I recently watched Geoffrey Canada’s TED Talks about the urgency of change that is needed in our thinking of education. For example, he says that people are angry at the introduction of Charter Schools but asks what the alternative is? Do we continue to follow the same failed business plan that schools have been adhering to in the past sixty years?
While listening to Geoffrey, I began to think of how the idea of failed business plans are similar to what happens in the classroom. Why do we do something over and over for pupils if it is not working? You may have twenty years of experience but have only applied one system of thinking twenty times. If the plan is failing, why do we keep doing it? We need to start thinking differently and reflect more on the impact of our practice is having on pupils. I believe that we are good at planning and doing in the classroom but we do not review and apply new learning on a regular basis, if at all.
There may be many models that can help teachers reflect, however, the one I use and believe can be used to improve classroom practice is David Kolb’s Reflective Cycle: Plan, Do, Review, Learn.
Planning is important and something we are good at. We know our subject specialism and our pupils. Most of our lessons strive to meet the needs of our pupils and we have access to countless examples of differentiation strategies, task resources and assessments which helps us do our job. The difficulty lies, as will be explained more below, is that we try and mold pupils to our planning instead of plan for our pupils.
This is what we are best at – doing. We do a lot of planning, marking and moaning and pretty much in that order. Most of our ‘do’ makes an impact to pupil progress but frustration surfaces when pupils underachieve. So, how do we respond? Well, we moan about the pupils, therefore nothing changes because we tell ourselves that it is not the planning, it’s the pupils, so we carry on repeating the same thing. That’s because we spend a majority of our time planning and doing and little, if any, time reviewing our practice and impact we may have had on the pupils. Its easier and quicker to point at them, than us.
This is the one area we don’t do well. The cause could be a lack of time or an absence of humility. Why should we? We are educators, surely we do not need to learn anything else? I am being cynical but it does ring true in some corners of the staff room. More time is needed to review our planning and doing, to evaluate the impact and to make the necessary changes. You may suggest that our assessment data provides that information and although it does, it is only one form of review. The other issues I have is that many of us use data not to improve our practice but as a tool to moan about the pupils shortcomings. “Oh, yeah, he didn’t make progress because he puts little effort in the lesson, she failed because of attitude attitudes to learning, and they just can’t – have you met their parents?”
We need to give ourselves time so that we can learn and avoid making excuses, because if we don’t we will continue to deliver the same planning and doing that makes little to no impact on our hard to reach pupils.
Being able to reflect on our classroom practice will lead to new learning. This is powerful, and we know it is because we ask pupils on a daily basis for them to reflect on their progress and be able to explain how they can improve. Yet, we do not reflect on our practice. How can we make changes to our planning without applying new learning?
Geoffrey Canada is right to say that schools need to change but any change can only be successful once us in the classroom start reviewing our planning and doing and applying new learning to improve the outcomes of all our pupils.
Kolb’s Reflective Cycle