Simon Sinek, in one of his excellent presentations about communities and culture, says the following:
What’s a community? What’s a culture? It’s a group of people with a common set of values and beliefs…when we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe, something remarkable happens. Trust emerges…as a group, we’re pretty damn amazing. And the reason is that we all have our certain strengths, and we all have our certain weaknesses, and the goal is not to fix your weaknesses but to amplify your strengths.
What a week it’s been. On Thursday I presented a keynote at the Assessment Without Levels conference in London, under the shadow of Wembley Stadium’s arch. It was a good event, well attended, with some helpful input from representatives from the DfE and some thoughtful and interesting sessions, but it was suffused with a kind of mild panic – is what we’re doing right? How can we demonstrate progress? And – again and again and again – what will Ofsted think? On the train home I reflected that the 200+ delegates had paid their £300+ each in the hope that someone would be able to help them find “the answer” – or at least, an answer – to that death-knell question, and to fix their weaknesses.
What a contrast to Saturday, when I made my journey past Stonehenge to Southampton for #TLT14. David Fawcett and Jen Ludgate have organised this free event for the second year running and must surely now be in line for recognition in the civil list for services to education, if not national treasure status. On arrival, it felt so different. It was like walking through a living 3D gallery of my Twitter timeline avatars; teachers who exceeded my stratospheric expectations when I met them in person. Teachers who were there on a Saturday, who had come to the conference because they wanted to learn from one another. The choice of Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) for the opening keynote was inspired, as he began with his most successful tweet:
This was a true keynote. The theme for the day, for me at least, was about great teaching and learning on our own terms, led by the profession, because we are professionals and we know what we are doing. If we do that anyway, then we are effectively bulletproofing ourselves from external attack. My other big takeaway from Tom’s speech was the approach to behaviour he is taking in his new Headship:
Tom’s blog has been the go-to reading for my fellow deputy and myself as we re-examine our approaches to behaviour and this felt like the perfect rationale for aiming for “impeccable”.
My first session was with Debbie and Mel (@TeacherTweaks) whose blog has been a constant source of great ideas. Their session was bursting at the seams with even more of them! It was the perfect way to start the day as Debbie and Mel typify the kind of self-improving professionalism that Tom Sherrington was alluding to in his opening speech. The session was based around four books the dynamic duo had read and how those books had influenced their classroom practice. The books were:
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger
- The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall
- Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel
What was superb was the way in which Debbie and Mel exemplified evidence-based practice. They had read the research, thought about it, and implemented approaches in their classrooms as a result. I thought about the student who had successfully remembered embedded clauses “because Miss Light taught us it last year” using techniques from the books and imagined that he was far from a one-off!
I was already buzzing with ideas, ready to go straight back to school and get stuck in, but I had a session to do next! I was presenting in the same room I’d sat in a year ago listening to John Tomsett describing his school’s Dweck-inspired Growth Mindset culture. Given the impact that this session had on me, it felt like quite a responsibility to step up to the lectern! I was presenting a version of our approach to assessment without levels from the Thursday conference but with added X-Men, pirate maps and ill-thought-through carrying-over-the-threshold metaphors. People seemed to like it (at least, Rachel and Jo did!). I had a ball!
I had a lovely lunch showing off my school’s newly viral video of Sir Ian McKellen going full-on Gandalf during his visit on Friday as part of our work as Stonewall Champions, before the delight of attending Jo Facer‘s session on literacy. Jo’s blog is one of my absolute favourites and it was lovely to be in a room full of English teachers (including my twitter-hero @TillyTeacher) talking about literature and how to encourage readers whilst maintaining rigour. Jo was even more than I’d hoped for – a bundle of energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm, driven by a genuine moral purpose. I left the room with a book recommendation and a renewed resolve to embed and strengthen the reading culture in my school.
My final session was with Jill Berry. Jill and I have corresponded at length via twitter, blogs and on Guardian panels, but I had never met her in person until #TLT14. Her session focused on the doctoral research she is conducting into moving from Deputy Headship to Headship and was the perfect end to the day for me. I sat with Amjad Ali and really enjoyed the discussion about moving into senior leadership positions. Jill was fantastic – an excellent facilitator who provided the forum for really useful discussion and provoked thinking in all the delegates.
And so we gathered back in the main room for the day’s close, delivered by Kev Bartle. As a Sunderland fan travelling to Southampton on Saturday, I think he got a better deal at #TLT14 than he would have got at St Mary’s! He got the whole room doing a Bartle version of Brain Gym (of course!) before capping off the day perfectly by explaining why we don’t need to try to be superheroes because, in our classrooms, we already are. Looking around that room, I was convinced that he was right. We were a room full of professionals who, through sharing and collaboration, were having our strengths amplified.
The Simon Sinek presentation I began this blog with finishes with the following questions:
What are you doing to help the person next to you? Don’t you want to wake up and go to work for the only reason that you can do something good for someone else? Wouldn’t you want them to do that for you?
At #TLT14 I was surrounded by people who get up every day – even on a Saturday – and make other people’s lives better. I know that I will go to work on Monday and do a better job than I would have done otherwise. It was a privilege to be there.