Armed with a cup of tea and a tin of chocolate biscuits, I have finally made the decision to sit down and write this reflection. The watery sunlight of 2014 is quickly disappearing behind the row of terraced houses opposite my own, so I better get going…
2014: the highlights
My 3 year-old son. He is the most relaxed and gentle child you could ever meet – like a pint-sized Gandhi (apart from a certain stubbornness at dinner times!). Hearing his language develop this year has been fascinating; the way young children acquire words seems to me mysterious and almost magical. We have read to George every day since he was born and it is incredible to see the effect of this on him. Some days he will spend at least an hour in total listening to stories. When reading to him as a very young child, it felt like the words and their meanings were bouncing off his blank face, as if he were hearing the rhythm of the tale without comprehending the meaning, only pointing out a picture or two or counting the number of ducks to keep me entertained. But this year, I have realised that much, much more has been happening in some invisible spot in his mind.
Only on Monday, we were leaving the swimming pool when George said:
“You go ahead and I’ll follow after.”
These words have been taken straight, verbatim, from Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and now, it seems, have become an unconscious part of his verbal arsenal.
So, from being George’s dad I have learnt much about children and reading this year. Firstly, that we, as adults, must be patient and prepared to put in years of dedication. Secondly, that the sharing of stories between an adult and child has a significance far, far beyond education.
This blog. According to the stats, I have written 44 posts and this blog has had nearly 90,000 views this year. I would never have believed that possible at the end of 2013. Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to read and share my posts. From starting out as a predominantly English-based blogger, I have moved on to discussing wider education issues too. It has surprised me that I have managed to keep it up for so long – I now find that I have strong and unexpected ‘blog itches’. I am not sure whether my blogging urge stems from a genuine desire to share my ideas about teaching or an egotistical desire to have an audience for something I have written. Probably a bit of both.
In recent months, I have teamed up with the hugely talented Jason Ramasami who has been kind enough to provide the illustrations for my posts. There is nothing in the world quite so exciting as seeing your scribbled ideas emailed back to you as an image that captures your point with a clarity and vitality you only wish you could emulate in written form. I look forward to working with Jason in 2015.
Here is Jason’s artwork for three of my personal favourite posts:
What I learnt about great teaching from learning to brew beer. This was about how my friend, Gavin McCusker (who, in one of 2014’s low points, sadly left my school), taught me the art of homebrewing.
Talking about teaching in a world without lesson grades. My school removed the farce that is lesson grading this year. This post describes my first non-graded observation in many a year.
Wreaking havoc on the educational universe: the problem with change. I wrote this one a couple of weeks ago on how constant change can inhibit our development as teachers.
Reading. I got to the end of 2013 realising that I had barely read a book all year. This was unusual for me and it needed to change. I have read twenty-two this year, at least fifteen of which about education. Okay, I might have become an edu-nerd in doing so, but I feel that I am satiating a need I have had since childhood. I am at my most content when reading, whatever the subject!
Opportunitiy. Writing this blog has opened unexpected doors. I have been appointed as ‘Research and Development’ leader at my school and we are beginning to build a wider culture of enquiry. I am grateful to the way the ever-positive Shaun Allison has supported me this year. One of the highlights was our first CPD ‘edubook club’ which involved every member of staff reading and talking about education. The response was enthusiastic and positive. I have been invited to speak at various events – as keynote speaker at an NQT event, at #TLT14 and at Brighton University. I have enjoyed the challenge of these, even if they have rubbed up against my natural introversion.
2015 – what next?
So as not to bother Jason on New Year’s Eve, at the start of this post I have reused his image from one on simplicity I wrote at the start of the year. In that post, I discussed the Pareto Principle, the idea that 20% of our actions have 80% of the overall effect, and that the other 80% have only 20% of the effect. It is time to listen to my own message. I feel that I have spread myself too thin this year, taking on too much and overcomplicating things. I have read so many wonderful books, papers and blogposts in 2014, have spent so much time thinking about education, that my mind has reached saturation point. It is one thing to read and write about new ideas, it is quite another to put them into practice.
In all honesty, I do not think that I have got any better as a classroom teacher this year. In some ways, I have become confused and distracted by all these ideas from the outside. The fundamental key to teaching has to be to concentrate on those sitting in front of you, not on what you will write in your next blog. I need to redress this balance in 2015. Consolidation must take precedence over creation.
Similarly, as much as I love Twitter and the edu-blogosphere, the fact is that they are relentless. They have led to me taking extra work home and finding it difficult to switch off from work. This is unhealthy.
So, in the spirit of simplicity, in 2015 I aim to:
1. Concentrate on the children I teach and what they need to learn before anything else.
2. Write fewer blogposts.
3. Read fewer books on education…but more fiction, poetry and things that take my interest. (I have started already and am currently halfway through a book on meteorology.)
4. Ride my bike to and from school – not only for fitness, but also because it makes it harder to take work home.
5. Get better at noticing the small things around me. (A dad should never be mulling over work while he absentmindedly baths his child at night.)
6. Finish off the book I am working on with Shaun Allison and continue to work with Shaun to build a positive, informed approach to CPD at our school.
Happy New Year.
And remember: keep it simple in 2015!