Running my own race

Halfway through a charity 5k run this morning with my youngest, I had one of those ‘life-lessons’ overlapping with thoughts-from-work moments. I’d said to C at the start of the race that we need to run our own race, stick to a steady pace, and not worry too much about the people around us. We did keep that steady pace, and overtook quite a few of those who had sprinted off at the start, then slowed to a walk at the first big hill.

The overlapping thoughts come from a back-of-my-mind feeling of late that seems to rear up sometime when reading tweets/blogs/articles/research – there is so much that I could change about what I’m doing in the classroom, why aren’t I changing more/doing better for my students etc etc.

Now, I’ve been teaching about 10 years now, with a two year break when I worked for an exam board. I pretty sure about what works well for my students, and I’m pretty sure I communicated this and supported other teachers when I was running departments. I’m pretty sure I communicated this well to a PGCE student teacher this year, and their teaching practice has improved over the year. However, I sometimes feel, the more I read and think about what I’m doing in the classroom, the less I seem to know or understand (with apologies to Aristotle or Einstein).

I’ve have found writing (in this blog and articles for magazines) a helpful process with these concerns. Equivalently, the process of writing the Core Knowledge questions for our KS3 courses has been helpful in crystallising my thoughts about what I want students to understand about this hard, abstract subject we are trying to help them to understand. Similarly, with creating my integrated instructions for practical work – the process of creation is a helpful, in forcing me to think carefully about what my students are doing, and hopefully thinking about etc, during the practical task.

In a way, this highlights the potential dangers of wholesale importing the work of others, be that teachers/colleagues or from commercial publishers. A friend and colleague of mine made this point at a conference last week, regarding practical work – when we sit down as a team and make our own decisions about what practical work we’re going to do, what the expected learning is and how we assess this etc, the work is going to be much more meaningful than if we just follow along with a commercial package, putting in the requisitions for the next practical just because it happens to be there. We were also discussed this point about the Gatsby Good Practical Science report, Benchmark 1 – Planned Practical Work. The process of the discussion and creation of the written policy is as important (or more so) than the actual written policy at the end.

All of this to say, there are some fine resources being put out by people, as there have been over the decades. Local education authorities used to be very helpful in this, and companies like CLEAPSS continue to be a rich source of carefully designed, trialled and tested resources. TES Resources can be a useful starting point, but with the introduction of charging, and reports of copying of other peoples work, the lustre seems to have faded. Several people I follow on Twitter make their work available through shared drives or on their blogs, including myself with things like Core Knowledge and integrated practical instructions. (As an aside I do worry sometimes about the new jargon growing up of late, with people using it terms like hinterland as a shortcut, where more widely understood terms such as context seem more appropriate – I had similar worries about what to call the integrated instructions  – I started with ‘Dual Coded Instructions’, then recognising this was jargonising – I wanted to call them Ikea instructions, but didn’t think our Swedish friend would be too pleased – integrated instructions seemed as close to descriptive as possible without being jargon).

I also recognise the problems surrounding ‘change management’ – changing from one system to another, introducing new ways of working / resources is hard, and if people don’t have a hand in creating / reviewing / approving them, buy in can be limited, or only at a surface level. More effective change tends to come when people work together to create the what is done in the future – tricky with the limited time we have, but always a good use of gained time in the summer, and hopefully during department meetings, if we can keep admin to the end, or via electronic communications where possible.

My conclusions –

  • recognise that the evolution of my teaching overtime is no bad thing, rather than looking for a permanent revolution when the next big idea or resource comes along
  • take note of the wise words from my more experienced colleagues (and father) about the pendulum in education, and how ideas cycle round and round (out of vogue now? just wait a few years and it’ll be back in fashion)
  • accept that my experience is valuable (and valued by others) and that research evidence is a useful starting point but can’t tell me exactly what to do in my classroom to improve learning
  • chose carefully what resources I import into my teaching, and recognise that self-created resources can be more powerful because of all the thinking that has gone on while creating them
  • that this is my race, and I need to try hard not to be too distracted by others, or trying to run their race.

(As ever, I probably knew all of this before, but putting it down in writing is helpful….. and we finished the run in 34 minutes…. not bad for an 8 year old 🙂

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