Anita Roddick once said "I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of a community. I want something not just to invest in, I want something to believe in." I guess she never found one during her short working career but it wasn't too short that she couldn't create one in the Bodyshop before she died. I started a Yr 13 lesson this week with one principle that I also pinched from someone else. Seven habits of a successful person by Stephen R Covey "Start with the end in mind"
If every lesson is going to be an outstanding lesson then that's is a doubting task for any teacher that is employed to work 195 days or 39 weeks a year. For a new teacher with a 100% timetable and no responsibilities that's 858 lessons a year. Compound that with the fact that over the last 2 years most GCSE, BTEC L3 and GCE courses have changed and are still being embedded. So that is a lot that has changed even if it has all changed for the better. So how can it really be done? If you're already thinking this is rubbish and impossible bear with me and let me start by telling you what’s in it for you. Planning for the delivery of an outstanding lesson doesn't require you to work harder. In fact, I would say the opposite is true but you will need to work smarter to earn the gain time you deserve.
I now work in an environment like the one Anita Roddick described. It’s already instilled a culture of no meetings which I remembered they shared on interview day but was a first for me to actually see! Teams of people meet not just to meet with someone else's agenda but to develop their own department's routines, organisation, systems and understanding from their self-audit of outcomes from last summer's result. So after five lessons on Monday, our faculty gathered for ninety minutes to do just that. The need for this shift was clear to me as after two weeks into my induction training and discoveries it looks like it's the option subjects that are bringing the batting average down in the overall headline results.
One of the slides that were shared was about creating outstandingness in every lesson so that focused my mind for this week. I also had an opportunity to talk to a wonderful lady from COPE who was waiting outside an English classroom to support a learner in her next class. As I was waiting to go into the room next door to support mine I asked her the following question. How does the English department get the best results in the school? This year they achieved 82% A* - C. She thought about it before saying "well I'm not actually a teacher" to which I replied "but you probably get to see a lot of English lessons so what are they doing so very very well here?" She paused for what seemed like a very long while before replying "They start by getting them to BELIEVE, then they give them the tools to do well and the rest is up to them" The rest of the MAGIC and SPARKLE is up to them or what they bring to the table by doing something with it.
Doesn't it seem so very very simple? Well, why shouldn't it be? Most of the best business ideas are similar and when you hear about them, new products or services that have been launched into the market who doesn't say " I wish or I could have done that" Well yes you could or should have but you didn't as someone else saw the simplicity of the solution or idea before you did. So maybe that's the answer to the question. We need to shift the way we think about what we do to achieve the end that we have in mind. We need to spend a few seconds first to think about the OUTCOME we want to achieve, as professionals, the LEARNING we want to facilitate in every lesson and the IMPACT we want to be able to measure overall. The young people that we teach deserve the very best value for money that we can provide them, in every lesson we deliver, so that they can do better than just cope. The pace of change in the world they are to live, survive, achieve and aspire in is also the reason why every lesson needs to be an outstanding one. Shift happens and if it continues to do so at the same pace or at a quicker pace than before then surely we are part of their solution and should not be adding to their potential problems.
I spent the rest of the week being BOLD and BRAVE and giving achievement rewards to others that were doing the same. Thirteen classes is the most that I have ever had on my timetable and I discovered indirectly, through team teaching, this week that not one person in one of those classes had chosen to study the subject that I was teaching them so I decided to start with;
A. BELIEF. In every lesson this week my starter for ten was a short story, a mini motivational speech or something to do with the importance of values and more importantly belief. Surely everyone should believe in something even if it’s just in themselves. In one class, in fact, the class full of conscripts I set them some homework in the first lesson of the day knowing that I saw them later that same day to see if anyone took the challenge to achieve it. Two did but one wasn't brave enough to admit it until the end of the lesson. The lovely learner that chose to share her work provided the exemplar for the starter and the lesson. We all gathered around to see what she had done. It was an impressive achievement. Not because she had gone off to find out about break-even charts, independently but what impressed me the most was that she had taken up the challenge to do it between period 1 and 3. So we continued to lavish her with praise and awarded a praise email to make it permanent! After over half of the lesson looking at our sole achievement, I started throwing some BIG questions into the audience. One chap who had been a selected mute for most of his time at school and preferred to work totally in semi-isolation, to the surprise of his peers, shouted out the top answer. It was more than appropriate to ignore the no hands up policy as in his excitement he did the same again for all to see. By the end of the third quarter of the lesson, I felt that everyone in the class had slowly started to believe. Whatever had stopped them getting five A* - C last year was soon to be behind them as they were now looking forward to a target of 100% success in a subject they had not even chosen. How did I know because I asked them all the simple question "Do you now after our third lesson together, now believe that you can?" Well, who said if you think you can you can and if you think you can’t you can’t?
B. For us to sustain the belief we need to scaffold into the foundations the tools to underpin everything that we do. When I trained early on in my previous career as a trainer in hospitality we were taught the foundation on a Train the Trainer course. Each training session was to start with the WIN or the What, Interest and Need. If you start training or teaching a group with this you tend to have their undivided attention very quickly. Say I was to carry out a virtual training session now and in front of you on how to make a Berni Inn style floaty coffee (well where did you start your career?). I would start with the finished product for all of you to see but sadly online, not easy to taste! Then I would tell you something interesting about it. How many the company sold last year, how possible it could be to make one quicker than me. The story would always be truthful and I would never make anything up as people always hold on to and believe the stories. They are in my opinion a very powerful way to anchor the knowledge and belief and help young people remember stuff by painting the picture for them in words to save in their heads safely for later. The next step before I started training you would always be to tell you why you needed to know whatever it was to be trained, by giving you a work-related reason as well as a what’s in it for me.
The training model continues by providing an identified step by step guide to the process that I was about to take you through and first before, you have to do it on your own. The secret here is that at each step you identify the standards and in my virtual lesson to you, step one would look like this. Take a heatproof Darlington coffee glass, It has to be clean and dry and heatproof before adding the piping hot coffee and in the next step any flavoured alcohol before topping it off with slightly aerated double cream in the final stage.
Once you have identified all the steps and standards at each stage you have not only started by seeing a finished product but have an appreciation of the process as well as an exemplar for all to see. It is now OVER TO YOU to see what you can do! Now for the magic and sparkle as the opportunity for you has arrived to impress before you do it ON THE JOB for real. It's also the opportunity for the teacher to quickly identify where the real learning would take place or better still that lightbulb moment that the learner identifies for themselves the step or the standards that they had still got wrong, for them to rework and corrected it by doing it all over again. Similarly in hospitality after two to three attempts they would get it right and this task could now be signed off in their training manual. Surely the classroom should be no different as everyone needs these same tools to carry out the steps and maintain the standards in the learning tasks that we all teach.
In all my thirteen classes this week I spent a significant amount and some might say a disproportionate amount of time explicitly teaching the tools alongside the techniques and firing them all to believe. Teaching like many job roles is underpinned on 95% relationship and building that quick when you're a newbie is key. Don't worry about the time it takes you’ll see the payback once your class of young people, have both the belief from the time you have invested and they will spend a disproportionate amount of time rewarding you back by practicing and using what they now know and do so with sheer delight both outside and inside your classroom in that favourite subject of theirs that you teach on whatever exciting task you have given them. My GCSE Year 11 business class admitted to spending 2-3 hours collaboratively in two teams in their first week's homework as they wanted to impress. They were lucky enough to present it in front of their head-teacher who just happened to drop in. Outstanding lessons don’t stop as bright minds leave your classroom. That's the starting point of what could possibly be a few more hours digging deeper from within but without this belief and the tools that we teach it might stop when the lesson finishes because they are not excited or inspired to do more or impress. After all who comes to work to fail, similarly, no one comes to school to do badly, not a teacher or a young person we are all fundamentally programmed to be the best we can be if we are excited enough and are lucky enough to have been shown how to be. My year 13 BTEC L3 class learnt different tools between Thursday and Friday this week. They learnt not just about the purpose of accountancy for their course exam in a few weeks but how to make their learning available to themselves 24/7 so they could make it better if and when they had time. Two chaps after their lesson on Thursday in a class in that wonderful English department stayed behind for most of their break time and asked how they could do even better this year as they clearly believed that they wanted to but didn't know how. My answer was simple. Use all the resources that the school has provided on the shared drive and the extra resources that I had posted for them to their blog page to illustrate this theory and bring it to life. I then asked them what physical tools they were using to capture it all on so quickly shared with them the benefits of Google Docs should they want to convert across to them. By our next lesson on Friday, all bar one had made a shift to the physical tools they were using. Having both the tools and the skills from every lesson will be the biggest investment you can make in time for every student and as such should be a top priority in any part of the planning. In some schools that I have taught it was like putting in saddle stones to underpin the massive amount of what was missing and this often took what felt like 95% of all the two years of teaching time so from experience I know that once the tools are in place and the skills are secure that time can be caught up and that wonderful person is put into poll position to learn and do what is needed to catch up.
C. The final part of this week's edit will be to reflect on what I believe is the role of every teacher in every class throughout the world today. It really is the finest of professions and even more enjoyable when you find yourself in a fine community with people with similar values and beliefs building a culture for all to eat, smell and breath. Our job is surely to build confidence and capacity to do more from the knowledge and skills we have taught but deliver it in a way that facilitates an experience rather than get bogged down in the detail of what's on the scheme of work or specification even though that needs to be covered as all that can be assessed but whether you expressly teach it or the young minds learn it is down to the performance that you create. I didn't teach my Year 12 L2 Business anything about the steps in creating a break-even chart this week. Some had done their homework from the previous lesson and had got themselves ahead of the curve, using the flipped lesson technique. Others arrived on the back foot as they had never been given such a challenge within such a short time frame before but by the end of the lesson they all knew what it was all about. All I did was share with them my top tips to success from the best resource that I had ever seen so pinched them and used it as my exemplar to see what was missing in their notes. Anything that was, they added in and I can test them on it next week with a pencil, graph paper, ruler and rubber, to see how good their learning has been. It's not easy to do that in a physical workbook but it is in Google docs!
So yes I think planning for an outstanding lesson in every lesson is as easy as ABC but it takes a shift in your thinking and you need to be prepared to go off-piste but if next week you choose to be brave and bold and try to do some of it in one lesson all I can say is if you don't succeed try again because once you've shifted the change in your planning, preparation and pedagogy you might just find it addictive and do it again and again and again and before you know it every lesson will be or be aspiring to be an outstanding one to be proud of, because we really never know who is in our classroom every lesson, a future entrepreneur inventing a product or service to make your life less stressful, a professional doctor or dentist helping us when we are ill or an MP hopefully taking what we have taught them looking to hopefully make our country great again. That said the one thing that we do all know is this, that we have been placed in front of all of them because putting it simply someone believed in me!
This week’s edit by the 'The Undercover Teacher’ was Inspired by the brilliant minds of the 13 classes of learners that I taught this week who are all now setting their sights beyond outstanding and not forgetting the lovely lady from our in-house CoPE support intervention and the brief chat with our very fine Head of English who shared a few minutes as we exchanged classroom last week.