Back in this blog, I ended with the question – “Right, what am I doing on 11th June next year?” The answer, as it turned out, was what I had hoped it would be, which was “going back to Leeds Beckett University for another brilliant day at Northern Rocks.”
I love my job, but it often brings to mind this famous Confucius quote…
…and just how incredibly wrong it is. Teaching is hard work, make no mistake. It has massive rewards and I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but the idea that because of this it isn’t hard is daft. It is a busy life, full of busy people, with little time to stop, think, reflect and listen to others. That’s why things like Northern Rocks are so important. A lot was made of the fact that 500 teachers gave up a Saturday to come and further their CPD, but actually that’s just what teachers do. What should speak volumes about what Debra and Emma have achieved with this conference is that all 500 of us were not only happy, but eager to give up our Saturdays to go and share practice, resources, advice, anecdotes and like-mindedness. Here’s how the day went.
First, Chris Kilkenny gave us all a powerful reminder of how poverty attacks and impedes children who want to learn – how easy it is to forget just how bad some people have it. He spoke eloquently and emotionally, finishing with the poem below to remind us all of our deeper responsibility to the students we have promised to take care of:
There followed an impassioned discussion with a panel of young and old alike (no offence, guys) featuring some powerful brilliance from David Cameron (no, not THAT one) who suggested to us in no uncertain terms that the government have indulged in “a politics of despair and an education of disappointment.” Powerful stuff, and clearly a sentiment echoed by many, if not all, of the assembled crowd. Mixing humour with real depth is never easy but all the panellists managed it as they discussed in detail the ways in which our jobs could be made easier. It was a relief to know that I’m not alone in some of the things I find so frustrating about the system in which we all work.
But, it wasn’t a day for moaning, it was a day for sharing and celebrating the best of the job, and the best of the job doesn’t come much better than John Tomsett. He and Alex Quigley spent the first workshop back and forthing on the pros and cons of being Determined Optimists or Defensive Pessimists. Both interesting terms, and I took a lot from both sides that I can bring to my own thinking. I think I will start choosing my responses a lot more, and one of those responses might just be ‘Why not me?’ Seriously, go buy their books – if you are a teacher I don’t think you should be without them.
We then went to see Isabella Wallace, who gave us some brilliant but simple classroom techniques – the chocolate bar and the silent game of rounders are both things that my classes should get ready to experience. It’s a shame we didn’t have longer than an hour; I got the distinct feeling that there were hidden gems a-plenty in her presentation that we didn’t have time for. A powerful thing that I took from this session was the importance of being asked things rather than asking them ourselves. After all, if the students are answering questions then they already know the answers – but if we encourage them to ask us, they are learning.
Then I got in nice and early to see Hywel Roberts. I’d been looking forward to this since last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. Just as in the other sessions, it was fantastic to be reminded of the opportunities that are afforded to us as teachers. Hywel reminds me of the teacher I want to be; there was fun, joy, creativity and imagination but underpinning all those things was serious pedagogy, and serious learning for the students. How lucky those kids must be who get to work with him – we were all spellbound and left the session energised, determined, and tired out from laughing. What more could we have asked? Well, one thing – to try and make sure our kids leave our lessons feeling the same way.
Finally it was Paul Dix‘s turn to deliver a high-octane powerhouse of a session on behaviour management and its counter-intuitive nature. Without using a powerpoint (and my God, how effective was that?!) he told us that schools don’t need more than three rules, and they don’t need children to have the sin beaten out of them by draconian punishments. Great behaviour management is counter-intuitive. Some kids will follow people first, and after that they’ll follow any rule you ask them to. It was music to my ears – a reminder that even in the hardest part of our job, there is great hope and ways to make a difference. Hopefully my students will see my visible consistency over the coming weeks. Check out Paul’s podcast here – there’s much to be gained from it!
Finally a debate about testing – and it was good to hear from both sides, especially given the recent furore about SATs and their place (if they have one) in the educational world. I thought that this poem was particularly apt:
Each session brought something new, gave something different, and refreshed and rejuvenated me in different ways. I bought new books, met new friends, caught up with old pals, felt proud of my strengths and confronted my weaknesses. What a wonderful reminder of all that is wonderful about our job. I wonder if I can Skype in next year?