Improvement: The Easy Way, The Way it Feels & The Way it Is

elephantOK, cards on the table…who sometimes (or often) feels like our little friend here?

It’s a great saying and one I use a lot, “You can’t eat an elephant all at once.”

If you are part of a school community which has a hefty improvement agenda (and If you are not then, perhaps I’d be asking why not?) you will empathise with everyone around you who may feel the strain from time to time. Especially if you are in a school that’s already really good. The standards are so high.

The pressure most likely comes from two main things;

  1. Yourself. This is a GREAT thing. The very basic foundation that you want to succeed and want to make the biggest impact you can in your role. I’d guess this disposition is born out of the fact that you genuinely care about the kids you teach.
  2. The sheer amount of things coming at you which could/ should enhance your learning or the learning of your students (or both). These ‘things’ seem endless.

Being a “connected educator”, and by this I mean you actively seek out learning, connect with others both inside and outside of your school, share on twitter (or somewhere), follow blogs, identify and implement evidence based research, is a powerful thing, but it can also add to the volume of ‘noise’ going on in your professional life.

It can also give you a worrying sense of all the things you are NOT doing well. Furthermore, if you have a really strong, skillful and knowledgeable network then it can leave you feeling somewhat inadequate. The, “everyone’s way ahead of me” type of feeling.

Paradoxically, this is one of the things that appeals to me with my online PLN. I need to know and connect with these people, to keep me honest, up to date and to inspire me.  I consider myself very fortunate to be part of the online #PhysEd community.  You’d think it would be competitive given the personnel but it’s simply about helping each other improve in whatever way we can. No one-upmanship, no hoarding of information or ideas, just simple sharing and reflection to improve. And no one ever asks for, or expects, anything in return. Remember it is voluntary; people are helping others get better in their own time without being asked.  Just amazing.

So I wanted to write this post for two reasons.

  • To have a go at (some) teachers.  Sorry I know I’m getting onto a bit of a habit of this.  But I’m a teacher and I include myself in this so that makes it ok, right?
  • To provide (some) teachers a well-deserved pat on the back, like a really insignificant gesture of performance related pay (Can’t I just have a Ferrari? I hear you say!)

As usual on these pages, I understand I’m writing (preaching) mainly to the converted.  The very fact you are here and reading no doubt makes you a ‘goody’.  So perhaps  by way of action you can carry some of this message with you and just have that little % of influence on those around you over time, like you always do, mostly by how you act and a little by what you say.  OR save the pics below and simply present them to people when the opportunity presents itself.

You see, when it comes to improvement (both personally and collectively) I think a lot of teachers are looking for this.

The Easy Way

too easy

It’s most clear at PD sessions;

Give me the answers

Give me the secrets (there are none)

Tell me what apps to use for X…Y….Z

Come and do it for me

This might well be the long lasting effects of the industrial age education most adults received. Students never really learned how to learn, they learned to listen, follow instructions, remember facts and take tests. The teacher gave everything, and yet, left them with very little at the same time.

The Way It Feels

hard race

Isn’t this what our lessons, days, terms and years feel like?  A tough road with another hill appearing just as we climb the one before!

Well not only does it feel like this, it should.  Teaching is hard.  Like my Dad remarks to any of my grumbles, “If it was easy son, everyone would be doing it.”  He’s right, and I often remind myself of this.  The many challenges, is also one of the key reasons we love the job (I can see you reluctantly nod in agreement).

Rachel George, our Head of Teaching & Learning constantly reminds us, “Learning is messy” and that applies to teacher learning as well, it’s hard and it’s messy.  If you are coasting through the year then you are either not challenging yourself, not improving, or worse you are missing the chaos that’s going on around you!

The Way It Is

Moving line

The harsh reality is, the finish line is moving.  Improvement is not a destination but a pursuit and the image above represents what we actually do as teachers’ day in and day out.  The good ones are searching, striving and doing everything possible to get better for the sake of the kids.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at your schools mission statement.  It should be aspirational and will seem overwhelming no doubt.  In a strange way, like the finish line above, you should never really get there.

So my pat on the back for teachers is this.  You may never achieve “the destination”, but as long as you can honestly say you are on the track and you are committed to keep going then you are worth your weight in gold to your school, your colleagues and to all those faces staring back at you five days a week.

Perhaps we just need cut ourselves a little slack.  To think a little less about the overwhelming, and a little more about tackling the elephant one piece at a time.