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Building a Picture of Professional Development - Colin, Secondary Teacher in Coventry


This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 29 June 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 13 October 2010 by ncetm_administrator

Building a Picture of Professional Development
 

How reading and reflecting on John Mason’s book ‘Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing’ has helped him to be more aware of what he is doing in the classroom while he is still doing it.

Colin Foster, Secondary Teacher in Coventry

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of lesson realising, a moment too late, what a good opportunity you have just missed? An opportunity to take a discussion off in a slightly different direction; an opportunity to ask a probing question that might lead learners to a deeper appreciation of a mathematical idea; an opportunity to extend or tweak an existing task to open up new possibilities; an opportunity perhaps just to keep quiet and allow someone else to speak and crystallise their thoughts?

I am always thinking of things too late to utilise them, whether that’s as the class disappear down the corridor or as I move on from working with one learner to another. When I am privileged to be the observer in a colleague’s lesson, even if I do not know the pupils very well, I often find that it is much easier to ‘think on my feet’ when I am sitting at the back! I think, “Oh, I would have done such-and-such there”, and yet, in practice, perhaps I wouldn’t actually have thought of it if I were the one standing up at the front.

Reflecting on this, I have found that one of the things that has helped me most to develop my teaching when back in my own classroom is to try to create ‘space’ within the lesson for me to stand back and be an observer, even if only for a moment or two. It is surprising how often when I do that I notice something or think of something that I had overlooked when ‘busy’ with the teaching. Lessons can sometimes alternate between talking from the front and rushing around from learner to learner ‘helping’, with very little time to reflect on what is happening until the lesson is over. Standing still in the classroom and watching and pondering the lesson really helps. Doing this while learners are obviously wanting attention can make you feel guilty – you’re not doing your job! – yet the benefits to the class can be considerable.

I have found that often when I don’t rush over straight away (for whatever reason) to a ‘stuck’ pupil, when I later catch up with them they have sorted themselves out and no longer need me – a very pleasing result! And working explicitly with learners on ‘what to do when you’re stuck’ can encourage them to be more independent and so free me up to contemplate more deeply the directions that learning is taking.

John Mason’s excellent book ‘Researching Your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing’ (2002, RoutledgeFarmer) has helped me to be a great deal more aware of what I am doing in the classroom while I am still doing it. Unless you can develop awareness at the time of what is happening, it can be too late to make changes. To survive in the difficult and demanding school environment, teachers develop habitual ways of responding to circumstances, even down to the level of certain little phrases that come out in a knee-jerk kind of way. Beginning to take control over these so that you are choosing what course to take, rather than operating in slavery to your past actions, has really helped me to break out of doing things in a stereotyped manner simply because that’s how I have got used to doing it. For example, John points out how the common teacher behaviour during a plenary of repeating a ‘good’ comment from a pupil, while being a way of approving and praising it, and making sure everyone can hear, can also discourage learners from listening to one another, since ‘If it’s important, he’ll repeat it’. And it also turns the teacher into the arbiter of what counts as ‘good’.
 
 
 
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