The following is a post by my great mate Paul Taylor. Or to the world, “Ticker”. Paul is Assistant Principal at Penistone Grammar School, a high-achieving and popular secondary comprehensive school near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
Do you feel it yet?
The pressure of ensuring that the students you teach secure the grades of which they are capable; the pressure of ensuring they fulfil their potential; the pressure of making sure they are exam ready. Do you feel it yet?
This year while sunning myself in Florida I was contacted by my friend and colleague Paul Crook on A-level results day about how the students I taught in AS and A2 PE had performed. I am always ready to hear how my students have performed. I am desperate for them to secure the grades they need to access the university they desire. I am desperate for them to see all their hard work, blood, sweat and tears be justified through securing or exceeding the illusive target grade, but each year I am beginning to question who is this more important to, me or them? I question the tears. Are their tears generated through the fact that A-levels are hard and consequently they have to work hard? Or do the tears fall because they are failing at some things and they just want to give up or have someone to do the graft for them?
Now at this point I am sure you can sense that I am going to go on and have a moan. You’d be right; there is a moan about to rear its ugly head in about four or five lines time! This is not because I am a cynical and miserable teacher or a ‘drain’ to coin one of Hywel Roberts’ terms. I always try to exude positivity and development in the students I teach and the staff I work with but the more I give in time and effort, the more my students take and shelve. Surely one of my many jobs as their teacher is to give them the tools they need to succeed and begin to show them how to use them? Their responsibility is to become proficient in using them, or at least pick the bloody things up!
So who is it more important to, me or them? I want it to be them; I am beginning to think it’s me, the teacher, the guy going through appraisal, the one sat in line management meetings doing exams analysis, the guy who has to suggest why these students have underachieved. While I am doing all of this they are securing their 1st or 2nd choice at university despite performing poorly. Who does it mean more to, me or them? This year one of my students was offered an unconditional offer of acceptance onto a course at a university if he made that university his first choice. This news went down like a fart in a lift when he informed me as I immediately thought, well that’s going to hit my ALPS results! Are humans innately lazy and do they always look for and take the easy option?!
Last year the staff in the PE department at PGS went above and beyond for these students, support was off the page (or at least the offer of it was), access to every possible resource was provided, contact with parents was increased, additional consultation evenings were added to the department calendar, learning contracts were drawn up, intervention mapping was strategically followed, social networking (Twitter) gave students access to support throughout holidays, the offer to PGS students last year was the dog’s b*****ks! There were tools everywhere but the majority didn’t pick them up. The only tool of interest to some students was the spoon with which my colleagues and I were feeding them!
Now that’s enough ‘drain’ talk because some of these students bust a gut. We had an A* in A2 PE this year and the student who got that grafted every single day of the two years in our post 16 centre. Unfortunately, that type of mindset is now becoming as rare as rocking horse sh*t amongst students!
This year things are going to be different, well at least I hope they are! This year I am going to change a culture amongst my new cohort of AS students as well as doing a little bit of an experiment! I want to create the mindset of the A* student I alluded to earlier and while I will still offer the support I did this year I will also spend time creating a culture conducive to growth.
I have spent many hours reading the work of Carol Dweck; it is fascinating but forgive me for saying, it’s not rocket science! My old man is a plumber by trade although he does less now than he did when he started out! He’s as rough as a bears arse and had little meaningful education in his childhood but from his childhood and into his adult life he has worked extremely hard and he’s done well, very well! Big Steve was preaching Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ to me long before Dweck herself was even writing about it. A couple of his favourites were “nowt worth achieving comes easy Ticker, coz if it did everyone would do it” and “illegitimi non carborundum Ticker” (Google the last one). The message here to me is crystal clear, if you want success you can have it, (my old man is a less glorified example of those in Dweck’s literature!) but you can only have it if you work for it and when faced with adversity you ‘keep at it’. Furthermore, and long before I became familiar with Dweck, a Y10 student at PGS said to me, “do you know what sir? ‘Learning is Earning’”. What a simple yet profound thing to say. This surely highlights the importance of the process of growth, how we truly learn from our errors and how this may be directly linked to ‘earning’. What did he mean’ earning’? I am pretty sure he meant money, the lad who said it was certainly not a budding psychologist or the next Carol Dweck! However, my spin on this is that ‘earning’ in this context and linked to Dweck’s work means becoming rich in a whole array of things; money, friends, love, power, knowledge etc. ‘Learning is Earning’ is Dweck’s Growth Mindset!
This year, ‘nowt worth achieving comes easy, coz if it did everyone would do it’, ‘Learning is Earning’ and the more sophisticated work of Dweck will be applied to my teaching and hopefully next year this blog will be much warmer and fuzzier because it will come from the real me, the ‘radiator’ me (another one of Hywel’s)!
It has started already and I urge anyone else to do this. I have today issued home learning to my AS class that will be incredibly difficult and they will need to work extremely hard to even gain any success. In doing this and asking for information about how long they spent in trying to complete the work I should begin to identify who already displays some of characteristics of resilience. I am going to then predict after lesson one who I think will achieve or exceed target and who will fall short and disappointment me yet again. However, over the course of the year I will I bust a gut to make them want to bust a gut, I will teach them to pick themselves up when they fall and to have another ‘pop’ when they fail.
Watch this space!