I really like this, I have to say; it resonates with me for a lot of reasons.
I imagine it’s like that for most people who spend a lot of their daylight hours with the same co-workers; day after day, term after term, year after year? Schools, in particular, require us to have a genuinely collegiate approach to the job, particularly these days. The bygone era of closing the classroom door and putting paper over the windows are far behind us. The days of scribbling down a few notes into a grid on an A3 sheet and calling it a work program, have gone with them. Thank goodness.
Now, the following ramble comes with a “Back in my day…” warning.
Did we really know what we were doing? Well, yes, we did. We were part of a team in as
much that we had a team meeting each week, run by the year level coordinator (note that it
was Year Level Coordinator, not Professional Learning Team Leader back then… quite the
different role) who went through the essential points for that week.
Circa 2002 “Right everyone, remember that we’re on bloody kitchen duty this week…Sharon, I notice you haven’t emptied the dishwasher yet. Don’t forget the excursion is on Monday…did anyone book the buses? Now finally, we’re teaching the letter B and the number 7 next week".
Cue me… I have a great idea for the letter B! Let’s get all of the preps to school early for a Big Breakfast a Big Bowl of Baked Beans on Bread and Butter! Great idea! What a day that was. It started out with me stirring a big arse pot full of the sloppiest no name brand of baked beans you could imagine, and dishing it up to 120 hungry 5 year olds.
Well, I cannot describe the stench in the classroom that afternoon; it was palpable. Those little backsides farted solidly from about 10:30 in the morning, until the bell went to send them home. Far out! It was beyond “Please open the windows,” in fact it was beyond “If you need to pop off, poke your bottom out the door please.” Mate, the aroma of Eau de Farte was ripe, not to mention how they must have heard the thunder down under from as far as Geelong! And of course with every toot came the delighted chortle of the class…it was almost like, as each kid ripped one off
they issued a challenge to the next contender. Make yours louder, elicit a greater laugh from the other contestants, and win today’s challenge! And how do you not laugh at the sound of a good rumble? It’s one of the hardest things as a teacher, not to laugh at the hilarious things kids do and say (sounds like another blog for another day?!)
Well, by lunchtime, the aftermath of my great idea was noted well outside the Prep area. Teachers were shooting me looks across the staffroom and avoiding that part of the corridor. And, as the nail into the coffin of my great idea (it was to be well and truly buried), the cleaner actually asked me whether one of the little children had pooed themselves and left it somewhere in the classroom. I replied with something like “Oh it’s possible with Preps isn’t it?” as the poor woman set out searching for the loaded knickers. Fun times!
Well, in spite of effectively being soloists in the school orchestra, we taught bloody well and managed to run fantastic lessons and have wonderful relationships with our kids … but if someone had to step in and take our class and the only thing they had to go by was our skeletal version of a work program, it was potentially pretty disastrous. There wasn’t really a way of keeping track of assessments either, it was up to each teacher to make their own method, if you had one at all. I had a class list and a plastic pocket book with a sleeve for each student, where I put random
pieces of work that I had ‘corrected’ and ‘scored’. We had a curriculum, of course, and levels that were reported on each semester. But it was our own scoring system, there were no prescribed Fountas and Pinnell levels or Andrell checklists with 300 boxes per level/page to tick, and an 80% calculation before you went to the next page to tick more boxes and recalculate to come up with a new level.
The idea of ‘moderating’ was little more than sticking your head in to your team mate’s classroom and asking “What do you reckon; level 2?”
Enter the era of accountability; certainly a much needed component of our profession that maybe now has become a little too zealous in its implementation?
I remember the first time I heard of the notion of accountability, in a pedagogical sense anyway. Our Principal gave his retirement speech in the staffroom. He spoke about the pride he had in our school and the work we all did, then he told us about the big changes that were to come. He said “It’s all going to be about accountability now.” I remember thinking…honestly, compared to our current practice, this is a good thing for education. Only I think I was confusing being accountable with being organised.
And we became organised; on our way towards accountability. We had a system, it just wasn’t really tracked or checked by leadership so whether you did it or not was up to your professional integrity. Initially we were all provided with a TARB (Teacher Assessment and Records Book) which was kind of cool. There were lots of pages for you to write lots of anecdotal notes and record maths test results and things. (This was before all things were done electronically so to have it in one book was heading somewhere towards being organised.) We had an Assessment
Checklist; a page that our leading teacher developed and gave us all a copy of. Do this assessment, on each kid, at this time. We were becoming organised and I liked it! Don’t get me wrong, I was never going to be the Hermione Granger version of a teacher; I was occasionally behind in my assessments, often there were tests undertaken, mostly corrected and scored, but rarely did I take (have?) the time to analyse the data and use it to inform future
I do actually like to be organised though; to have specific details laid out in front of me in order that I get my head around what it is I’m meant to be doing. Even now, it’s something I spend a lot of time preparing, usually over the weekend, just so that I am organised and ready to teach each day. My grade planner is on the Drive, available for all to see, but I also have a Word document with notes about assessment and groupings, and who I need to catch up with because they were away, and individual conference lists, and parents I need to contact, and meetings I need to attend, and well, you know, all the extra stuff we need to think about. Maybe it’s something about getting older and needing to write things down so I don’t forget them? Whatever the reason, it works for me and that’s the important message here. Do what works for you – unless you’re told otherwise, then do as you’re told. Because today we do have to be accountable and we are checked. Often.
I could write the next thousand words debating the apparent laid back practice of yesteryear vs the stringent practices these days; there are pros and cons for either side. I will say that I dream of a happy medium; a system of being organised and yes, being held accountable, but a system that allows for greater teacher input into how we actually teach, individuality as a practitioner where we can make a call like spending extra time on something after recess. I want to return to speaking about our students as the kids that they are. I had a hard time when we went from referring to our kids as children, to calling them students. I really struggle now when we think of them as data…here are the 2.5s; what are we doing to push them into the 3.0s?
Anyway, now we were getting organised, and as the practice of using computers to keep organised comes in (we had lessons in using this new thing called Windows, and the button called Internet was going to change everything about how we teach!) we are becoming confident in our practice. Work programs went from our A3 page, to computer generated documents in hard copy (if the printer worked) so that a CRT would be able to follow our program. We were planning in teams, which I loved, and suddenly we were small ensembles within the school orchestra. Things weren’t necessarily in perfect harmony, in fact some teams were channelling their inner Debussy,
playing independent, almost atonal solos. Teams with members who were either working together or butting heads…has that changed? Is that even something that can change?
Here’s where idea of Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe comes back into play. Wellness Consultant
(yes that is a thing!) Alex Elle says… “Who you keep in (or around) your space, will ultimately
reflect your drive (or lack thereof). Choose your tribe wisely.”
If you are lucky enough to be part of a tribe who has like-minded methodologies, a similar
approach to teaching, a similar sense of humour, and has your back when you need them to; well,
that’s a proverbial match made in heaven. Assuming you’re an upbeat kind of person, and let’s
face it, if you aren’t you’re not likely to still be reading this blog, your own vibe will be positive, optimistic, energised; in other words you’ll be your ‘best self’ and your drive will reflect that.
And when, for whatever reason, your vibe isn’t upbeat and you aren’t your best self, your tribe will work with you to bring you back. Now this doesn’t apply just to your Professional Learning Team; think beyond to your other tribes…your staffroom buddies tribe, your sit together in the meeting tribe, your after work coffee (Pub?) tribe, your actual classroom tribe!
My grades always know when I’m wearing my grumpy pants because I tell them. “Right, I
haven’t had my morning coffee (I’ve just dragged my arse through the gate after busting my tits flying up the highway speeding like a madwoman because I couldn’t find my friggen keys after my husband put his jumper on top of my bag knocking it on top of the…) so I’m feeling a little bit grumpy today. I’ll feel better soon because I know we will all work so well this morning…” And they respect my right to be a bit grumpy because they know I’m not grumpy with them, and that I’ll be over it soon enough and back to my best self.
But what happens when you can’t choose your tribe? What happens when no matter what you do, how you behave, whatever tactic you employ, someone in your tribe just doesn’t want to play nice? You and the other members of your tribe have tried bringing (dragging) this Negative Nev or Nancy into your way of thinking and working. You have tried being kind, laughing at their jokes, ignoring their barbs and responding positively at the rare positive glimpses they have shown. They just don’t like their job, or they don’t like the team, or they don’t like you. It’s going to happen,
like it or not, and how you respond to it depends a lot on your own sense of self.
What do you do? Well, guided by the belief that ‘everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about’, as hard as it is, especially if they’ve been particularly hurtful, you smile politely, hold your head high, practice some self-love and think “Go with love sad person. I’m going to be my best self in spite of what you say, in spite of what you say or do to try and bring our tribe down to your level.” And your tribe has your back.
Have an awesome week, Sharon.
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