Monday, 3 June 2013

The problem of ‘Outstanding’ Geography

What I’ve learnt is that the word outstanding, often associated to OFSTED, is a misnomer; and unobtainable expectation which constantly demands perfection, often to the detriment of the individual teacher (and his/her family)! The paradox is that to be ‘the best’ requires constant reflection and an acceptance that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson...there is something always to be done, refined or improved. Teaching is not the profession for perfectionists, especially those who strive to be outstanding.

I want to put forward the idea that to be outstanding is not something to strive for.  OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ is not an accolade, as ‘outstanding’ often results in a one-off lesson which create a false sense of learning and cannot sustainably be delivered day in day out.  As the government does away with ASTs, in my opinion it should also do away with the term 'Outstanding', and instead encourage teachers to be great by simplifying the criteria for judging lessons.  

I wrote a post a number of months ago which was laden with outstanding lexicon: hinge questions, objectives, outcomes, progress checkers – all the bells and whistles of the ‘learning fetish’, which purports that students are learners; skills over knowledge; themes over subjects...blah blah blah!  However, since attending the GA conference, the Berkhamsted Teaching and Learning Conference and my first TeachMeet, I would like to get back to basics to what I think are the fundamental building blocks of what makes a great lesson (and teacher).

Simply put a great Geography lesson/teacher will: MAKE TEACHING THE FOCUS by...

i)                    Considering the pace of learning, so that it gives time for discussion/extended writing.

ii)                  Considering the type of task set, so that it is challenging & geographical.

iii)                Being flexible

iv)                Being Personal (through feedback, relation to local place, sharing pupil best practice)

Therefore, great Geography teachers put ‘Geography to work’ (Digby, 2013) through great teaching, by focusing on place, space, changes over time and interconnectedness (Lambert, 2013). Of course, skills such as critical thinking, map work, source interpretation will be drip-fed into the teaching as appropriate (and as needed!). 
Furthermore, teachers no longer have to reinvent the wheel and be great all on their own.  Encouragingly, the teaching practice is finally starting to catch up with business by sharing best practice online through an creative commons approach – nings, googledocs, blogs, twitter, teachmeets – are all mediums through which teachers, new and experienced, can reflect and improve their pedagogical practice in order to be great. PLNs (Personalised Learning Networks) or self-organised communities of practice (Rogers) are becoming crucial in helping teachers adjust to new specifications and share ideas about teaching content and exam technique.  It is unsurprising that Geography teachers are arguably the most connected or have the most extensive PLNs due to the inter-disciplinary nature of our subject – if you’re not connected have a look online for a ning for your subject specification and start sharing.

So, as the summer officially starts I wonder how practical and true the above will be when I start to teach 35minute lessons in September!