All done for this year – and reflections on a year’s blogging

Thanks to our process of ongoing CPD, we finish the term with three non-pupil days (already worked, thanks to a dozen staff training sessions delivered) and are thus on holiday from today. Hooray for a break from early rises!!! So here I am, beginning by doing nothing other than writing about ‘work’…

It seems to be customary to mark one’s blog-birthdays with a retrospective – so I thought that I would (not-quite) follow suit. Today effectively marks for me the end of one academic year of blogging; though the actual calendar anniversary is not until early September, today seems like a more productive time for a little reflection.

In that almost-year, I have written 96 posts (including this one) which is a satisfying average of nearly two a week for one who wondered before starting whether he would run out of steam. So has the effort been worth it?

TP has not exactly become a high-volume blog, though its hits are climbing gently through the thousands – but David Didau gets as many hits in a week as TP gets in year! I keep reminding myself that spinning hit-counters are not purpose of the exercise – for most of my life I seem to have homed in on minority causes and positions, so I should know this. Bizarrely, however, the urge to look at the counter can be quite irresistible, and in a sense this has been salutary in its own right: it is remarkable how compulsive the abstract chasing of numbers can become, even as one knows deep down that this is not in itself a deep or enduring reward for one’s effort. Would that those who run our schools accepted as much.

I hope, though, that I have managed to write engaging posts, in keeping with my conception of teaching as a profession that espouses reflective, considered values. I hope that the contents have provoked thought and contributed a little to my aim of recording and transmitting the accumulated perspectives of my now-twenty-seven years in the classroom into the general repository of the profession.

Andrew Old has helped by regularly disseminating my writings on The Echo Chamber, and some time ago he allowed me authorial rights; thus I effectively became a small cog in the production of that admirable exercise. Thanks, Andrew, for this endorsement.

I also attended the two legendary bloggers’ curries in Brick Lane, and this was a great experience. The conversation was excellent, and it was good to meet in person some of those whose views I have come to respect online – and indeed to meet teachers from extremely disparate parts of the profession. Apart from the curious experience of only initially knowing people by their pseudonyms, it was also productive by being a great leveller, and permitting discussion in a way that might not so easily be possible across levels of one’s own school’s hierarchy. Was I the only one who sensed almost excitement at feeling as though we were at the hub of something significant – even if it’s not really clear what?

Someone, somewhere, earlier in the year, advocated blogging as a great means of professional self-development, and I have to agree. The past year has seen me engage far more fully in the wider educational debate, and this has been a welcome fillip for someone who is three-quarters through his career. I had felt for many years that teaching lacked the opportunity for a real, grass-roots dialogue about its practice, and this is most definitely filling that void. It has the potential to pull those grass-roots of our profession together like never before – and who knows where that might lead? Contacts with DFE and Ofsted may be only the start… It has been particularly interesting to read and interact with people in other countries, though this has also enhanced my suspicions that the Anglo-American-Antipodean model of education has something flawed about it, in that it seems to be laden with problems that simply seem less of a big deal elsewhere. What are we doing wrong? And I mean in wider society, not just education…

It has also caused me to reflect on my own experience to date in some unexpected ways: given that the majority of bloggers seem  to be either relatively new entrants or else senior leaders, it has made me more aware of the expertise and perspective that I have accumulated over nearly three decades in the classroom and which one simply takes  for granted. Perhaps that is a lesson with wider applicability: in these days of incessant self-scrutiny, the best qualities of all are those that are so embedded that they are ‘merely’ instinctive.

I do seem to have dug myself something of a hole as being anti-research, which really is not the whole story. No doubt science can tell us useful things about learning – I am just doubtful whether it will be much we didn’t know already, or at a usable resolution. I am also concerned that this is just going to become the next stick to beat classroom teachers with – and also that it will lead to further ignoring of the more personal, qualitative and cultural aspects of the job, some of which in my view are more likely to be where the key to good practice actually lies (If there is one…)

It is good to see so many young teachers communicating their experiences, though perhaps somewhat concerning to note the extent to which the target-driven training regime is being embedded in their collective subconscious. It has also been a great relief to discover that there are plenty of people out there who like me do not approve of the constructivist hegemony within our profession – where have you been all my life? What seems to be new, at least to me, is the emergent school of reasoned thought in support of a more traditionally-slanted and independent-minded strand within the profession, so that the pro-traditional argument can now go beyond the conventional entreaties about learning for learning’s sake. For all that that is important.

Reading many school leaders’ blogs has, however, reinforced my view that senior managers largely talk to each other, about things and in a language that have little direct bearing on the direct experience of being in a classroom – which is not to say that they don’t provide useful insight. One of the persistent problems with education (and many other institutions) in this country is the extent to which they are run top-down, with only those at the top being directly privy to key information and ideas – which they then roll out as the latest silver bullets, steam-rollering those below them to comply. Blogs have not disabused me of the impression that school teaching and school management are running to two entirely different and not always mutually-helpful agendas.

I feel ambivalent about Gove’s departure. I did not take to the man, did not like the apparent provenance of his views, and I certainly cannot endorse his party – but on the other hand, he seems to have created a climate in which it was, for the first time in my career, almost acceptable openly to express traditional educational values. I hope that this will continue, and  I suspect this genie is indeed out of the bottle. I am not dogmatic, and dislike the way in which much of the opposition to him was clearly ideological. I feel more personally confident about approaching the new year with a traditional academic agenda (as do several colleagues), though in my case I have got to work through two and a half decades of self-denial and constructivist conditioning first. Such is the power of the educational establishment to shape those who work within it, even against their wills.

On the other hand, blogging has led to my profession making even greater inroads into my personal life. I have found myself thinking about educational issues almost incessantly, and probably boring some of my colleagues (let alone my wife) stiff with the latest imponderables. The level of thought-saturation I achieved in such thinking actually got quite oppressive on occasions, and I found it quite difficult to switch off. Is this really beneficial to us as people or teachers?

For all that I believe in high-level  professionalism, I also think we tend to take it too far and the work-life balance really does need to take some precedence, and not only in the summer recess.  People need balanced lives and outside interests in order to be good teachers; in my case I have several deep hobbies that deserve quality time, and my dear wife really should receive more of my conscious attention than she sometimes does.

But overall, the experience of edu-blogging has been very positive and career-enhancing. I have read numerous education and psychology-related books, some as a direct result of blogging. Teacher Proof and Seven Myths stand out, as does Susan Cain’s Quiet, which reassured that one does not have to be a raving extrovert to be successful. It has even prompted me to re-start work on my book, currently going through the later stages of fine-tuning. Not that there is a publisher in the offing yet, but who knows, and there is always the Christodoulou route…

So what does an edu-blogger do in the long summer holiday? I think part of the unseasonal answer may be to hibernate – not completely, as I’m sure there will be things that warrant comment, but the post rate may fall somewhat. I have 140,000 words of book to finalise, after all – and I need to practise what I preach on the life balance. I hope to meet more bloggers at the next Brick Lane curry at the end of August.

Full service will be resumed in September.

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