Thursday, 26 November 2015

(Isn’t it) Great (to hold such high) Expectations?

I have spent a lot of time this term “monitoring”.  It’s a funny old phrase that gets used an enormous amount by people in education, and sometimes it doesn’t mean an enormous amount.  You could be monitoring footfall (something we have to do at the children’s centre which I don’t, if I’m totally honest, understand well enough to explain here) or monitoring the budget, which has often meant us checking how much we are in deficit.

Monitoring is often thought of as an exclusively leadership-orientated activity, with leaders monitoring whilst teachers and children are monitored.  If you go even further, the actual origin of the word monitor is the latin monere meaning “warn”.   Earliest English use is attributed to the Grammar school system and its appointment of monitors in the 16th century, who were essentially thugs selected to impose and maintain discipline.  Dickens, bless him, is full of them. 

So it would be all too easy to follow this natural discourse and assume that what I have been doing a lot of this term has been largely punitive.  I have been skulking around, cane in hand, beady eyes aware to every minor infraction of polite and civil decency, ready at a moment’s notice to … No.  Of course not.

What I have been doing is setting myself various questions – hypotheses as my old science teacher Mr Turnbull tried to impress upon me for the entirety of year 7 -  and then using “monitoring”, a means of observing and collating information over time, to test these questions and ideas out.

I’ve set myself questions such as
-          How creative is our maths teaching?
-          If I were a child who struggled at school, how much support would I get?
-          How much do our brighter children get pushed?  How about all the other children?
-          What experience do our children enjoy in lessons that aren’t English and maths?

I have also had to ask myself, how many times to teacher training students say “Ssshhh!” in a single day?

What my monitoring has revealed repeatedly and to my utter pride and joy is that our phase teaching, our own brand of whole class teaching and learning that refuses bluntly to engage in teaching the whole class (I’ll explain over a pint), is delivering, on a daily basis, a broad and exciting, challenging curriculum in English and Maths. Furthermore, our teachers’ enormous creativity ensures that our children receive and enjoy a rich and varied diet of subject matter in the rest of their time at school. 

English teaching is bold and dynamic, from our ReadWriteInc lessons and the progress that brings with it, through key stage 2 children writing poems and haikus, publishing and recreating classic epic poems at length, using all the ICT they can muster.  I hear children debating whether employing alliteration at that point would be an interest to the reader, or “just a bit over the top”.  Above all, I see children writing with purpose, with confidence and, above all, with enthusiasm for what they are doing.  (I also learned an awful lot from those Year 6 leaflets about how to use an iphone.)

In maths, with the challenges brought about by the new curriculum, I have seen children rising to the occasion, ably supported by their innovative teachers and the ways they support them.  I never thought the words “Youtube” and “Long multiplication” went together very well, but I was wrong.  Furthermore, when I see children in the zone or in the corridor agonising over a task or an equation, I am always impressed by the resilience and the determination they display.  I write this having not long returned from a learning walk where I have seen shape work, symmetry, directions, extended addition, grid multiplication, roman numerals and converting measurements all being delivered in an exciting way.  Every child was engaged, every child was busy, and every child was – for that moment – a mathematician.

Yet monitoring, I feel, is at its best when it not only answers your questions, but poses some of its own. 

The main thing my monitoring has taught me this term is this: although the new curriculum is generally deemed to be “far more challenging” than any of its predecessors, what we are discovering is that, in the skilled hands of our learning craftsmen and women, this curriculum is about as exciting as it gets.  In the last three weeks I have seen children challenging themselves in English and maths in a way never before seen.  Beyond that, and possibly even more amazing, I have seen children studying amazing topics and subjects, learning fantastic new skills and discussing new concepts as diverse as Asian shadow puppets, Victorian childhoods and the skills of a good listener.  Just yesterday, on a learning walk in the afternoon I had the privilege of “monitoring” researching, inventing, building, designing, creating, playing, singing, performing, sketching, experimenting and, there was no denying it, enjoying

So the questions posed by monitoring are how lucky are we, as a group of educators and professionals, to be given a licence to challenge these amazing children in ways we never thought possible?  Are the expectations greater (as in larger, as in good old Dickens), or have they never been simply more, for want of a better word, great?

Until next months’ Christmas – blessay, that is all. 

PS On Timehop, which my wife has got me semi-addicted to, I was told yesterday that my blog of exactly this time a year ago was all about generosity.  I am delighted to say that this year’s November blog could’ve been of a similar ilk, with so many amazing things going on – harvest, remembrance, children in need, and, this year, compassion and sharing in the playground the like of which I have not seen at our school before.  One year 6 boy has nearly cracked my ribs on more than one occasion with his manhugs, and we have a new tradition, of which I hope we never tire, of starting each lunchtime with a group hug.  Yes, how lucky are we?