Having Time to Chat

I have yet to blog about my change of school last September and I was reflecting on what has changed about what I do and how his has made me a better teacher or leader.

Interestingly, one shift that my old school was making into this academic year was from a CPD programme focused on the mechanics of how to teach over to a focus on subject knowledge. I think subject knowledge development, particularly as there are so many curriculum changes, is something that does not get given a priority; you are rarely given the opportunity to spend time thinking and talking about it.

One of the biggest influences on my teaching in these last two terms at my new school has been chatting with my physics colleagues regularly about…physics. Talking about subject knowledge, challenging problems, new curriculum changes and whatever else related to those. A great deal of credit must go to Andy, our Head of Physics, who has subtly and perhaps unconsciously developed and nurtured such a comfortable, sharing environment. (Though on our first induction day he less-than-subtly told us we would each be getting a copy of the physics bible, Muncaster). Delightfully, everyone is very welcome to know nothing about something.

And what do you do if you need to prepare to teach some new content?

Well, in my previous experience I have been too consumed with other roles to prioritise. I have not given sharing and chatting to colleagues about physics enough of my time. (I spoke a lot to colleagues professionally, but all too often about our intensive quality assurance nonsense or other activities of equal (un)importance). The time I did spend planning would be done so after a very busy day when nobody else was around. I would read some websites, I would check the specifications and I would review the types of exam questions we would get. But, I would never have used the opportunity to chat with my colleagues about physics. Utterly ridiculous. Part of the issue is my prioritisation, perhaps, but I think it was mostly down to where my work priorities were being directed. I’m fairly shocked when I look back and see how low down the pecking order planning my lessons was.

Ok, what do you do now if you need to teach some new content?

Coming to a new place gives you a different perspective. It allows you to truly reflect on what things were like in the old place, rather than trying to figure things out whilst you are in the middle of everything.

The most important change, as you might have gathered, is that I now have time. My role as Head of Science still remains vast but the structure and movement of the school is such that I can manage my own time and priorities far better. (We are essentially trusted to crack on and do a good job). Day-to-day I have time to spend half an hour with colleagues in physics to talk about physics. Essentially a lot of it can be considered collaborative planning, as we often impact on each other’s thinking and topic planning, but usually it comes in the form of a deep chat about some relatively complex aspect of physics.

A key aspect is that I have a remarkably open department. Whilst I did also have an open department for the last few years, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I wanted and needed. We had a period of time where we put up a problem of the week on our noticeboard….for us to do. We know our areas of strength and weakness and talk about these openly, and we thoughtfully talk through these informally and often.

I now plan better sequences of lessons, I teach better individual lessons, and I am more comfortable in myself. A wonderful, unanticipated, change in my teaching for the better. Openness to sharing and transparency, and prioritising subject knowledge conversations, are such important approaches to improving teaching. These must not be forgotten amidst the drive for improved pedagogy.

Photo: Flickr

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