Teaching, learning and the magic in between

It is inherent within human nature to believe that each and every person’s experience of life is unique. We are not the same as anyone else and therefore our experiences, even of the same event, are coloured and defined by our context. The permutations are endless.

And yet, there are some certainties in life; as an adult reading this, you were most certainly born and it is very likely that, given you are able to read, at some point, to some extent, you experienced formal education.

For me, it was a monumental and profound idea that although many of us could not presume to truly understand the intricacies of being a car salesman, an engineer or a doctor, unless you happen to be one or perhaps have one in the family; everyone can and does have an opinion about education.

It is often endearing watching children act out a role of a teacher, particularly when you find yourself doing much the same when you first embark on a career in teaching. Ultimately you are relying on your own experiences and often, certainly at the beginning, you focus on what you think your teachers did without necessarily understanding why. To the untrained eye it would appear that a teacher enters a room, interacts with pupils, returns a book with some ticks and crosses and at the end of the lesson pupils walk out having “learned”. You might conclude that there must be some magic in there somewhere because when someone who is not a teacher walks into the same room and does, what they perceive to be, all the same things, it is very unlikely to lead to the same result.

Unpacking that magic, determining what good learning looks like and understanding how it can be achieved is the essence of pedagogy.

And yet pedagogy is not an exact science; if it had been we would have cracked as a society how to ensure the most effective and efficient learning takes place all day, every day, in every lesson. Organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) go a long way towards pinning down the facts by collating, analysing, digesting, reflecting and sharing the best of the research out there about what strategies affect pupil outcomes. The very fact that they continue to collate, publish and revisit certain ideas is a testament to the fact that teaching is both a science and art form. It is a profession, and much like any other profession, it relies on constant auditing, reflection and upskilling. In order to ensure the highest quality of education for pupils, we must always look to ensure that we are aware and have critically reflected on the most current and up to date ideas. As an independent school we have the distinct luxury and capacity to evaluate and implement the best of what there is. Given our small class sizes and keen pupils, we are in the very best position to establish what the magic is.

For this very reason it is an absolute pleasure to take on the oversight of teaching and learning at Rossall School. I am excited to work with colleagues who are keen to embrace the culture of professional conversation, to mutually support each other through the sharing of good practice, to engage in lesson observations, and above all to engage in conversation which puts the outcomes of pupils at the heart of everything that we do.

Learning is not the exclusive privilege of our pupils however, and I am very much of the belief that an ethos of learning and challenge should be true for the whole school community (including teachers and parents). A professional development programme that inspires and enthuses teachers naturally leads to teaching in their classrooms that will inspire and enthuse the children. Parents who are well informed about the curriculum and changes in education, who have the opportunity to attend events that they themselves find interesting, who are supported through the challenges of parenting with series of talks and workshops will also reinforce for the children the concept that learning is never done.

One of the many epiphanies of my teaching career in searching for the elusive magic dust of success is that no teacher is a solo act and no classroom is an island. In order for learning to take place for any one pupil in any one classroom, the ethos of high expectations, mutual respect, consistent but positive challenge of oneself and of the accepted wisdom must exist. We must relentlessly look inwards and seek honesty and outwards to ensure that the bar we set for ourselves is high enough and that what we do is still relevant and impactful.