On Thursday Andy Tharby and I were fortunate enough to spend the day at Wellington College, soaking up all that their annual ‘Festival of Education’ had to offer. We had a great day – here are some of the key messages.
“We are committed to consistent improvement and spreading excellence”
The Secretary of State opened the festival, telling us about the importance of academic rigour for all, the importance of character traits and how she wanted to ‘unleash the greatness in the system’ by us all taking responsibility and collaborating, so that the best schools can extend their reach and influence.
I doubt many teachers would argue against any of these intentions. In fact, that’s what we do as a profession day in, day out. It just becomes very difficult to do so when faced when reduced budgets, a massive recruitment crisis, a narrowing curriculum and high stakes accountability measures. Unfortunately, there was no mention of any of these things.
“For too long, research has excluded its key stakeholders – teachers. Teachers have been given answers to questions they didn’t ask”
It was great to finally meet Carl, who was introducing the work that Wellington has been doing with Harvard School of Education, led by Christina Hinton. Carl stressed how important it was that research came from inside the classroom, not outside and that students were active participants in research. For further information regarding the Wellington Research and Learning Centre, look here.
Christina continued the discussion about the gap between research and practice – and how the work of Harvard and other schools from around the world, were looking to close this gap. She spoke about the fact that too much research is disconnected from the classroom, and that it was not smart how teachers had to push on with strategies, that had no evidence base of making any difference to learning. Her mission is simple – to give teachers a voice in shaping research direction.
There were three steps to the process:
- Do the research – this is what gets you the data.
- Professional Development – what does this mean for practice?
- Dissemination – share freely the useable knowledge, so that it is relevant for the process.
Christina made some really interesting points about the importance of schools working with universities when embarking on research:
- Universities have more experience around research methodology e.g. designing effective questionnaires.
- They help schools to understand how to analyse and interpret data e.g. the difference between correlation and causation.
- They build capacity by developing teachers into effective researchers.
- It ensures that universities are working on the right questions i.e. the ones that matter to teachers.
“Teaching is not the best paid job, but done well, there is no better job to satisfy the soul and energise the spirit”
Sir Michael was talking about the huge issue of recruitment and retention in the profession. He shared some stark statistics:
- 50% of headteachers have reported that they are struggling to recruit maths and science teachers.
- One third of headteachers have reported that they are having to use long term supply teachers in these subjects.
- 75% of headteachers in disadvantaged areas said that they were struggling to recruit good teachers.
He described this as an urgent priority for the government to look at. At the moment, teaching is not seen as a profession for the brightest and the best and is seen as a career cul-de-sac. This must change – he wants it to be seen as a high status, sexy job! What does he think should be done to address the issue?
- Raise the status of the profession. He laid much blame at the door of the media, for portraying the profession in a negative light, such as through programmes like ‘Waterloo Road’. He praised programmes like ‘Educating Essex & Yorkshire’ for showing the positive work that hard working teachers do.
- Focus on strong leadership. When a school has strong leaders, who demonstrate unequivocal support for their teachers and are not afraid of being described as ‘disciplinarians’ – then teachers can teach. We need more leaders like this.
- There needs to be a fairer distribution of SCITTs across all regions – especially in disadvantaged areas. If schools in disadvantaged areas can’t engage with teacher training in this way, they can’t recruit and so we a re creating a polarised system. Likewise, Teach First needs to be expanded across the country.
- Those SCITTs that do existing, from good and outstanding schools, must send their trainees out into RI schools.
- Set up a ‘National Service Teachers’ programme – where there is an incentive for the best teachers to be deployed around the country, in disadvantaged schools.
When asked what he would say to school leaders who are not applying for Headships in RI/inadequate schools? “For god’s sake, don’t be so feeble! Give it a go and make a difference”
“Grit is all about working hard on the same thing, because it matters”
Angela Duckworth turned to actor Will Smith, to explain what grit was about:
She then described how in 1869, the English anthropologist Francis Galton suggested that ‘the truly eminent have 3 qualities – ability, hard labour and zeal’. His half cousin, Charles Darwin, responded with ‘Individuals don’t vary in intellect, only in zeal and hard work’.
Grit is something we can all cultivate – to be human, is to strive and human beings all crave excellence. But how do we achieve it?
ACHIEVEMENT = TALENT x EFFORT
If talent is high, but effort is low – achievement will be zero.
Effort requires deliberate practice. What does this mean?
- Having a specific stretch goal – and focusing on this with intentionality.
- Concentrating on this 100% – usually in solitude, not in a group.
- Getting immediate and informative feedback.
- Practising repetitively until fluency is achieved.
- Then once you get it – continue to practise until it becomes automatic.
“Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths. Then I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory, a tenacity of faith.”
Martha Graham – American Dancer
Angela concluded by suggesting 3 ways in which schools can help to develop grit:
1. Change beliefs about studying and practice by telling students:
- Deep practice involves failure
- Deep practice is frustrating
- Talent is not all that matters
2. Provide students with a partner, or mentor, or coach to help them get gritty. Someone who understands the situation when things are getting difficult, but is ‘psychologically distanced’ from the issue and so can encourage them to stick with it.
3. Create a culture of grit and deliberate practice – as explained by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll:
It’s a truly great event – if you get the opportunity to go next year, I suggest you do. Thanks to Rachel Jones for inviting me to speak on a panel about leadership, for the brilliant ‘Don’t change the light bulbs‘ – which is why I was there in the first place.