Sunday 17 June 2012

Sullying the Sterility: Infectious Professional Learning

If you didn't like my first post because of its extended metaphor (otherwise known, probably more aptly, as a conceit) then you might be best advised to stop reading right now. Having reached and breached the limits of my knowledge and understanding of gardening I am, in this post, about to show my limited grasp of the medical profession.

I'm writing this post in response to a couple of tweets about implementation of SOLO taxonomy by @yrathro and @Classroomheaven. Both were wondering aloud whether or not it was possible to introduce SOLO as an individual teacher without the support and community of a team approach through their department colleagues. This post isn't about SOLO per se, though, but about the way in which twitter has changed how CPD functions at Canons (and many other schools it would appear from my TL) in a very short space of time.

I've been a member of two Senior Leadership Teams since 2005 and have spent most of my thinking teaching career (my first two years were spent largely reacting to the classroom situations which unfolded in front of me - the NQTs I come across today are far better) working under the National Strategies so beloved of the Blair government. As a result of the context of my career I had come to see CPD (and to a certain extent teaching) as a 'healing' process: an administering of medicine, holistic therapies and (in drastic instances) invasive surgery. The strategies themselves were seen as the 'cure' for an ailing education system that had failed to deliver the right results, however these might be quantified and qualified by different political standpoints, for too long.

And indeed the strategies, through the countless quacks who implemented them (and I'll throw myself as a representative of school leaders in with the Local Authority advisors, external consultants and course deliverers), did write out prescription after prescription of proscriptive curriculum content, lesson planning proformas and teaching techniques. The patient was treated, quite literally so in terms of the money that was lavished on the profession in the form of wonderdrugs such as 'Four-Part Lessons', 'Assessment for Learning' and it's new and improved sister drug 'Assessing Pupil Progress'. No need for and educational equivalent of NICE then; we were all to be inoculated against poor standards no matter what the cost!

But the problem with this quackery was almost exactly the same as the overuse of tranquillisers and sleeping pills by GPs: They weren't actually cures for anything by themselves; they created an addiction that could only be fed with more and more, stronger and stronger drugs; they had negative side-effects for the patient that could in some cases be worse than the affliction they were meant to be treating; and they acted as substitutes for real self-willed actions that would be more likely to lead to cure, or the realisation that there was actually little in need of curing.

And then the roof fell in for the strategies as first the financial support for them disappeared shortly before the political will to sustain them was removed. What would we do? We had patients awaiting their next fix that wasn't going to come? We had cupboards full of suddenly discredited or devalued remedies? And so many of them, partially administered in the past, often unopened and unknown to us such was the glut? And in the past 2-4 years we have been doing our best, doctors without a Health Sercice to tell us what, how or why to diagnose and prescribe, cobbling together cocktails of wonderdrugs (and how we wonder now!!). But doing our best with strategies-lite is never going to make anyone better. Let's face it, the strategies themselves, for all their funding and time expense, have not revolutionised the profession and even where they have achieved success, the inevitability of decay is inevitable.

But maybe we have been wrong all along. Maybe the problem with education hasn't been an over abundance of diseases, but a lack of them. And maybe all that the strategies did was to further disinfect teaching by eliminating alternative approaches, neutralising innovation within a conformist bacteria-free education system.

When I consider how teachers at my school have embraced SOLO the main words I can think of are all disease-referencing. They have an infectious enthusiasm. Their ideas about it are contagious. And it's spread from one individual to another, one department to another, is viral. If the physical spread of SOLO across Canons were to be mapped on the school floor plan it would look a lot like bacterial cultures on an agar plate (forgive me if my humanities-focused brain has remembered poorly).

As I struggle to keep up with the SOLOists (what would have been an extraordinary position under the strategies for a DHT with responsibility for T&L) I have traced the source of the initial infection to Twitter. Under the strategies model of CPD I should quarantine the area infected by SOLO; halt the spread of the disease whilst I, as the all-knowing expert, work out whether or not it's properties can be harnessed; devise antidotes to the disease should it prove to be harmful.

But the strategies are gone and apparently there is no Ofsted validated way of teaching. Wilshaw and Gove, regardless of what any one of us may think about them, are giving us very public permission to grow our own cultures so long as they are successful (and yes, that includes exam outcomes). We need to be bold in holding them to their word.

But more than that. We need to see learning, whether by our students or by our staff, not as a cure for some ailment that they may have. Instead we need to see learning as a process of infecting minds, of allowing cultures to form, of welcoming the positive benefits, of dealing with the negatives (unfortunately there is no safe learning - all infections can be harmful to some, but look at Jenner to see that small harms can lead to great good).

So let's get out there and do our jobs. Let's infect others. Let's sully sterility. And in doing so lets allow our staff (and by extension our students) to develop their own cultures of learning within our petri-dish schools.

Postscript: Tonight on Twitter I have witnessed an amazing example of this contagion-like spreading of enthusiasm. Again SOLO related. It began with the successful creation of a #geogsolo hashtag hour-long chat (I think I don't need to tell you the topic). And then today a plaintive voice cried out for a #scisolo hashtag. By the evening not only had this been set up but another specialist twitterteachmeet had been set up. Soon after the call went up for the setting up of a #engsolo hashtag and I have been approached by a very trusting (foolish) person to set up an #SLTsolo one. Along the way there has been talk of shared purchasing of materials across schools and of shared knowledge about archiving of tweets. CPD and system-wide support and professional learning at its very very best. Thank you for infecting me tonight twitter.

1 comment:

  1. This is all fantastic to see. There are as you are seemingly aware a plethora of resources out there to support SOLO so I'm not going to bore you there either; just to say it's really heart warming to see the viral spread of ideas spanning out from grass roots CPD via Twitter. It's fab.

    Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist

    ps, don't know what Twitter archiving tools have been mentioned, but I use 'The Archivist' - simple, effective and free.