I feel so privileged that a large part of my job involves seeing lots of lessons. I make a big point of it. Seeing teaching in action is something that can often get missed. There is always something else to do - isn't there? I made commitment to myself that in my new role, I would see at least two 'learning experiences' per week. So far I have kept to it and my knowledge, understanding and leadership have all benefited as a result. Not to mention it has accelerated the spreading of good practice no end. We all know we should do it, leaders and teachers alike. Yet, it is the thing that seems to slip of the radar. Probably because we know it is always around us. We know that teaching and learning goes on throughout the academic year. In my 2nd blog, I added up the number of hours in a week. Well now it's time to add up the learning hours in a typical academic year! Let us assume a medium size secondary school will have approximately 30 hours of teaching on at any time. In a day that totals to 150 hours; in a week 750 hours. By the time exams are coming around in May around 20,000 hours of teaching and learning have taken place. Now I don't know about you, but that sounds like a rather larger number. For me, going to see two learning experiences per week isn't enough, but it is a start.
I deliberately use the term 'learning experience'. I will walk into a classroom and wait for a learning experience to take place. When the experience has finished or is drawing to a close I leave. The time I stay will range from between five to fifteen minutes. During this time, I may ask learners questions - but only if I feel that it will not intrude in the learning process. I rarely speak to the teacher, other than saying, "hello" and "thank you". This is because I have entered what I believe educationally is a sacred environment. I am there as a guest should be as passive and discrete as possible. I do this for many reasons. The main one being that I want to see learning as it actually happens. I want teachers to be confident in their practices and not change one iota of their methods as a result of me entering. Likewise with the learners. I want them to be at ease, in as normal a state as possible. I have found this approach to work really well in breaking down any barriers concerning judgement. I am not judging teaching and learning when I walk into a classroom (outside of formal observations). I am simply looking at learning experiences and in particular the structure of these learning experiences. I consider...
How has the choice architecture been designed to enable learners and teachers to make the best decisions for themselves and others?
It's not revolutionary. It is perhaps just paying more attention to structure than content. For me, if we can unpack the structures of what makes great learning experiences, we can begin to understand them. If we can understand them, we can share them. Great teaching and learning is not a magic formula. You don't need to have some form 'x factor' to create great teaching. On the contrary, consistently great teaching and learning happens because of the processes and structures that underpin it.
Make the time
I'm currently reading The Power of Doing Less which I referred to in my 2nd blog. Fergus O'Connell gets you to think about what is really important. The issue is that if we are working sixty to eighty hour weeks - we are slogging along. Slogging and efficiency seldom go hand in hand. I must admit, I am struggling with the doing less part! But I do calendar in at the start of every week, the two learning experiences I am going to see. I also make sure that I calendar in time to write up what I have seen. Teaching and learning is so rich, there is so much to learn. So much to share. Whether you are are new to teaching or have been teaching for twenty years; whether you are a new or seasoned leader, make the time to see what really matters. The learning experiences in your institution.