I always love the opportunities new beginnings offer you and this week my new beginning was starting at a new school. Usually a time of trepidation and nerves I found myself full of excitement and a sense of feeling like I was truly at home. Instead of the agenda for the first day being full of protocols, check boxes, lists of things to do and timetables, my first two days was spent at the school conference, two days focused on learning and teaching, pedagogy and the teacher as a researcher.
From the first few minutes my head was spinning with thoughts, reflections and questions. The perfect beginning in my mind as I am provoked by those around me and challenged in my thinking, setting the scene for the year ahead both as a teacher and an inquirer.
The conference was made up of a series of presentations such as those which looked at theory, philosophy of learning, the educational environment and assessment. We also heard from different teachers as they shared their own research and past inquiries with students. The most confronting activity for me was when we listed different types of assessment and categorised them according to the learning theory area they aligned with, behaviourist, constructivist or cultural historical. It was interesting to see how I use learning theory to drive my teaching but this had not crossed to assessment.
Our morning back at school after the conference started with a visit to the National Gallery Victoria where we had an opportunity to look through the Emily Floyd Exhibition and meet the Melbourne based artist who uses education and knowledge as themes in her work. Using this as a chance to create our own provocations as educators we stepped through the exhibitions and analysed some of the pieces. It provided a unique opportunity to have another lens with which to view our educational lives and put ourselves in the shoes of learners as well as using it as inspiration for our professional work.
After two days away with my peers I was able to get a real sense of belonging and by the time we headed back into school on Friday I felt part of a team that was passionate and inspired, ready to challenge each other as professionals to provide authentic and rich learning experiences for students.
Our last day of visits took us to two different places. Our first was to Donhead Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Wimbledon that is a stepping stone to some of the exclusive grammar schools in the area and although they focus on academic achievements the Jesuit way is more important for them. It is not often I step into religious or independent schools but I see many similarities here to the school I taught in during my time in England. Learning is organised by topics and although lessons are inquiry driven the assessment pieces and learning activities are similar to those I taught 5 years ago. It is like stepping into a museum of my teaching career. I am confused by how it makes me feel that teaching in the primary sector hasn’t changed and students are learning the same things as the children 10 years ago, in a world that has changed considerably since then.
The highlight of the visit was having Josh show us around. He was entertaining, interesting and showed a true care to others around him. I could see the values of the Jesuit school coming out in the way Josh interacts with us. The school values the fact that every boy can be their best and that they are privileged so therefore must show generosity to others. He obviously loved learning and being at school but he also understood that he was lucky to be in his position of privilege.
It is interesting that the things we hear from this school is not about testing or scores. In fact they try and move away from that. They don’t want students to be a label, such as other schools when they are labeled according to their academic score. They recognise that childhood is under threat in the area they live, that test scores are strangling the innocence of kids in this area as they push to get into the best secondary schools. I see a pattern here of the lower the socio economic area you live the more tests are the focus of your education, whereas the more privileged a student the less emphasis on tests.
Well I thought there was a pattern until I visited LeSoCo, the further education college in Lewisham. Further education colleges are a vocational alternative to 6th form colleges for students in their 12th and 13th year of schooling. According to the LeSoCo Ofsted report, Lewisham is “ranked as the 31st most deprived of 326 local authorities in England, and is characterised by significant socio-economic and educational disadvantages.” I was blown away by their approach to students. Maybe it had something to do with being treated as adults, or at least young adults and this is supported by being at a different location to their lower secondary education. It could also have to to with the ethos of the college. In all of the presentations at the college the students were referred to as learners. A nice moment of respect was when a student stopped our guide, Mark, to ask where they needed to go to reset their internet account. Mark, not quite sure where to send her, asked us politely if it would be OK if he showed her where to go. Even though he had visitors with him, he put the student first.
On our tour of the drama and dance areas with Mark, I couldn’t help but be energised by his enthusiasm for the quality teachers they had at the college. We visited a drama class with students who were in their second year of college. I am not sure if it was the nature of a drama class but the teacher was using a dance steps to learn about Iambic Pentameter. It was very hands on. One thing that was clear was the respect for the students. Mark was the quality teaching co-ordinator for the school and was very proud to have such a great teacher working at the school. With constant feedback and experience based learning she was a teacher he was showcasing to others.
In the dance class it was interesting to see the students working together. They had to produce a short dance routine and were having an opportunity to practice, receiving feedback from their teacher. Not really anything different to what we would expect in a dance class in Australia except I found the students to have a strong mutual respect for other students in the class. As each of the pairs had their turn, the others in the class would offer their feedback and some students were asking for extra instruction from others. It was very supportive and I wonder how they have been able to create this.