Over the last couple of weeks in the National Forest Teaching School we set the trainees a task of writing a short 350+ word reflective blog on an area of their choice but closely aligned to their current emerging professional practice.
The initial vibe in the room was positive with lots of intrigued murmurs and whispers but soon the awareness and perhaps the opinion of another task to do entered the psyche of a proportion of the trainees. There were requests to cancel the task or to provide an extension for a range of reasons. However, it was a great moment that when the deadline passed the plethora of different blogs that were submitted.
Rightly so, well-being and workload is toward the top of the agendas of many Senior Leadership Teams in schools and of course is a key driver for many Initial Teacher Education providers too in recent years. However, we must appreciate that there is a fine line between a task that is and isn’t time consuming with little long term and sustainable change in practice.
At the National Forest Teaching School, we believe the key for long term sustainable changes in practice is the trinity of resilience, reflection and perspective and we encourage our trainees to approach their tasks with this trinity in mind. The blog piece was an excellent opportunity for the trainees to engage with the trinity of resilience, reflection and perspective and allowed them to explore a topic of their choice and as any good teacher would when reading these reflections, we were able to assess the trainees understanding of the wider roles of being a teacher and the level of their critical reflections.
A previous post from the National Forest Teaching School explored our vision of the mentoring, modelling and coaching paradigm and our expectations that the mentors and trainees may move interchangeably through the course of the year. Similar to the coaching model of lesson observation feedback, the blog piece challenged the trainees to think about their own practice and to put down on to paper, from their perspective, their reflections about an area they wish to explore.
As the Secondary Programme Lead I have overall responsibility for the progress of the trainees over the course of the year both in terms of their emerging professional practice but also their pastoral needs. However, what I found most useful about this blog piece was that for a short time (just 305+ words) I was invited into the trainee teacher’s world and able to see their perspective.
I inadvertently joked, to a rapturous outburst of laughter, with the cohort that I enjoyed the image of one trainee who wrote, “One evening, crying openly in a traffic jam, sat impotently next to the stack of marking on the passenger seat, and despairing of ever getting all of my lessons planned”. What I meant was that just for a minute I was invited into their world and understood from their perspective how they were feeling and the enormity of pride I felt when the trainee continued to explore how through her resilient approach, she tackled the situation and came through the process with a long term change in practice.
As a senior leader in the context of the Initial Teacher Education it is too easy to remain at that helicopter level, overseeing the development and holistic progress and descended every now and again to hold a meeting or conduct a lesson observation but we pride ourselves on being a personal provider of ITE. By threading the concept of trainee teacher reflection into all that we do we enable our mentors and the SCITT Team to understand the trainee’s perspective and can help to develop more efficient workload practices and help to develop the resilience so often required to be successful in a career in Education.
As a Geographer the image I have chosen for this blog piece speaks to me on several levels but if we place it into the context of resilience, reflection and perspective. The hard-resistant rock central to the image is the core strength we are encouraging out students to build up regardless of the expectations placed upon them from the demands of the teaching profession. The water running around (and over time eroding away the land away from the core) is the fluidity of the reflection required. Poor lessons will pass by, as will good ones but the ability to pick apart and build upon the strengths and developments without always relying on an external assessment or judgement is what will make the trainees appreciate the long-term changes to practice and only make that core strength stand out further. Finally, it is all about perspective. From one viewpoint we can see a potentially precarious rock formation formed over time by being open to all elements of erosion yet from the perspective of the specialist we see a solid, strong feature that can stand the test of the time and all that it may face.
So, when thinking about the tasks that trainee teachers are undertaking there may be merit in thinking about the trinity presented here. Does it encourage resilience? Are you developing critical reflection? Are you, as the mentor or coach, able to engage from their perspective?
When reviewing our school based tasks in light of reducing workload and demand for trainee teachers we believed that when those three key strands exist, the time spent undertaking the task or activity is purposeful and should lead to a long term and sustainable impact on practice.
Deputy Director at the National Forest Teaching School