Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Canons’ Pedagogy Leaders Network Day: a hit, a palpable hit!

Canons Pedagogy Leaders' Network Day: a hit, a palpable hit!

‘Why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?’ asks Morrissey in The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’. How is this relevant, you may be asking, to a post about a day of CPD at a school in Edgware? Stay with me…

So often, we are treated to CPD which is ‘bolted on’, ‘parachuted in’, brought in from the periphery to tell us how to be better. It’s as if others have the answer to this riddle called ‘teaching’; they pop in, get paid (a lot!) and wow us with their solutions to our problems. I know that’s potentially an overly reductive view of CPD and I hasten to add that not all such sessions are dreadful. However, see what Rachael Stevens (@murphiegirl) has to say about teachers’ responses to CPD here: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/oct/11/observation-classroom-teaching-development-schools

So, it seems to me that sometimes we do ‘pamper life’s complexities’ by making things seem more difficult than they are, by looking for a BIG solution to something that might not even really be a problem. We throw money at things, indulging in ‘external expert’ CPD because we’re following a pattern that’s been in existence for as long as we can remember.

Today, I had a fantastic CPD experience. In a school. It was about sharing good practice. Right next to me, in neighbouring classrooms and nearby schools, there’s learning to be done. If pedagogy is my craft then so is it someone else’s, someone else who operates in the classroom every day of their working life, doing the things that I’m likely to be doing, albeit in a variety of contexts.

Listening to the staff at Canons talking about their experiences of the Pedagogy Leaders programme (read about it here: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/jun/14/pedagogy-staff-initiative-teaching-learning-project) was simply invigorating. Because it’s there and it works and the people involved came in to the room and told us about it face-to-face, it *is* a reality which may just be transferrable into my school, or yours. Getting out and about on a Learning Walk, seeing those ideas in action and interacting with students & teachers who clearly have learning at the top of their agendas certainly was the ‘Demonstration’ phase of today’s ‘Active Learning’ cycle.

And what I *really* liked was the ‘Impact’ session – what a fantastic idea! Why doesn’t more CPD take us down the route of showing us tangible evidence of ‘how it works’? Maybe because the people delivering it never stay long enough to see what happens? Harsh, I know. But possibly true? Investigating the soft, medium and hard impacts of the project means I feel so much more confident about ‘selling’ this to my school now. Not in its entirety, of course – it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and neither should it be.

So, if you get the opportunity to sit alongside a teacher or group of teachers who have already started driving the bus, get in and check out the upholstery rather than calling in someone to pimp your ride for you.

Thank you, Canons, for a superb day. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Debating Club

When I was asked if I would take on the challenge of setting up and running a debating club for KS3-5 students I didn’t quite realise what I was about to embark upon. After a nerve-wracking first meeting, to which three CV fishing year 11 boys showed up to, I was apprehensive about how successful this venture might be. After a lot of perseverance, persuasion and plugs in assemblies and lessons however, the second meeting rolled around but this time I was faced with a group of sixth formers, year 11s, year 9s and year 7s, and so began Canons Debating Club.
It was really encouraging to see lots of students who I didn’t teach at the club and I was immediately put at ease as students talked about some of the reasons why they’d decided to join, amongst these reasons were desires to improve speaking and listening skills, to help boost confidence talking in front of others and to meet other students from around the school and different year groups. It was particularly encouraging when I started to throw topic ideas at the group and they organised themselves into for and against through a variety of debating games such as debate circle and four corners voting. A lot of the students had never had the opportunity in a school setting to discuss and debate some of the controversial notions we raised, amongst which were: euthanasia, capital punishment, possession of fire arms and on one, more recent occasion, superheroes: actual heroes or just misleading icons?
From the outset the intention for the club was to not only provide an extra-curricular activity for students but also to establish a successful debate team who could compete at regional and national level, representing Canons at debating competitions. After a few warm-up sessions in which students got to know one another as well as me, I received the news that our application to enter the English Speaking Union (ESU) Mace Debating Competition had been accepted and we were soon hurtling full force towards our first competition.
As I begun to receive more information on who the competition hosts would be, who our team would debate against and what the motion would be I was anxious to share with the students the motion we would be proposing: ‘This house believes that football team supporter's clubs should lobby against the signing of players with a history of discriminatory or violent behaviour.’ A bit of a mouthful. I had, as I have come to realise time and time again with debate club, nothing to be anxious about. Immediately the students begun discussing how we could support the motion as the proposition and we all begun furiously planning and writing speeches, me included, and invited some of the English department to come along and watch some of the speeches and students who wanted to be considered for our team. After an encouraging and enjoyable demonstration from a number of members we voted for our two speakers: Lucy, a year 9 student and Fuad, a year 12 student and finally our first official Canons debating team was formed.
The entire debating club and I received so much support in the days surrounding the competition and although the mini-bus atmosphere was one of tension and nerves on the drive to the competition, it was an incredibly enjoyable evening that left me feeling so proud of our club and school. Our students put up an excellent fight in their debate against Chingford Foundation School, speaking with sophistication, passion and flair and although we didn’t win our debate our speakers were commended by both the chair person and the adjudicators for their enthusiasm and their potential as debaters new to the competition circuit. We even enjoyed a few humorous moments when Fuad, one of our speakers, ardently ‘denied’ rather than politely ‘declined’ every point of information offering from the opposition. After our debate we also had the opportunity to watch a live debate between two teams of year 13 girls from St John’s Senior school who have competed for several years, an experience that was invaluable for our new debaters and one which prompted one of our team to frantically make notes on how they were conducting their debate which she debriefed us all on at our most recent meeting. Suffice to say it was a fantastic experience attending our first competition and that was before we’d even had a chance to tuck into the complimentary canap├ęs and quiche.
We jumped in feet first this term with our first competition but I am grateful that we did, it was certainly a steep learning curve but one that the students took in their stride confidently and left them feeling excited and enthusiastic to prove how far the promise and potential they already have could take us. Already on the lookout for the next competition, I have every confidence we will be ready to tackle whatever motion is thrown at us with even more passion, poise and conviction and who knows, we may even be ready to ‘accept’ some of those points of information!