With much enthusiasm and not a little anticipation, the inaugural conference of the new Chartered College of Teaching was held in London on Thursday 16 February at the QEII Convention Centre, Westminster. Coinciding with many schools’ half-term, the room was full (and then some) of teachers who had committed a day of their break to participate in these early steps of a most promising endeavour. What follows are some of my recollections of the sessions, with links to what was tweeted, in most cases, as a less selective poll of impressions.
In the light of some of the Twitter feed, table conversations and panel remarks, though, I remain troubled by what I perceived as the level of distrust, even antagonism, between senior leaders (the ‘ivory tower’ metaphor popped up not infrequently) and classroom teachers. Might a fundamental project of the CCT be to promote greater cohesiveness across the profession, possibly by representing world class practice – derived through evidence-led activity – as the collective platform of the whole profession? There can then be different voices within the profession arguing for different positions related to how best that evidence-led activity occurs/ is nurtured within school organisations, but that ought to be possible, even healthy, within the College?
Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive: Welcome and Introduction
Dame Alison Peacock opened the conference by expressing the hopes we all presumably held for a fruitful day, where the collective voice of the profession might continue to be defined, then amplified.
Rt Hon Justine Greening: keynote address
Dame Alison then introduced the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Justine Greening. She likened her sense of lifelong belonging to the profession of Chartered Accountants, to the potential for teachers thus to identify with the fledgling CCT. She also confirmed that she anticipated a strong, developing, consultative role for the College in her department’s policy work. To much relief, she also confirmed that QCT was not going anywhere ‘on her watch’ – in fact, she intends to strengthen it. She spoke passionately about the importance of initial teacher training and supporting newly-qualified teachers. What wasn’t mentioned, as I recall, was the continuation of the ‘grammar schools’ policy, so the applause at the end, to my ear, was polite and gracious but somewhat reserved because of this looming issue – a view shared by others I spoke to later. On grammar schools, I imagine, the CCT will be expected to take a view and have its voice heard – supported by research, of course. The Twitter feed from the Conference for the Secretary’s speech maybe found here.
Marius Frank: Collaborative warm-up
Some delegates were not in the mood for a sing-a-long, but that’s what came next. In the spirit of #collectivevoice, husband and wife musicians Marius Frank and Cindy Stratton led the majority of the hall in a creaky, but good-spirited, rendition of “I’ll be there”…. A well-intentioned, lighthearted moment that fell slightly flat after the Secretary of State’s speech. Some reactions are to be found here – I understand it has been removed from Saturday’s programme in Sheffield!
John Tomsett: Working together, connecting the profession
John Tomsett, Head of Huntington School, led into the morning break and opened the main theme of the educational presentations of the day, namely that evidence-led practice in schools participating in the research community is the likely best way forward. Too much has been done expediently but not rigorously, with a particular mention of attempts to import the success (of one kind at least) of schools in Asian systems, such as Shanghai, directly into the UK: he mentioned that one Primary Head had decided to invest £25000 in a maths programme without due evaluation. As is generally accepted (and paraphrasing everyone from Dylan Wiliam to Alma Harris), everything works somewhere, sometime – but what works here, now, for us, should be our focus. His own experience of leading a Research School informed his enjoining us to put evidence-based practice at the heart of our classroom work. Here’s a sample of the Twitter feed during his session.
Professor Rob Coe: A vision for enhanced professionalism
John was in some ways anticipating the presentation after the break, by Professor Rob Coe of CEM at Durham University, of his Vision for Enhanced Professionalism – presumably, one of the core concerns of the College. He very helpfully made his presentation available here – it draws on themes he’s been developing at least since his inaugural lecture in 2013. He expanded on three themes:
and provided a reading list for those at the start of their reading of research – having noted his astonishment at the ‘hands-up’ self-reported level of reading amongst the delegates assembled. Professor Coe recalled that evidence-based practice is relatively novel, even in medicine, where it is now firmly established. It takes time to develop a clear definition of evidence-based (or evidence-led) practice, and to develop shared understanding of it. Importantly, he highlighted that the definition in medicine – and, undoubtedly, what will emerge for teaching – refers to the ‘conscientious…judicious’ use of ‘current best evidence’, and that this is combined with ‘individual clinical expertise’. The teacher as professional does not simply slavishly follow the list of top 10 strategies, in other words.
His presentation seemed to appeal broadly to the delegates around me, despite the story in the UK of the failure to make much difference (i.e., wide-spread, consistent, transferable, replicable strategic improvement) in schools so far. Twitter feed available here.
Teacher panel 1: why we need evidence
The first of two very popular panel discussions came before lunch. The Twitter feed captures much of the positivity about the all-female panels’ contributions on the topic, ‘Why we need evidence’. Search for #collectivevoice and one or more of:@ragazza_inglese @AnnMroz @CarolineCreaby @jjandliz @vicky_duckworth
Penny Mallory: Going beyond your comfort zone
Lunch was followed by Penny Mallory, who led us through her own realisation that she doesn’t know what she’s capable of until she tries it. This has led her to some dismal results, but also some spectacular successes, not least her World Rally Driving status. It reflects a mindset of positive self-affirmation and a continuous quest for something else/ more. While recognising that extreme risk-taking is not for everyone, she did note that some people are limited by negative ‘self-talk’, and so changing that may lead to greater success in what one does decide to try.
Penny reintroduced the term ‘world class’ into the conference, picked up subsequently by a number of the speakers and in the Twitter feed. Another one of those terms, like ‘evidence-based practice’, to be defined. There were several other ‘moments’ to prompt reflection, but I’ll list two of those that seemed to resonate most:
- Big gains often come from a series of small adjustments – she used the pit crew’s continuous process of refining their practice over hours and days, to shave fractions of seconds off changing tyres during pit stops.
- The following quotation from William James:
Teacher panel 2: why being brave is important
Another popular panel discussion followed, where the theme of ‘being brave’ was explored. For me, despite the frequent, useful anecdote or illustration from the participants’ practice, the discussion resorted too often to entreaties to ‘be brave’ that didn’t progress the conversation. Perhaps the journal/ publication promised by Dame Alison at the end of proceedings could feature the panellists individual recounts of their brave practice as a way to distil their stories.
Professor Tanya Byron: Improving wellbeing in the classroom
A popular final speaker, and one highly likely to return at future events (as she prompted delegates to request!). While her time was short, after providing some statistics reminding us of the prevalence, and growth, of mental illness in young people, she outlined a few strategies that she uses clinically to assist. While repeatedly saying that she does not think teachers should be responsible for providing yet another service to young people (otherwise the only thing left would be to ‘give birth’ to them, she says), she intended that her illustrations might be of some assistance if we were confronted with a situation where they might apply. She also reminded delegates that they were unlikely to be able to help others if their own mental health was not good. Plenty of detail from her session in the graphic available here, drawn by Pen Mendonca…
The conference, graphically rendered…
The last contribution, but not the least by any means, goes to graphic artist Pen Mendonca, skilfully capturing some of the highlights of the day – her three illustrations may be found here.