Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School, Oxfordshire

11 Jan 2020, 5:00


Robin Conway’s top edu-blogs of the week, 6 January 2020

Term Time Well-being


The start of a new year can be a great time to look at which habits and routines are not working for us and plan some changes.  This is the first of two excellent blogs I have read in the last week that focus on well-being. In this piece @fod3 makes some excellent practical suggestions for maintaining well-being and tells about her shift from working 14-16 hour days to something more manageable.  @fod3 recognises the importance of a supportive Head of Department and SLT in achieving a healthy work-life balance. But she also reflects honestly on things she did earlier in her career which were unhelpful and identifies a number of strategies that have helped her to bring her workload under control and to feel “healthier, happier and more balanced”.


“You Look Terrible!  But Well Done for Coming In” – Presenteeism – what is it, and how can we reduce it?

@Mr_Crome and @CiseRachel

Presenteeism is the practice of coming into work even when ill. There are a number of reasons for this, including unrealistic expectations of ourselves and a highly-pressured workplace culture.  In this piece, @Mr_Crome and @CiseRachel tackle this important issue in the educational context, exploring what drives teachers to come to work when they shouldn’t, and what schools can do to promote a healthier attitude to absence. They point out that presenteeism is very common in teaching and can lead to greater problems including more serious illness and stress. They look at the ways schools act to encourage this behaviour, making it difficult to take time off. It is particularly helpful that they end with practical suggestions any manager could implement to help empower teachers as professionals, and support colleagues in taking time off when they need it.  As they conclude, it is important that teachers know that “if they ask for a day off, it’s because it’s needed and that if they are off, they can recuperate without worrying about the ramifications.”


How Can We Assess Knowledge?


A focus on retrieval practice and low-stakes testing has somewhat dominated the dialogue about assessment in education over the past few years. The work of people who have posted and blogged about this has had a significant impact on my own practice. In this piece, @MorgsEd thinks beyond low-stakes testing and asks how we can build upon it. Distinguishing between substantive knowledge (the ‘content’ of a subject) and disciplinary knowledge (our understanding of how knowledge is formed within an academic discipline), @MorgsEd argues that we may be too heavily focused on the former. If this is assessed to the exclusion of disciplinary knowledge, we are not getting a complete picture of our students’ understanding. He models assessment questions that test disciplinary knowledge arguing that “both types of knowledge are equally important”. I will definitely be applying his ideas in my classroom in future weeks.


Desirable Difficulties, Teacher Development and Creating a Climate of Continuous Improvement


I have been excited to read a number of good blogs about leadership recently, but this piece by @MrARobbins stood out. I wish I had been given a lot of this advice or reflection when I first became a subject leader. @MrARobbins explores one of the greatest challenges most leaders face: supporting team members in their development without creating a culture that stigmatises or focuses entirely on those not meeting expectations. He identifies a number of drawbacks to approaches some schools have used in the past before introducing the concept of desirable difficulties and explaining how it works to create a culture of continuous improvement. His vision to “establish a culture within [his] department that makes all staff active participants in their own improvement” is a powerful one and the steps taken to develop this seem practical and achievable.  Whether you are new to leadership or trying to effect a cultural shift, there are some great ideas here that would be well worth discussing with your team.

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