Just under a year ago I was sitting in a classroom in North London and contemplating my decision to leave teaching. Although it was a difficult choice, I don’t regret it. The last year has given me the opportunity to engage with education and learning as I never have before. I’ve spoken at conferences on the other side of the world, led workshops for leaders, engaged in policy debate in parliament and in March I am even getting the chance to give a TEDx talk. However, looking back over the year I can’t help but wonder why it took leaving the classroom for people to take my ideas on education seriously?
Although I now have much more time to engage with discussion and debate around education than I ever did as a teacher, the reality is that my views are not all that different. I still believe that that as a sector we have taken a dangerous lurch towards curricula that ignore the importance of creative and design skills. I still believe we need to give more freedom and power to teachers themselves. I still want us to foster moral character in young people without resorting to draconian methods of discipline. And perhaps, most importantly, I still believe that the fundamental purpose of education is learning, not qualifications. The difference is that now when I say these things I get called “a thought leader” rather than “a pain in the backside”.
I think the irony in my own story is an unfortunate indication of the erosion of professional respect within teaching. New features of the teaching profession such as ‘learning walks’ and overly prescriptive ‘off the shelf’ schemes of work assume that teachers don’t know what they are doing. Rather than viewing classroom teachers as the highly competent, intelligent education experts that they are, government and policy makers seem to think of them as mindless cogs in the great machine of education. Perhaps the fact that teachers are so ubiquitous, they are our neighbours, our friends, our family, makes people reticent to give their ideas the intellectual respect they deserve.
While there are undoubtedly some exceptions to this rule – serving teachers recognised for their blogs, tweets and speeches about education – the reality is that these are a mere fraction of teachers. If we are to see progress in educational thinking, this must change. Classroom teachers need to be at the forefront of educational debate, not in their hundreds but their tens of thousands. By this, I do not mean that they should talk about classroom practice but their ideas on education policy. Ask yourself how policy is to be well informed if the teacher’s voice is not heard?
The RSA Innovative Education network is attempting to do just this. We invite practitioners to share their ideas and work with us giving them a platform for discussion, debate and leadership. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; I want to see a revolution. So I’m asking any head teachers, governors and trustees out there to challenge their staff to be thought leaders. Why not set up your own school blog, giving staff the opportunity to read reports, such as the ones published by the RSA, giving them the opportunity to respond or perhaps even research and write their own?
The reality is that my ideas and thinking are no different than they were twelve months ago; I’m not any more well-read or intelligent, so if you'd have chosen to ignore me then, please ignore this blog.
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Excellent Tom! I too left the profession but for different reasons last year. I want to live more than a couple of years beyond NPA - a simple idea really. Hopefully though I will be involved in the British Council "Connecting Classrooms" project aimed at bringing learning (and a love of it) and creativity, thinking, problem solving, etc back to the core of what we do.
Looking forward to your updates Tom. best of luck at Tedx!
I wonder whether the impact is less about the profession taking you seriously and more about having the time to focus on getting your voice heard? There are SO many voices it's hard to hear individuals in the clamour (and yes, the noise comes from only a fraction of the profession). I also notice that the ideas that get picked up are those the profession can act on with the possibility of an immediate impact on classroom practice. In this 'go faster' age and (dare I say it)?) specially in schools where the focus is so much on results, anything that takes an investment of time and long-term commitment to change habits (like building resilience for example) is passed over.
A good challenge, though. Thank you. I think we're already doing it to an extent in the school where I'm a governor, but (as all good marketers know) people need to hear or say things 7 times before they notice!
Thank you for this post Tom, brilliant! And I'm looking forward to seeing you speak at the TEDx in Norwich. I've also joined the Innovative Education network for more like this from the RSA. Related to this, I've a few projects on the go myself. The most exciting and current is that doors are now open to register for my 5 day free + interactive eCourse based on the content of the Politics in Education Summit. It was the transcripts + summaries of that recent Summit which sparked the current Select Committee enquiry into the Purpose of Education. You and your RSA readers are certainly invited to join, if you'd like: http://leahkstewart.com/politicsineducation/
This is spot on Tom. It *is* a shame that most schools (with some notable exceptions) don't yet see or realise the intellectual value in their workforce. At a mundane level, to do so - and to explicitly promote that value through publishing papers and holding public debates between staff on educational issues - would be fantastic in terms of parental perceptions. But at a deeper level, it could also significantly increase teachers' (and support staff's) own sense of professional integrity, agency and - dare I say it - pride. At a time when many are leaving the classroom for the same reasons as you, your points have never been more important.
it would be helpful to have a link to access the explanation for your decision to leave teaching.....