Is there time to be creative?

Published on 12 Aug 2014

This is a massive question for teachers. I work all over the UK and the problem is the same, whatever the educational system and the complexion of the governing parties. Teachers and those who work with them feel under constant pressure to fulfill, what they perceive as,  expectations of them and to meet the increasingly complex needs of young people. We need be open about this and look seriously at how teachers manage their time and don’t inflict the sort of unsustainable workload that many are experiencing.

I am a firm believer that part of the problem is confidence. I often argue that “smart learners pass tests” and question whether we do enough to make learners smarter. I love Jim Smith’s work as “The Lazy Teacher” where he questions whether or not we are working too hard. There is certainly a case to be made that too many of us teach too much. I also argue that we don’t teach learners how to tackle “last questions” – the ones for which we don’t have the prefabricated answer, the ones which we try to avoid doing, where the problem is unfamiliar or the phrasing of the question renders it obscure. It is a different technique from that which we apply to “first questions” where we are transferring an answer, which has been well honed and prepared, from our minds to the paper – job done! It involves staying calm, looking carefully at the question, asking what it really demands and then shaping what we know that is relevant and appropriate into an answer.

Instead we sometimes try to be exhaustive in our coverage so that there are only “first” questions and our students have an answer for everything.

I recently saw a very good and very simple exercise where staff were working with a graph with one axis for impact and the other for time taken. They were given post-its with approaches to assessment on them and asked to place them where they though that they should be on the graph. Once they had done that, they were asked to look at the graph and identify which approaches they used. The response was salutary with most of those involved recognizing that they had become habituated to activities that were time consuming and not all that productive. The same approach can be taken to all sorts of areas of our work and often have the same effect.

That illustration highlights one of the other keys to reducing workload and that is through sharing between practitioners. I am ribbed a lot for my continual advocacy of Pedagoo, the website set up by teachers for teachers. It is full of helpful blogs and I am especially impressed by their “Pedagoo Friday”, where teachers are asked to go on to Twitter with things that they have done in the last week that have been effective or interesting – ideally, both – so each week sees a source for ideas sharply expressed.

I am equally enthusiastic about Teachmeets. These offer focused exchanges between teachers with a very controlled format that encourages brevity and efficiency. I have yet to attend one and leave without having gained an idea of value that would have helped my practice had I been going to teach. Creating a culture of sharing seems to me essential in the complex world of education. As I have said elsewhere –“In a complex and changing world, answers are far more likely to come from the choir than any soloist.

This culture is wonderfully illustrated at the Cramlington Learning Village and other schools, where lesson plans are online and available to colleagues. This culture lifts the burden on busy teachers and leads to my next question…