Last week saw me start a new learning journey- because the journeys of-

  • Teaching new spec GCSE English
  • Doing my job
  • Photography

…weren’t quite enough for me!

The course is a collaboration between the Education and Training Foundation and a number of universities around the country, one of them being Sheffield Hallam.

This is one of four regional projects, funded by the Education and Training Foundation. The ETF commissioned the projects to inform a set of professional standards and a qualification for FE teacher educators. By being involved in this project you are helping shape the future of teacher education in the post-compulsory education and training sector (also known as the FE sector).

It appealed to me because I work with new teachers often through my role and working to develop their practice is something I’ve never had training for. The conversation went more along the lines of- you’re a great teacher, you’re keen and willing, you have a positive demeanour- off you go! As is the way with all things ‘FE’, in at the deep end was the way so having the opportunity to reflect and learn was welcome- even if it did mean some Saturdays and some online activity for the coming few weeks.

This is the first of my blogs in this series and summarises my learning from week 1. There’ll be subsequent blogs for the rest of the programme:

  1. Day 1: Session 1 – From teacher to teacher educator
  2. Day 1: Session 2 – Developing observation skills 
  3. Online: Session 3 – Working with mentors
  4. Day 2: Session 4 – Designing and ITE curriculum
  5. Day 2: Session 5 -Developing English and maths skills within the ITE curriculum
  6. Online: Session 6 – Using technology to enhance learning
  7. Day 3: Session 7 – Making feedback and feed forward effective
  8. Day 3: Session 8 – Safeguarding within ITE
  9. Day 4: Session 9 – Reflection for action
  10. Day 4: Session 10 – Becoming a practitioner researcher

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Qualities and skills of teacher educators

To develop our understanding of the qualities of teacher educators, we were first invited to reflect on the images of ‘teachers’ around the room; what skills and qualities did they possess?

Dalai Lama / Brian Cox / Dumbledore / David Attenborough / Salman Khan / Albert Einstein…

Whilst there were a multitude of differences between them, we identified some commonalities most of them shared (bar them all being men):

  • Their reach is wide
  • They have the ability to make the complex simple, but not so simple that we feel like fools
  • They have tremendous passion and presence
  • They have strong subject knowledge; experts in their field
  • They connect with their audience and build rapport
  • They generate curiosity

So if these are the qualities of the world’s (arguably) best teachers then what of teacher educators?

Our pre-reading was entitled, ‘Train the Trainer: A study of the professional skill competencies and psychological qualities of teacher trainer’

We spent some time discussing this article at the start of the session; exploring its content but also our opinion of it. We spoke about the findings of the study, that:

  • Facilitation skills
  • Pedagogical knowledge
  • Rich experience
  • Good understanding of the participants’ expectations
  • Confidence
  • Self-regulation of emotion

‘are the most essential skill competencies and the psychological needs of the teacher trainers’. 

In addition, ‘a range of ‘critical abilities’ and ‘reflective attitudes’ would also ease he anxieties raised from the trainers’ changing roles during their transitions from subject teachers to teacher trainers because teacher training is a much more complex and demanding job.’ (Yuk-Kwan Ng, R and Yee-Shun Lam, R, 2015)

Although we felt that a lot of the study pointed out the obvious, at least to educators working in the UK, I felt comforted by its incorporation of the psychological demands of the job. I’ve read little related to this whether teachers OR teacher educators and I think those aspects are as important, if not more so, than the skill competencies required. It made me question my own ‘psychological readiness’ when I first entered the realms of teacher education. I’ve certainly developed this ‘readiness’ over the years but having mentored a new teacher educator a few years ago, I realised the level of ‘readiness’ the job demanded. So much of what we spoke about were her approaches to difficult student-teachers and how to lead these individuals towards success in their studies and career.

We were then able to draw some similarities between the two via a venn diagram (what qualities and aspects do they share?)

We then spent some time speaking about aspects of perception and reflection and how they might be important as teacher educators:

Self-efficacy – the accuracy with which you are able to gauge how successfully you can do something

Self-esteem– the attitude and feelings you have towards yourself and your worth

Stepping through a mirror – we need to move past the immediate things we notice and towards the rest; the things we see when stepping through the mirror to see how others see it and interact with it.

A warning about reflection– it can be a monster of our own creation: you will never be ‘good enough’.

As a result of speaking about these aspects, we reflected that often, teacher education is separated from vocational practice – this is how we alienate our trainee teachers. It becomes our duty to know the theory well enough that we are then able to distill that theory into something relevant and accessible. For instance, when we provide trainees with reading, how can we make this palatable? Use of video, diagrams, images, questions, a jigsaw activity to engage with content…

A question cropped up during the morning – how much of teacher training is (and should be) compliance? For any good curriculum design, it’s always the case that the ‘compliance’ aspects and essentials can be incorporated as a part of a much broader or deeper exploration of a subject and my own vision for and experience of teacher education is that it should be just that; resulting in teachers who are prepared as best they can be, not just for the necessary parts of the job, but to make the most of the joys and feel prepared for the varying demands it entails.

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Towards impact

The job of a teacher educator is to help the trainees along their journey towards understanding their impact, which Lidstone and Hollingworth (1992) says takes 2 years. At the beginning of their journey, they focus on their classroom skills; behaviour management, planning, questioning, assessment, feedback and so on. They then begin to move towards subject knowledge; still maintaining a focus on classroom skills but tying this to their subject and considering modelling, explanations, learning objectives and appropriate assessment methods. The end point is to get the trainee to ‘impact’- the final stage of their initial teacher journey and the point at which they begin to focus on how their students are affected by their actions. Teacher educators are to help these trainees towards this ‘impact’ stage where their focus is not on themselves but their students and their learning. This is not the end point of a teacher’s journey though; it is just the start (just as passing your driving test is seen to be the start of you really learning to drive!)

How do trainee teachers learn (Maxwell, B, 2010) – Through a mix between the various components of their experience: their placement / engagement levels in general / their ITE course. Whilst these three components can often be in competition with one another, there are many ways in which they can complement one another (and any future design of teacher education, should allow for this even more). The influences of each can affect another; what they are exposed to on their placement for instance having a huge impact on how they respond to and interact with their ITE course, thus affecting engagement too.

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Observing trainee teachers

This began with us discussing the purpose of these observations and there were certainly conflicting views; although compliance would be one element and assessment of this; there was also development, and yet there was judgement too. There is a tension that exists for the teacher educator; that between measuring and developing.

Our role, although not our purpose, as teacher educators observing trainees is to reveal their tacit knowledge in order to build confidence and increase efficacy; the aspects of the trainees practice that they’re unable to articulate themselves easily as they don’t notice they’re doing it.

So what is it that we’d be looking for during an observation? Well these things are wide-ranging but the trick is – How do we know when we’ve seen it? What evidence can we draw on to avoid our own perception taking over?

After exploring these aspects, we watched a video of a lesson and prepared to give and receive the ‘feedback’. Having moved to a coaching approach for all teaching observations at work, I was able to share that our opening question is not ‘How do you think it went?’ anymore. This is never a good place to start as a trainee teacher is either over-critical of their practice and uses it as an opportunity to beat themselves up OR they do not possess the critical faculties yet to appraise their performance effectively and over-estimate how successful the learning was. Better to begin with a question along the lines of, ‘How did the students develop during that lesson? How were they different by the end of the lesson?’ These kinds of questions place the emphasis on learning and the students; taking the focus away from the trainee and moving them more quickly along their journey towards understanding their impact.

We all concluded that there was no optimum form for taking notes on during an observation; most of us opting to jot down notes and take time to reflect and prioritise themes later.

As a result of the session, we were all asked to contribute our reflections on what makes observation feedback effective on a Padlet wall. I shared the following;

I’d agree that timing is important. This should be mutually agreed so that the trainee is happy with the time, rather than it just being squeezed into an available gap (not always to achieve). I feel it should be between 2-4 days after an observation to allow time for reflection for the observee and for the teacher educator to formulate the key themes to be talked about and the questions to trigger dialogue.

Location is absolutely vital. Ideally a small and private space away from the corridor the trainee would normally work in so that they don’t feel nervous about being interrupted by staff and/or students (or using this as an excuse to escape).

The feedback needs to engage the trainee. ‘How did your students develop in the lesson?’ ‘What was your thinking behind x activity?’ ‘Explain your phrasing of x question…’ This allows the trainee to frame their practice in context and their responses can guide the teacher educator’s approach in response- either more coaching or more mentoring depending on the trainee’s level of self-efficacy. Asking the teacher educator to rephrase what they’ve heard during each part of the feedback is a useful way to check they’ve understood accurately.

The feedback needs to result in some clear actions- share your practice in this way… Observe a peer and look for this… Record yourself teaching and explore the following questions… Try x and record the students’ responses… These actions should be connected to some kinds of measures the trainee could use to check effectiveness but should also lead into a future observation so that there is some continuity with their development.

It is important that the relationship is maintained during feedback; responding to the individual, their context and rate of development is vital so that they are not discouraged from developing and nor do they feel so buoyed that they interpret they have little else to develop in their practice.I was emailed this article the other day and it includes some pointers- I especially liked that as an observer, we have the ability to hold up a mirror to another person’s practice through describing what we’ve seen:

http://blog.irisconnect.com/uk/6-simple-ways-to-make-your-feedback-more-empowering-for-others

As always, I found the opportunity to discuss my practice and ideas as well as reflect on it of great value (a community has been created). I’m being introduced to a number of concepts I’d like to explore more along the way  (my curiosity has been sparked) and I’m looking forward to the remaining weeks (including online learning weeks via OneNote and other technologies).

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Recommended Reading

Bathmaker, A. & Avis, J. (2005) Becoming a lecturer in further education in England: the construction of professional identity and the role of communities of practice. Journal of Education for Teaching 31 (1) pp. 47-62

Dixon, L., Jennings, A., Orr, K. & Tummons, J. (2010) Dominant discourses of pre‐service teacher education and the exigencies of the workplace: an ethnographic study from English further education, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62 (4) pp.381-393

Hattie, J (2015) Know Thy Impact, Available from: https://goo.gl/qvBf3f

Maxwell, B.(2010) Teacher knowledge and initial teacher education in the English learning and skills sector, Teaching Education, 21:4, 335-348,

Orr, K. (2012) Coping, confidence and alienation: the early experience of trainee teachers in English further education. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 38 (1) pp. 51-65

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