Last year, I was fortunate to be one of the first people chosen to speak at the newly formed New Voices Conference at the CLPE, Waterloo. The experience was an amazing one, which set me on a path of further research, conference attendance, and genuinely being interested in education once more.
October 12th 2019 saw the second instalment of the #NewVoices conference, and these are the talks I attended.
1. How I was a ‘disruptive’ voice – Mary Hind-Portley (@Lit_Liverbird)
It is not often in schools that you get people who ask the question ‘why?’ Why are we doing this? For what purpose are we doing it? Who is it actually going to benefit? In her talk, Mary demonstrated the power of being the ‘disruptive’ voice within a school, empowering people to question, validly, why senior leadership teams (and others) ask so much of teaching staff, without considering why they are actually doing it. The word ‘disruptive’ itself was discussed, looking at the negative impact such a word can have on a member of teaching staff who is looking out for themselves, and who is brave enough to raise the issues and push back against inappropriate and irrelevant workload, pedagogy and indeed behaviour from the powers above.
A really good start to the day, accompanied by Amanda Spielman, chief HMI doing PowerPoint slide duties!
2. How I approach Curriulum Design – a “Box Set” approach – Neil Almond (@Mr_AlmondEd)
I first met Neil at #BrewEdLeics, and was fascinated by his curriculum discussion both in person and online, so this for me was an obvious choice of talk to attend. Although on slide duty myself, the talk (as a summary of a longer, more detailed look into curriculum design) gave me much to think about in terms of my current practise of lesson and knowledge progression across all subjects. The idea of a “box set” approach is so simple, yet so perfect for educational progression that it just makes sense. And before anyone pipes up with ideas of it being a “fad” or potentially flawed, Neil backs everything that he says up with well informed research. The trends towards dropping rates of attainment are concerning, and the “box set” approach sets out clear progression potential for EVERY SUBJECT in the curriculum – you just need to be careful with your planning. Start at the end, make it a good final episode, then lay the foundations of how to get there.
3. How to use pupil voice to improve wellbeing – Iro Konstantinou & Jonnie Noakes (@IroKonstantinou)
Iro Konstantinou and Jonnie Noakes are from Eton College, and delivered an interesting look into how they run regular research programmes with the boys in their care. The key point from this talk was all about involving the pupils in the research, affording them a voice in choosing (within reason) their curriculum direction, amongst other things. A large part of the talk then looked at how wellbeing through pupil voice is improving, because campaigns and techniques are being suggested by the students themselves, rather than being imposed by somebody else who is simply reeling off poorly informed research and “faddy” ideas.
4. How I avoided becoming research mis-informed – Tom Rattle (@mrrattle)
In the age of social media, it is very easy to have a quick read of something, take it onboard in your classroom, then assume that you’re being “research informed”. However, as Tom pointed out, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are not research! In his talk, Tom gave 5 clear points about how we should be looking further as teachers into the validity of data and research presented to us. Reflection was a key word in the talk, asking us as professionals to consider other opinions, to try to avoid confirmation bias, and look for evidence that potential points to an opposite of what we may have initially thought. If any numbers are given to you, interrogate them. Don’t just look at higher numbers and think “that must be better, I’ll do that,” because the data may not be massively reliable. A very thought provoking talk, and one which I will definitely pay more attention to when reading online about “the next big thing.”
5. What I do about kids who don’t want to know – Mark Goodwin (@MarkGoodwin8)
Mark Goodwin kicked off my afternoon with a brilliantly simple talk, but one filled with actionable advice and personal evidence. He spoke frankly about the difficulties of working with permanently excluded children and young people, and how the simplest of things can have the biggest of impacts; the cookie jar. Mark reminded us that we should always be looking for the small achievements made by the children in our classes, and keep a record of them in a jar, or a list, or something simple that reminds us that our children are achieving. He made the case for not giving up on any child, because everyone can be taught, and helped, and brought into the mainstream (if desired) through patience and faith. One of the key messages I took from Mark’s talk was “think of the work from the eyes of your most difficult/disengaged child. How does it look to them?” How does the worksheet, or the textbook, look to the child that doesn’t want to know? What can we do to make it more appealing, or accessible to them?
6. How I bounced back from a career failure – Kristian Shanks (@HistoryKss)
Kristian gave a very frank, open and honest talk about his career, how it had fallen apart at one point, and how he brought it back to a point of enjoying the job once more. I’m sure his story isn’t an exception (I know it isn’t, because I myself have left a job with nothing to go to through sheer exhaustion and lack of support), but the manner in which he delivered the talk was inspiring! He was honest about his shortcomings, about the mistakes he made, and about how he potentially aimed too high too soon, and found himself way beyond his experience to deal with the job he was in. It was great for me to know that there are others out there like me that have experienced difficulty in their career, yet found a school that has allowed them to thrive and find their love for a subject once more.
7. Why mental health comes first: a personal journey from headship and back – Laura Masson (@lmeducational)
My final talk of the day was a difficult one to listen to, but my word it was brilliant. Laura gave a beautifully heartfelt and brave talk about how her mental health deteriorated through continued and excessive working as a headteacher to help to improve a school. After months of extremely long days and taking on task after task after task, and having been told by the LA that the school was good, Ofsted gave a satisfactory outcome. Laura’s frankness about how this was so hurtful and damaging was difficult to listen to, but it needed to be said and taken on board. She shared the personal difficulties she faced, and how she has come to turn herself around through a range of health and wellbeing strategies. There were many tears, and I feel it was a fitting way to finish a day where “reflection” has been at the forefront of all the talks I visited.
This year, like last, was a fascinating, thought provoking and inspirational year. Everyone who I got to hear spoke with passion and knowledge about their topics, and gave me plenty to take back to my own practise. It was also a great opportunity to catch up in person with many of the people that I have the privilege of calling my #EduTwitter friends.