It’s fair to say, I think, that the last few years have seen a set of particularly difficult challenges for teachers; from the increasing fragmentation of our system, to an insistence on all schools progressing beyond ‘average’. We’ve seen an increasingly volatile performativity agenda which at times seems to fly in the face of our most basic convictions and moving goalposts on our Excel spreadsheets. I have witnessed what appears to be a growing culture of presenteeism – being seen to be working 70, 80, 90 hours a week, and encouraging other to do the same. We have seen teachers hitting burnout on a regular basis. These factors, and others, are culminating in a genuine crisis in recruitment and retention.
It all paints a pretty bleak picture of the lives of teachers. But… in my experience, there’s a core of teachers who maintain resilience, resourcefulness and optimism. There’s a fire in our bellies, a stubborn sense of optimism and, above all, a passion for improve the life chances of young people. So amidst the noises of doom and gloom, there’s been a growing counter-culture of teachers working together to improve their practice and our system. From the thousands of teachers to be found daily on Twitter debating, challenge, consoling and sharing resources to online forums such as Staffrm to the proliferation of informal TeachMeets and ‘Un-conferences’ all over the country, there is evidence of an ongoing hunger to keep learning, keep collaborating and stay positive.
It was last year when I first heard of the TLDW, run by HertsCam and became a tutor for the programme. I blogged about my experience of the annual conference here:
TLDW stands for Teacher Led Development Work. It is, as they say, exactly what it says on the tin. Teachers across Hertfordshire and surrounding areas, including middle leaders, support teachers, headteachers and senior leaders from primary and secondary sectors – have been completing a year long project focused on improving an element of their own classroom practice and their students’ outcomes. They have been led by David Frost of Cambridge University and Val Hill, a practicing Assistant Headteacher, together with a growing team of practitioners who themselves have completed the course.
The principle is quite simple. As any parent knows, it is the teachers on the ground who see their child day-in and day-out struggling with algebra, decoding irregular verbs, falling out with – and back in with – their friends, triumphing over merit points and hiding gum in their checks… it is these people who know their children best. The argument is quite simple: it is not the Prime Minister, nor the Minister for Education, nor the Think Tanks nor the Professors of Education who know our students best – it is their teachers.
The research on teacher retention tells us that to be trusted, to have a sense of autonomy in the classroom means a great deal to education professionals, and that to be deprived of these has a direct negative impact on effectiveness and well-being. This course cuts right to the heart of this by giving teachers an invaluable forum for reflection and collaboration on issues that they know are important for their students; that they wish to improve as practitioners. From use of seating plans to teacher talk to tone of voice to extended writing. Nobody else tells the teachers what to choose; they are coached and guided, but they decide and they pursue their practice-based research over the course of the year, presenting their findings and their impact to colleagues throughout the course.
In April of this year HertsCam, an independent organisation devoted to developing teacher leadership, has received accreditation for the first Masters course in the country [in Europe?] to be run entirely by practising teachers, as opposed to by academics based in universities. The Masters has been validated by the University of Hertfordshire but will be run entirely by teachers who are members of the HertsCam Network.
This is an extremely exciting development and one that flies in the face of much of the negativity surrounding teaching today. It sees the day-to-day practice of teachers as equal to any other academic field in terms of rigour and potential impact. It sees teachers themselves as best placed to work with other teachers on researching, refining and becoming national experts in specific areas of their practice. Their research has the potential to have an impact far beyond their own schools, as HertsCam already has a proved track-record of publication and influence throughout Europe. The validation of the new masters is firmly based on the idea that knowledge can be created through the leadership of development work and shaped through critical narrative writing in the context of networking. This is an alternative to the usual idea of knowledge being created through research.
Above all, it is an academic validation of the role of the teacher as leader and sees the realisation, by real teachers in real schools, of a knowledge creation approach which challenges the traditional hierarchies within our education system. There’s a stirring, almost revolutionary, call-to-action about the work of HertsCam. The advent of the MEd, which openly ‘seeks to mobilise teachers and other education practitioners as change agents’ demands that we challenge defeatism and negative thinking, take ownership of our practice and our profession and, rather than waiting for the powers-that-be to sort out the issues that confront us, do it ourselves. In this hard-fought development and a much-needed injection of optimism into what is, after all, the best profession in the world.