Read More, Be More – My Reflection on #TLAB13

Teaching and Learning is such a vital part of a teacher’s role on a number of levels, which is one of the key reasons that I was so excited about the Teaching and Learning Conference at Berkhamsted School yesterday. I’ve blogged briefly about the CPD value of events like these following #pedagoolondon and stand by my message that they have a range of benefits for teachers, providing much more than the standardised ‘bag of tricks’ to take back to the classroom. On a deeper level, events like #TLAB13 challenge teachers to scrutinise the theory behind their practice, subtly (or not in some cases) providing a vehicle for teachers to move beyond improving teaching & learning and on to shaping pedagogy by exploring and questioning the theoretical underpinning of the profession.

The first thing that strikes me about these events, is the notion that a group of teachers are giving up their free time on a Saturday to actively develop their own pedagogy. Pleasingly, it’s really not that unusual anymore and is becoming increasingly ‘the norm’ and why not? Surely as teachers we should be the prime advocates of learning and that certainly doesn’t stop at the classroom door.

Given the opportunity to see keynotes from the likes of Alistair Smith @alatalite, calling for an alignment of expertise in the pursuit of core purpose and Dr Bill Rankin @rankinw proposing a fractal model of education; who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?

Quite apart from the opportunity to follow up learning conversations started at Pedagoolondon; the workshops provided analysis of some of the problems posed by classroom practice and the opportunity to question and challenge them in order to create a better quality teaching and learning experience. A highlight for me was pupil involvement. Small groups attended workshops as audience members and were actively encouraged to question and challenge; presenting a refreshingly honest and articulate layer to the discussion, which I found particularly stimulating.

The overarching message from the day for me personally, (apart from the obvious reminder that we as educators have the power to transform current methods), was the importance of teaching being a theoretical practice. It already is. But this does not sit well with me as a generalisation; just because you have written the essays, doesn’t mean you understand and can confidently apply the theory to actively improve the teaching and learning experience for your pupils. Do all teachers engage with theory on a deeper level? I know for me this is an area that ‘requires improvement’ and attending #TLAB13 has challenged me to do this.

In addition to practical, ‘bag of tricks’ CPD which of course has its own function, shouldn’t there also be a focus on getting teachers reading more, engaging with the theory behind their practice and developing an understanding of the teaching and learning process on a deeper level? The idea of reading around our work and gathering (with a critical eye!) ‘the knowledge’ (taxi drivers in London are described as having ‘the knowledge’ when they are able to retain a vast swathes of route information on the city), surely provides teachers with a greater appreciation of why we do what we do and enables them to gather an understanding of how we can use theory and research to provide a ‘better’ and more meaningful learning experience for our pupils.

Exploring the theory behind our practice enables us to shift role from the passive passenger in the back of the ‘teaching taxi’, clear on the destination and enjoying the ride but not entirely sure of the details of the route or how we got there; to the ‘teaching taxi’ driver who has ‘the knowledge’, clearly understands where they are going and more importantly why, enabling them to confidently understand why one route holds merit over another.

With the epic journey to Berkhamsted and back still fresh in my mind, taxis included…now seems an appropriate time to read more and be more.

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