Teachers who read and readers who teach, the futile search for perfection, making a good impression and walking back from data overload – Sonia Thompson’s top picks of this week’s education topics
It made me want to jump on a train to Nottingham
Jon Biddle is the consummate teacher who reads and reader who teaches. The reading-for-pleasure champion is now on a mission to save our independent bookshops. He has created an impressive map of over 200 of them and is inviting teachers to champion their local bookshops as guest contributors to his blog. Here, fellow teacher/blogger Stephen Conner celebrates two of his favourites, transporting us to a cornucopia of diverse books, special reads and quiet spaces. “Every visit is a joy, and leaves me a little bit poorer but more than a little richer too,” he writes, and it made me want to jump on a train to Nottingham. In this most challenging of times, when the power of a good book to comfort and cheer is more needed more than ever, Jon’s rallying cry loud and clear: use your independent bookshop, or lose it.
The blog ends by painting a picture of what ‘sensible’ leaders are doing
The inimitable Mary Myatt pulls no punches in this blog on the potential dangers of chasing unachievable goals – a timely message for school leaders with such weight of responsibility on their shoulders. Quoting Sheryl Sandberg, Myatt warns that “aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst” and that “the pursuit of perfection is unrealistic”. The blog reveals how leverage can only be achieved by focusing on what matters at each level of the school, from meetings to how we communicate with parents, and ends by painting a picture of what “sensible” leaders are doing: questioning every facet of their practices in the name of sanity. Without this reflection time, attaining the achievable may well be lost in the name of pursuing perfection. We can’t say Mary didn’t warn us!
Impressions form our values, steer our interests and may make us want to study
Matthew Evans is a headteacher who never fails to challenge my thinking. Here, he confidently takes the readers on a journey to locate what “impressionistic knowledge” is. Relying on his own memories of an uninspiring French teacher and his loathing of PE, he borrows the term from Bereiter and Scardamalia to explore how impressionistic knowledge allows us to do and think, diving deeper into the connection between impressions and episodic memories. Matthew makes a strong case that impressions are important for educators to consider; they form our values, steer our interests and may make us want to study. However, he cautions against allowing impressions to take teachers to a place where students enjoy the lessons rather than the subject. Too much fun with too little connection to disciplinary knowledge may in fact “reduce future propulsion towards further study”. The blog ends with a list of don’ts for providing children with good impressions. It is not about providing “customer satisfaction over curriculum mastery”. Instead, he charges us to create curricular experiences that are worthwhile, authentic and “shape inclinations and dispositions, long after the memories have faded”.
Pembroke advocates a revaluation of the purpose of data
I saw James Pembroke speak in Birmingham some years ago and he spoke sense about assessment then. I’m happy to report he’s still doing it now. In this blog, he weaves a skilful narrative of Messner’s climb of Mt. Everest in 1980 as an analogy for how assessment has become a beast, bogged down in a quagmire of spreadsheets. His challenge to us is to ask ourselves honestly about the purpose of assessment in our schools, and not to fudge the answers. “Who is data for? What impact will it have?” If the responses are not weighted in favour of impact on learning then we may well be chasing after diminishing returns. The blog ends with a description of a chance encounter in the Welsh hills that opened Pembroke’s eyes to the importance of perspective and of travelling light. Data is essential, he maintains, but what he advocates is a revaluation of the purpose of that data to unleash our schools’ full potential to be fleet-footed, flexible and to endure. Especially in these trying times, that makes perfect sense to me.