It's in the nature of my job that I get asked to give short speeches from time to time. To which I bring a particular set of parameters. I like if possible to speak without notes, and also I like to respond to what is going on locally. Particularly, if children have been involved in presenting an item, I like to acknowledge not just that they have contributed but also to show that I've been listening to what they've been saying. So, I like to think that what I might lack in polish is made up for by immediacy, in actually speaking to the people and the situation I find myself in. I like to think, I'll leave other people to judge how successful I am!
So, recently I was at an event in Uganda (no pictures I'm afraid, I was without administrators so busier than normal) to celebrate the achievements of a group of school leaders who had completed a course with us. In speaking with them beforehand one particular issue came up as I probed what they had taken away from the course, which was reflection, thinking through what we've done afterwards and looking to learn from it.
So, I took as my starting point, "What is the difference between 20 years' experience on the one hand, and 1 year's experience repeated 20 times on the other?" Certainly over the years I've been in conversations which imply that there is no difference between these two things, so that, for example, a teacher who has served for 15 years is necessarily better placed to become the headteacher than another teacher who has served for 12 years. But, I would want to suggest, this is not necessarily the case at all. Leaving aside the qualifications, qualities, enthusiasms and so on people bring in the first place, how have those years been used?
So, I would like to suggest three answers to the question. One comes back to my starting point, which is reflection. This may not be done formally, but after something has happened - a lesson has gone well or badly, an interaction with a parent has gone well or badly, whatever else it might be - do we look to think through why things have gone well? What might have gone better? How we might have gone about things differently? If things had gone well, what were the particular ingredients which ensured that? If things didn't go well, there may be factors beyond our control, but are there things we can learn for future reference from this? Putting theory into practice is not easy, if an attempt to implement an innovative teaching style doesn't immediately work there are a number of reasons for this, only one of which is that the idea is intrinsically not a good one. What other reasons are there? A lack of reflection can result in 'blaming the victim' - children aren't learning because they don't want to learn. Well, if we're the teacher, how are we managing the situation? Is it not the nature of adulthood to take responsibility for youngsters when they are not taking responsibility for themselves?
Secondly, building constructively on experience means taking advantage of learning opportunities when they are presented, whether that means attending training courses, reading journals, listening to others who have been on such courses, this kind of thing. In terms of teaching ideas, I don't think I've ever had an original thought, but I am good, I think, at assessing ideas I see around and making good use of them. But I need to see them in the first instance of course!
Thirdly, is the importance of good peer group relationships and sharing. But beware - it is perfectly possible for peer group discussions to sink to the lowest common denominator, to reinforce problems and difficulties and persuade us that nothing matters and is not our fault. Good peer group interactions involve looking for solutions, building constructively on each other's ideas and experience so that we are better placed to face our responsibilities than before.
So, I am suggesting three pointers as to how 20 years' experience can be cumulative, building meaningfully to a strong, sustainable professionalism. If you have any thoughts on this point do let me know, I may well return to this theme in future short speeches and will gladly take on board new ideas - with suitable attribution, of course!
Anyway, better stop now, have been suffering this last week from conjunctivitis or 'red eye' as it's called locally, somewhat accurately in my case! So have blown up the size of print to larger than normal to cope. Normal trajectory is another week or so, so I'm told. Ho hum, take the rough with the smooth!