An email to Elizabeth Truss MP (waiting for a reply)

A very well put argument from Rachael Horsman, and one I agree with not just for maths but for all subjects. Despite trying to share practice and ideas within the departments I teach in, it seems that this sharing happens via a quick chat in the staff room or via email. Dedicated department and inter-department time to share good practice and ideas would help everyone improve and develop teaching and learning.

rachael horsman maths

Dear Ms Truss,

I am a Secondary Mathematics Specialist Leader of Education and was lucky enough to be amongst the group of teachers who travelled to Shanghai this January. I am very pleased to hear that you made it to Shanghai this week to see for your self how teachers and pupils work.

I am disappointed that several crucial facts seem to have been overlooked in the reports I have read about your visit so far.

Firstly, I agree that there are lessons to be learnt from the Shanghai model of education. I was thoroughly impressed by the professionalism and commitment of both pupils and teachers when I visited China (although I saw no teaching in Shanghai itself).

Teachers collaborate to produce lessons and worksheets of an extremely high quality. They carefully chose the best questions that contain a new idea or adaptation to a demonstrated problem. The worksheets quickly…

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Allowing students to work it out for themselves.

This young lady is extremely eloquent and funny, what she has to say really is well put and I have to agree with her, as adults we often forget that sometimes irrational thought and dreams can lead to amazing things.

I agree that often in lessons we become very restrictive in what we allow students to do or say in the lessons. Obviously there does need to be some restrictions otherwise there would be anarchy (although some of my lessons could be considered anarchy from an outside perspective), however I think that we do as teachers need to give the students some more freedom to explore their own ideas and creativity. We need to allow the students to develop their ideas and stop using the phrase “You can’t do that” when they ask “Is it Okay for me to …..?”. Instead we should be answering with “Try it and see if it works”.

So often I find that students in my lessons are afraid to try anything without checking with me first because they are afraid to fail or get it wrong, and I feel partially responsible for this as so often I catch myself telling students how to do something rather then letting them work it out for themselves. On the occasions where I have just let the students get on with the task and work it out for themselves (mostly because I had lost my voice entirely) I saw some very imaginative and unique problems solving skills.

With this in mind I have been trying to create more opportunities for students to be creative and problem solve within my lessons and schemes of work as I feel it is important that they are not only able to regurgitate facts and evaluation points but are able to find their own way through to an answer. In subjects such as mine where there is rarely a right or wrong answer but many different interpretations students often have difficulty with understanding that as long as they can explain themselves their opinion is the correct answer.

I am hoping that with more opportunities to be creative and more tasks where the students determine their own learning paths or final outcomes that they will become more confident in their own abilities and opinions. It will be slow going but I have confidence that the students and I will get there eventually. 

Using social media for CPD and Networking

The teaching profession and social media seem to have had a bit of a love/hate relationship in my opinion. We have all heard the stories of teachers being caught doing things they shouldn’t on social media sites.

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How teachers conduct themselves as a private individual on social media can have a knock on effect into their professional life. Many of my teachers friends have used pseudonyms or nicknames on both Facebook and twitter and have used other pictures rather then a photo as their avatar in order to prevent identification by students or parents. They have their privacy settings so high that no one can find them with a simple search however things still seem to get out.

This post however is not about the dangers of teachers using social media or how to remain safe online, there are plenty of good articles and blog posts out there already. This is in fact a post about using social media as a way of networking with other teachers, sharing resources and generally getting support and advice from people who understand both the profession and the pressures that teachers are under.

When I started putting together the Hectic Teacher resource, it was initially  going to be a hard copy resource to use within my own school and departments as a way of sharing ideas. It was only when I took a 6 month break from teaching that it expanded and became bit of a monster. Once I had the manuscript written in draft (I am still editing and adding to it, not sure I will ever be totally happy with it) I began to think about how to get it out there to teachers. I was reluctant to use social media such as twitter and Facebook because of my own fears of rejection and ridicule from other teachers despite my professional experience and the fact that all of the activities I was promoting I had used in my own lessons.

For the past 5 years I have been part of a group that first started as a TES

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forum thread and later moved on to Facebook. We are all teachers from various backgrounds, primary and secondary, private and state and internationally as well. It was this group that reminded me that teaching is a community that supports and nurtures those within it. This group has in fact been a major lifesaver for me, not only have being the driving force behind me getting the  “The Hectic Teacher” finished (mostly) and out into the big wide world but they have also been there with (virtual) hugs and sympathy when things haven’t gone well or even to share in celebration when they have. We have shared resources, stories, lesson ideas and strategies but more then that we have become a close group of friends who meet up a couple of times a year – although we have not yet managed to get the whole group together.

teslogoI was introduced to the TES forums and resources early on in my career and training. My mentor in my first training school told me that there is no point reinventing the wheel all the time and with a little patience and careful looking you can find almost anything you need online somewhere. Teachers on the whole are happy to share resources and offer advice and TES is a great way to do that. I have posted many of my resources on there and received some great feedback from other teachers. I do however believe that it is good practice to not just take resources but to also share your own or even just your adaptations to resources you have taken – with credit given to the original author of course.

When it came to Twitter I was a little dubious to be honest. I couldn’t see how it would work with only 140 characters and no way of sharing files. twitter_logo1-CopyHowever I was so very wrong. In the first month that @HecticTeacher has been on Twitter I have come across so many wonderful people who not only willingly share ideas but actually show the work that their pupils had been producing (not the students themselves obviously). This ability to show and model the work, to me is fantastic as it shows that not only does the activity work in a real life setting but also demonstrates one possible outcome.

ukedchatIn addition to the hundreds of teachers sharing their ideas and resources, I have been introduced to @ukedchat; a weekly opportunity for educators to discuss various aspects of the profession, including subject specials which allow the sharing of subject specific ideas and the discussion of subject specific issues. I have taken so many new ideas from these as well as shared some of my own.

teachertoolkit

@teachertoolkit is also a great resource, not just for ideas which are fantastic, my personal favourite has to be the 5 minute lesson plans which has made my planning so much easier, but also for debating issues in education, not only that but @teachertoolkit also offers online CPD webinars which look great and I can’t wait to take part in one.

In line with this there has been a major growth in “Webinars” recently, these online CPD opportunities mean that you no longer have to take a day

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out of school (which most school balk at due to cover costs) but can in fact be done in the comfort of your own home or classroom. It also means that schools can have more then one staff member in attendance without massive cost (depending on the provider) or curriculum damage of having more then one member of staff out. I have taken part in a couple of “webinars” specifically getting examination feedback for my A Level courses and have found them to be incredibly useful especially as both myself and the other teacher who I share the groups with could attend. I also found it so much more relaxed taking part in my own home office then having the major stress of travelling (I have yet to pass my driving test) and setting cover.

Overall my fears and doubt about the use of social media for networking and sharing ideas has been totally put to rest, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or on TES, the reaction I have received to Hectic Teacher and my ideas has been very positive and I have been inspired by the many wonderful teachers out there willing to share their practice, ideas and resources. I am even promoting their use to the rest of my departments as a way of inspiring our teaching and promoting more creative lessons. 

Finally I want to thank all those who have given me such a positive first foray into the scary world of social media and networking.