I’ve not posted for over a month, so if anyone has recklessly subscribed to this blog, I’m sorry to have disappointed. There have been a number of factors – mainly personal, which I may explain at some point – but primarily, it’s been due to travel and work. The Learning Futures project has been taking up far more time than it ought to, but that’s because I have learned so much about great schools and great school leaders, and enjoy seeing the dramatic changes they are bringing about in education. Please don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids: yes, the government’s massive rebuilding programme has been late, and
over-budget. But when you visit a school like Monkseaton High School, which has a remarkable ‘spaceship’ of a building opening in September, or Yewlands, in Sheffield, you see that students are actually taking pride in their school, and the environment in which learning can happen is being transformed.However encouraging the physical changes, if what goes on in the classroom doesn’t engage and excite students, school will always be a place to be endured, rather than enjoyed. So, that’s the focus of our project – bringing radical innovation to teaching and learning. We’re supporting, and challenging, some of our most creative school leaders to answer the question that Baroness Estelle Morris (who chairs the Learning Futures Steering Group) often raises: there’s no shortage of great projects and initiatives happening in our schools, but how can we get them embedded and spread throughout the system? Some of our dynamic head teachers will candidly tell you that they often struggle to get new ways of teaching and learning spread throughout the own school (aside from the pioneers and early adopters) let alone across the country. I believe to get innovation to stick you’ve got to get into the classrooms and change the hearts and minds of teachers. They’ve had decades of intermittent, and largely bureaucratic, initiatives being forced upon them, so the only way they’re going to radically change what they do with their students, is by being emotionally and intellectually ‘won over’. They have to feel that change will make their students happier, smarter, and improve their relationship with them. I saw this at first hand last week-end. I was asked to give a talk to the senior leaders of the Harris Federation of Academies in South London. The following morning, students who have been taking part in the Federation’s Commision on Learning, made a presentation to staff, outlining the ways in which they preferred to learn. I’m sure it was quite difficult for some staff to hear that how they’d been teaching was neither engaging nor effective, but the students did it so tactfully and honestly, that the conversations taking place were both moving and profound. Hearts and minds
were visibly being won over. Students concluded that they felt they’d had a genuine dialogue of equals, seeing their teachers as ordinary people with students best interests at heart. For their part, teachers were gobsmacked at the depth of understanding, of what makes powerful learning, shown by students.But when you’re faced with a class of bored Year 9s, you need a bit more than courage and a determination to experiment. Last week saw the launch of the second edition of the Musical Futures Resource pack for teachers. I used to lead this project, but now simply offer the odd bit of advice. We found that the numbers of secondary schools adopting these new ways of working (from the initial 60 to over 1000 schools currently) rose dramatically once we provided them with nuts and bolts tools, which could clearly show what concepts like personalisation, informal learning, no-formal teaching actually looked like in their teaching methods. Abigail D’Amore, the project leader, has done an incredible job in pulling it all together. As a series of how-to guides and practical support materials – now largely provided by experienced teachers and practicitioners themselves – they seem to be all that’s needed to get classrooms to become more vibrant places of learning. That, and a change of heart.