of personal social media statuses and uploading of “selfies”
  • A feeling of euphoria while on the Web
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities that don’t involve a computer, phone or gadget
  • Feelings of restlessness when unable to go online

We are living in an age where one simply cannot escape the use of technology and the enormous benefits it brings are obvious. I was keen to explore how CLS boys are interacting with each other, and using and over-using their mobile phones. I also wanted to get a boys perspective on their level of dependency and usage habits.

RESEARCH QUESTION

It appears that barely a day goes by without a report documenting the explosion in the use of mobile phones amongst teenagers in the UK. With technology so embedded into today’s youth culture I wanted to get a better understanding of young peoples attitudes towards and usage of mobile phones.

So I came up with the following research question:

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

 

WHAT DID I DO – IN CARRYING OUT THE ENQUIRY

Methodology – part one – Questionnaire

  1. I used Dr Richard Grahams Technology Addiction Questionnaire – questions below. The questionnaire is made up of 12 questions. The questions are designed to be given to individuals who think they may be at risk of suffering from Internet addiction. The questions require a yes or no response and if the respondent answers yes to four or more questions then individuals are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.
  2. All boys in the 3rd Form were invited to take part in the research questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent to all boys via a link to a Google form.
  3. 107 boys completed the survey
  4. The answers to the questionnaire were all anonymous
  5. I then asked for volunteers to take part in a follow up group interview.

 

Methodology – part two – Group interviews

12 boys were selected from all the boys who volunteered to take part in a group interview. The interviews were arranged into two groups of six boys. As part of the group interview all volunteers were given the questionnaire again and then a series of questions were asked which led to some interesting discussions.

The questions asked include:

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices
  2. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.
  3. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?
  4. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

 

MAKING SENSE OF THE INFORMATION

I only used results from boys who had completed all of the questions. Any incomplete responses were not included in the final analysis. All of the boys answered yes or no to all 12 questions and this produced some interesting results which I have presented in pie charts.

(Remember: according to the design of the questionnaire anyone answering yes to four or more questions are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.)

Group Interview data handling: I selected 12 volunteers from over 20 boys who were keen to take part in the group interviews. I first asked them to complete the questionnaire again. I then asked individual to share their responses with the rest of the group. I deliberately allowed the discussion to flow with little intervention from me. During the discussions I was taking notes and trying to ensure all members of the group had a fair opportunity to voice their views.

WHAT DID I DISCOVER

  1. 37 / 107 (35%) boys answered yes on 4 or more occasions.
  2. 5 / 107 (4.7% ) boys answered yes on 8 or more occasions.
  3. The average number of “yes’s” per person = 2.93
  4. 1 boy answered yes to all 12 questions
  5. 16 boys answered no to all 12 questions = (15% of boys)
  6. By the time the boys are in the Third Form the temptation to stay online longer than expected is increasingly difficult to overcome.
  7. “Only” 10% of boys would rather spend time communicating online rather than face to face. This is particularly concerning, however, if the individual has any socialisation difficulties. In addition, SEND students are known to be at a higher risk of Technology addiction and to take part in other risky online activities.
  8. 22.4% of boys sleep with their smart phone near or under their pillow. This contravenes all advice given to teenagers about healthy amounts of sleep, and best practice in terms of not having mobile devices in the bedroom.
  9. Probably the most worrying statistic is that 37.4% of boys secretly wish that they could be a little less connected to their mobile devices. This is a clear signal that they are not able to self regulate. The boys need and would appreciate help with curbing their own phone use.
  10. Almost 20% of boys hide or become defensive about their online activities. The secretive element of online behaviour is troubling for a number of reasons. 1. Secretive behaviour and actions online can result in boys encountering content or people that are not appropriate for their age. 2. Secretive online behaviour can increase the likelihood of technology addiction. 3. Many incidents of online bullying are carried out by lone individuals sending messages that they believe are anonymous.

 

Key results form the groups interviews. 

All of the people interviewed said that when asked the same questions again they answered differently and all of them said they gave more “no” responses. When asked about this, they explained it was easier to be honest on an anonymous survey. And when asked face to face they are more likely to give the response that they thought they should be saying. Some boys explained that some days they feel very attached to their mobiles and other days they don use them at all. This often depends on what game they are playing at the time and who else is playing with them.

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices

Healthy use is “normal usage” and this was described as the same time and amount of usage that their friends are spending. In reality this often means gaming before school, at break times and for large parts of the evening after homework has been completed.

Unhealthy use would be described as gaming all night and failing to hand homework in because of excessive use.

None of the boys surveyed believed they were unhealthy users.

  1. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.

It is not unusual for the digital day to start very early in the morning, before they have got out of bed and continue long after their agreed bedtime.  Some boys said that they would set their alarm on their phones for earlier than they needed to check messages and to play games before having to get up for school.

  1. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?

All of the participants explained that they would never leave the house without their phone. Hypothetically speaking if they were to leave the house without their phone – they would return home to get.

  1. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

Angry, unfair treatment, I would be worried because I couldn’t play my games and I would feel like I am missing out. (FOMO), having my phone confiscated is the worst thing that could happen to me.

None of the boys interviewed  expressed any feelings of relief if they were to have their phone confiscated.

One question that I did not ask but should have asked was: why did you volunteer to be part of the group interview research group?

Summary.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

The short answer to this question is that I feel that the high level of mobile phone use by the boys surveyed is putting them at risk of developing behaviours that are consistent with Technology addiction.

 

 

 

Europejski – The Synopsis

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Europejski – The man who would be President of Poland has a past that is catching up with him. A literary novel set during and after the Cold War. The novel explores troubling questions of when it is right to withhold the truth, and when deception is justified by the greater good.

Tom is an Irish student spending the year in a Warsaw university. It is called ‘the Red Fortress’ because it is favoured by the sons and daughters of Poland’s Communist Party. Tom meets and gradually falls in love with Gosia, a doctor’s daughter from Gdansk. His other friends include Aleks (who prints an anti-government newspaper from the basement of their student house) and Michalski (the handsome, enigmatic leader of the banned students’ union). They bond over vodka and a guitar and together they protest for their rights. A demonstration outside a theatre is broken up by the brutal riot police, a favourite teacher is arrested, a riot is caught on BBC cameras and rumours are spread that a protestor has been killed. The friends take their protest to the office of their nemesis, the Vice-Rector Wilk, where they take him hostage for three days. Meanwhile, strikes have been taking place across the country and the television news carries reports that Soviet forces are exercising on the border. As their supplies run low, Michalski must negotiate for their demands. Their occupation is ended as the security service – the dreaded SB – storm the office and assault Michalski. To prevent further violence he calls off the strike.

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The friends are expelled from the university. Michalski is sent into exile and Tom is deported home, but not before both are separately held in the Europejski, the swanky Warsaw hotel. There, his diplomatic handler Spiro arranges for Tom to have one final meeting with his girlfriend, Gosia. It is a meeting both have waited months for. She arrives late.

Eleven years on, it is the eve of the millennium. Tom is a BBC announcer in London. He receives a letter from Marek, a boy from Gdansk who says he is Tom’s son. Tom must return again to Poland. Michalski has also returned: he has made his fortune in the West and is now campaigning to become his country’s president. By law he must make a lustration – a full declaration of his past dealings with the Communist authorities. Aleks, now a leading journalist, is concerned that hidden aspects of his friend’s student past will surface. Ewa, a talented reporter on his paper, has been investigating and rapidly the story unravels. The reports of Soviet invasion were a hoax, engineered by rogue ministers in the Kremlin and Warsaw, intended to force an end to the strikes. While pretending to negotiate, Michalski had plotted with the SB to break the occupation; his injuries were accidental. Should Aleks hide the truth of this from voters if it means the better man can still win? But not all truths can be explained away. The lustration has already revealed that Gosia was a spy: she befriended Tom to get close to Michalski. Ewa discovers that she died mysteriously, shortly after giving birth to Marek, the boy who calls Tom his father. This revelation need not harm Michalski politically. But Tom alone knows a different truth: he is not the father; Michalski is. The future of the Polish presidency therefore lies in Tom’s hands. On the morning of the first day of the new millennium, Tom wanders lost in the unfamiliar streets of Warsaw, these truths come to light and finally he boards the train to Gdansk, where Marek is waiting for him.

 

Headlines are poor proxies for research.

So here goes. The other day Laura McInerney  at ResearchEd Blackpool posted on Twitter this much-repeated list of ‘Poor Proxies for Learning’, asking How many of these are you guilty of thinking will equal learning?

I replied

I have disliked this list for some time. A teacher who achieves these in their class IS doing a fine job. And, if not individually, in combination these will be good proxies for learning. Leaders should not be criticised for wanting to see them.

You can see some of the replies and thoughts on https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>proxies for learning here. Of course, I understand Rob Coe’s point that busy or engaged or motivated students, or ordered classrooms, or ones where the course is covered are not the same thing as learning, but I worry about the reactions of some teachers and school leaders seeing this list.

  • It sneers at teachers who strive to achieve exactly the things which are on this list.
  • It implies that these conditions are not worth striving for.
  • It may lead some teachers and school leaders to downgrade the achievement of these conditions.
  • It encourages the despairing conclusion that we cannot ever know that learning has taken place until public exams results are in – and that only those matter.

I know I have substituted the word ‘conditions’ for ‘proxies’. I know that this means I am guilty of a category error, where I mistake the difference between a prerequisite for a thing and the thing itself. But consider the position of the teacher teaching a class, or a school leader watching the lesson. When I was teaching (I remember it well – it was not long ago), I would have been delighted if I ever managed to cover the full content of a curriculum, when that curriculum kept changing and growing. If I ever motivated all of my students so that they were interested in what I was saying and engaged in what I wanted them to do, I would have chalked that up as a stunning success. There were very many times when my classroom was not ordered or calm, so I was definitely happy when it was. More to the point, I know that my students did learn better when they were engaged in busy, well-ordered lessons. It took me several hard years to achieve lessons like those on a consistent basis. And, when it became my role to help other teachers, it took much energy on my part (and much more on theirs) to achieve something like those conditions in their lessons.

School leaders should strive for those conditions in their schools. I mean, imagine if they did not. I know that it is not the intention of those who produce and reproduce the proxies list to suggest that they are (all) undesirable, but I do fear that that is how they are interpreted.

Those who publish research on well-visited platforms have a duty to consider the consequences of misinterpretation, and to at least try not to cause it. Some recent EEF reports have been headlined in a way that I feel is irresponsible. For example, what is a school leader to make of this?

New EEF trial results: ‘light-touch’ approaches to research unlikely to impact pupil outcomes

Will they see the ‘light touch’ and think, erm… that’s exactly what I do? For most schools, to be engaged in research and to seek to be informed by research often is a light-touch exercise. They trawl through their twitter feed late at night, look for some promising blogs to read, maybe look to make something more of the connections they have with a local university. Surely to goodness, these are activities to be encouraged. It is not encouraging to learn from an EEF sub-editor that it is unlikely to impact pupil outcomes. Worse still, it might lead some leaders to conclude that that journal club they have running is a waste of time. They should have read the report, of course, and added their own emphasis (as I have here):

While the evaluators from the University of Bristol found no evidence that the programme led to improvements in reading outcomes for ten and eleven year olds, the findings suggests that there may be a relationship between how engaged teachers are with research, and the attainment of their pupils. There was also some evidence that being in a Research Learning Community increased teachers’ engagement with research.

And perhaps they ought also to have read EEF Senior Researcher Jonathan Sharples’ blog . In it, he concludes that the light-touch research approaches described in the report were indeed worthwhile, and he references the 2016 EPPI review.

Importantly, in addition to reviewing different mechanisms to mobilise evidence, they also looked at the behavioural requirements that were necessary for those various approaches to have an impact. This included having:

  1. opportunities to engage with the interventions
  2. the motivations to do so, and
  3. the skills and capabilities to understand and use the outputs.

Dig down far enough into the EEF website and there is everything there the teacher and leader needs to be well-informed. Bravo. However, how many teachers and leaders crack their spade on the hard crust of the top line?

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Headlines are poor proxies for research.

 

 

Why I am writing Europejski

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Author’s photo, Warsaw c1987, taken from the Palace of Culture

I am not sure about the compulsion to write. Many authors, when asked why they do it, reply that they write because they have to, or words to that effect. Are they addicted to it? Does their body require it? Perhaps I am missing out on something. Perhaps the reason I have written so little, and so unsuccessfully, is because they have something I have not got.

But I do write. I do it every day. I didn’t use to. For almost all of my adult life I was a teacher, who wrote lesson plans and reports and comments on students’ work, but little that would be termed creative. I did write a novel, and it took me 16 years: that’s how long a novel takes when you are a full-time teacher. For most of those years I wasn’t writing at all, although the story was always nagging away in the background. I would say, that novel did have to be written: it was the only way I could shrug it off.

Perhaps that’s what the compulsion to write actually is: a shrugging off. Once the idea has entered the head, the only way of dispelling it is to write it out. Write it out on the screen, write it out of the system. That feels true in my case. The novel I am currently writing (for now, I am calling it Europejski) has sat inside me in various forms for thirty years. I did try to write it out once before, in a novella I called Outsidelines. I failed to get it published – and re-reading it now, I see why – but it served its purpose at the time. The ideas I was grappling with then were dealt with and I could move on. The fact that I have returned to the core of those ideas only goes to show that ‘shrugging off’ might be an incomplete action. The idea may be mightier than the pen.

‘The idea’. That makes it sound like a complete thing. It also makes it sound important, original, essential. I wish it were so! My idea is probably none of those things and it certainly is not complete. Mine is shape-shifting, irregular and of a state somewhere between a gas and a solid. It is here right in front of me, but it’s also over there in a yet-unrecovered memory. Writing it out, then, is also an attempt to give it a form, to fix it. The form it takes must be the best possible representation of the original idea. That’s the job of the writer. That’s what I must do.

What’s my idea, and where did it come from? Europejski is a spy story and a political intrigue. It deals with a group of student friends in Warsaw in the late 1980s, one of whom is Irish; ten years later they are forced to confront again what they did as youths, and the implications this may have for the country. This is the form my novel is taking, and the idea of it. It is about trust when it is tested, and about the kinds of love that endure. Or, rather, that’s what I want it to be about – that’s how I want the thoughts in my head to take shape.

How these thoughts got into my head could also be a novel, if I wanted this to be autobiographical. Europejski is not my experience, but my experience has made me knowledgeable of the events I describe and invent. I first went to Poland in 1986 and returned every year until I moved to live there for three years in the early 1990s. I had a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, Marcus Wheeler, who nurtured my historical and cultural interests in the country. I had friends at the Warsaw university at the centre of the novel, some of whom are my great friends still. There were political demonstrations among students and others at the times I describe, and the pivotal moment I have filched from an historical source. I have invented nearly every character, but inevitably for a novel set in a real place amongst real events there are people I name who did exist, and I have made them do things they never did. That’s one of the troubling definitions of fiction: it tells lies in order to get at the truth. I am not a character in the novel; no one I know personally is. I stretched my imagination far enough to embrace students, their families and teachers, some journalists, and a spy and her government controller. I have navigated between three cities across two timeframes.

Nowadays my full-time job is not teaching, so I can write every day. Every day I try to fix the idea to the page. Every day I fail a little. But I am shrugging it off.