3 Oct 2019
SENDCo and assistant headteacher Rachel Rossiter discovers a book that does exactly the opposite of what it says on the cover, and she’s glad of it
Someone tweeted recently that teachers go through two epiphanies in their careers: the first is when they grasp how to do this teaching thing, followed by another when they really understand how to do this teaching thing. I’m sure I’m far from the only old-timer who feels exactly the same.
That’s not to encourage complacency or to nullify the need for continuous professional development, but those of us who are getting somewhat old in the tooth and have seen fads come and go can nonetheless indulge in a little justified cynicism when it comes to advice on how to teach.
Therefore, it was with some dubiousness that I picked up Relearning to teach; I wasn’t sure that I needed to “relearn” anything from yet another Edubook. It’s a seemingly saturated market at the moment and I wasn’t convinced that this one was going to provide anything that hasn’t been said before. I was wrong.
I was immediately struck by the honesty and integrity with which the book is written. By chapter 2, any scepticism I had previously held melted away and Fawcett had won me over (and not just because of the references to football).
The author begins many of his chapters by explaining where he has made mistakes in his teaching and how he has been “seductively wooed by a plethora of ideas that have no benefit”. This, coupled with his easily accessible style and the use of rhetorical questions as sub-headings, made me feel invited into a conversation with Fawcett to reflect together upon and mull over our respective teaching experiences. In essence, this is what good CPD should be all about.
I wasn’t convinced it would provide anything that hasn’t been said before. I was wrong.
Throughout the book, Fawcett tackles myths head on and offers a very balanced and pragmatic view of teaching today. A number of recent conversations have convinced me that there is a general feeling that teacher voice and feedback on the efficacy of certain approaches is all too readily dismissed as anecdote. So it is particularly refreshing that, amongst the references to research (of which there are many), Relearning to teach is interspersed with views from current practising teachers sharing their thoughts and experiences from the coalface. This authenticity is sorely missing from much that the Edubook genre has to offer.
Chapters cover a range of topics, including planning, memory, questioning, feedback and data. In them, Fawcett explores frameworks, structures and taxonomies such as Bloom’s and SOLO that many of us will be familiar with but which have in recent years come under a lot of scrutiny from some quarters. He revisits these anew and provides useful suggestions for their application, particularly around planning.
With my SENDCo hat on, I was particularly interested in the chapter on differentiation. Here, Fawcett and I sing from the same hymn sheet. The key is to know your learners really well and to aim high – he talks about making the thinking easier, not the task. But he also acknowledges that what we can ask of ourselves as teachers has limits, that all schools have children with significant and complex needs for which expert advice should be sought.
If I have one criticism of this book, it is the title and how it frames the content. Re-learning implies starting afresh from a clean slate, and the idea does a disservice to the book and to its readership of experienced teachers. It also fails to properly capture what the book does best, which is to stimulate professional reflection.
Relearning to teach is not so much a call to arms as an invitation to pull up a chair, get comfortable and have a good old natter about all things teaching and learning. I wouldn’t recommend it for trainees or NQTs (and I’m sure that was not Fawcett’s intended audience) but if you’ve been around a bit like me and you’re looking to choose one book from the plethora of those currently being plugged in EduTwitter circles then, for its pure integrity, honesty, authenticity, wisdom and accessible style, you won’t go far wrong with this one.