Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP! In this article, he examines the everyday development opportunities that teachers could be missing out on.
When I work with groups of teachers, we often build a concept map of what has influenced us in our development as teachers. What do you think are the most influential factors? Our pre-service courses? INSET? Methodology books? OUP webinars?
Well, it’s none of those. Whether in Djibouti, the Ukraine, Vietnam, or anywhere in between, the two most influential factors are consistently:
- Our own experience of teaching;
- Our colleagues.
Surprised? Probably not. In fact, given the amount of time we spend in the classroom and with our colleagues in comparison to how much time we spend on training courses and reading methodology books, it’s quite obvious that this should be the case.
If this is true, we should be learning all the time. We teach all day. We talk to colleagues in-between lessons. We have all we need to develop just by doing the job, don’t we?
I’m not sure we do. You see, experience just isn’t enough.
This is because we only tend to notice certain experiences. Simply, we don’t see things as ‘they are’; we see things as ‘we are’ (Anais Nin). We have a tendency to interpret information so that it fits into our existing frameworks of understanding. So, if I think my students are generally unmotivated, I will tend to notice behaviour which I believe proves this. I might miss things that show otherwise.
I see what I expect to see. I experience what I expect to experience. And then I get tremendous satisfaction when I can say ‘I told you so’ or ‘I knew’ that would happen’.
It’s a little like living in a box. Clearly you can’t go far if you stay in a box! But to be successful, I’m in no way suggesting that you must leave the box.
Boxes are comfortable places to be. They’re safe. You can focus on what you’re happy with; you can enjoy yourself and increase your confidence. It’s great to be able to do what you do, do it well, and then celebrate that certainty. I know I’ve had many happy ‘box periods’ in my career where I focused on the enjoyment of honing my existing skills. And when our professional lives are busy, and we teach and work in a constant rush, it’s sometimes good to have that security.
Yet we can’t escape the fact that we’re teachers. We believe in learning. And if we believe in learning, we believe in change. So, there are times when we should use development activities to open the box and look at the world around us with different eyes. Even in the rush.
Here’s one development activity you can do on your own:
Why it Worked
Reflection often starts with problems or areas of difficulty, but this activity focuses on the learning’s we can gain from our successes, and possible applications to other areas of our practice.
Suggested Activity Procedure
- Set aside 30 minutes.
- Use the Recalling Prompts to guide your exploration.
- Use the Reflective Questions to guide your analysis of the data and record your conclusions and future actions.
Identify something you are involved in that was successful this week.
- Where did this happen and who was involved?
- How do you know you were successful?
- Have you tried the activity before with different results?
- What effect did the success have on the people involved?
- How do you measure the success?
- Does everybody involved share your evaluation? If not, why?
- How replicable is this success – can you repeat the activity with the same results?
- If you’ve tried this before with different results, how do you account for the change?
- What aspects of the activity (in planning or in delivery) could you use with other activities?
- Write down one action you will take as a result of this reflection.
Here’s one development activity you can do with colleagues:
Find two other colleagues.
One of you has ‘Me Time’ on a specific afternoon for 30 minutes after school each week.
What this means is that the other two colleagues focus completely on you. You may have a problem with a student, or with a language point, or with a task you have to do, or with how you are feeling, or with ANYTHING you want to talk about – as long as it’s something to do with your job.
Because you are the focus, they have to spend at least 15 minutes just listening to you and can only ask questions.
After the first 15 minutes, they can describe possible alternative actions that you could take, but they can’t say what they think is right or wrong.
You control the conversation completely, and if you want to talk you just raise your hand and the other speaker stops.
Then – wherever you are in the conversation you ALWAYS stop at 30 minutes – and the next week it’s someone else’s turn for Me Time.
The ideas are simple, but good ideas often are!