It has been a week or two since my whirlwind visit to the UK. I managed to fit in a day of discovery at Clevedon School, followed by Teachmeet Clevedon and then a day at the City Academy in Easton, Bristol for Independent Thinking’s big day out. I had a gut feeling before hand that this would be my time to discover whether I was on the right track with my thinking over in little old Jersey or whether my thinking was 10 years or more out of date. I was also exceptionally apprehensive about meeting so many top tweachers and edu-gurus all in one place at one time. I really wanted to see what an outstanding school was like and whether I would find my holy grail of teaching nirvana. Not much to ask I thought. (High standards you see…)
After teaching a full day, I got the plane over to Bristol and with the help of my sick to the back teeth of everyone tweeting about my map on his timeline brother, picked up 3 A1 copies of the map to give to @ICTEvangelist, @fullonlearning as a small thank you for accommodating me at their school and one for @gwenelope to say, well thanks for being such a jolly awesome tweacher. After a good nights sleep, I set off for Clevedon from the other side of Bristol in the dark, thinking I’d get lost several times. 20 minutes later, I arrive at the school, full of hope, wonder and expectation to be greeted with… well nobody. I was early, very early. Most teachers at the school were clearly still in bed whilst I eyed up their 60’s build. SO…. This is what outstanding looks like. I rang Mark Anderson to see if he was out of the shower. No answer. I gave it another ten minutes or so and rang again. Finally, the overslept (but all the better for it) Head of Digital Learning pulled up in the car park. Even more dashing than his avatars and twice as jolly. We walked into the school and I got myself a badge on the way to the coffee machine. A proper full size Nespresso machine. SO THIS is what outstanding looks like I thought to myself… Proper coffee first thing would be on my marginal gains list of how to improve great teaching for sure.
After a brief chat and a few intros in the hallowed corridors, I was whisked into their house assembly. This was really impressive. I loved the fact that it was started by a student who reminded all about uniform and went through all the boring stuff on the bulletin with great confidence. The assembly itself was like many others I’m sure this term, highly influenced by our Olympic achievements. I was amazed at how long it was (not that it seemed to go on forever) which helped the message of how hard work brings reward in a more worthwhile manner than the usual 10 minute drop in. The students seemed to really take in the message. I certainly did, despite the speakers stinking cold.
I meandered back to Mr Anderson’s room for a longer chat about IPad’s, educational thinking and all that stuff. This was fantastic, but little I couldn’t have got from Twitter on an evening with the great @ICTEvangelist. He really does know his onions. What I was more interested was what made this school tick; Why are there quite so many great teachers in one school? Did the ethos of the school live and breath in every school corridor? Every conversation with a student? The atmosphere in the lessons? No pressure…
Mark seemed to know practically every student in the school, talking personally with many of them as we walked through the corridors. I love this. Never a ‘them and us situation’ with Mark. I had a tour of the school. There were some really impressive parts of the school; the new Science block, the DT facilities, but it was also clear that this was a school that could do with some serious bits of rebuilding too. There was a real sense of learning taking place wherever I went though. Students always seemed full of purpose and highly motivated. The discovery centre was a really interesting idea to allow students to work independently when teachers are away. Work projected on the wall and a huge bank of computers for students to use as they see fit.
I was getting the impression of a school which takes independent learning as a natural requirement of a student’s experience. That learning can happen with or without the teacher dictating the rate of progress. Outstanding? Quite possibly.
Ofsted were in that day, as well as teachmeet happening in the evening. Anywhere else I would expect panic, but here, the whole system seemed to manage this in it’s stride. Not sure if this was a swan moment or just a school who feels it can cope with whatever is thrown at it. Outstanding? Probably.
Mark took me over to Art, where I was going to see the buzz of Mrs Kelly Hawkins doing her thang or so I thought. 10 minutes later I was teaching a lesson to a lovely bunch of Year 7’s who are working on my Year 7 paint project. This I have to say was a very strange experience, to see how another school adapts to my thinking. I was so impressed with the starters and organisation of the class. They seemed so up for it and gave some great explanations about Van Gogh’s work. Further proof that this school is building students as highly capable, passionate learners.
The rest of the day was taken over by talking to some incredibly passionate teaching staff, who, like all of us are all on the journey to understanding what outstanding teaching and learning looks like. Throughout the day, I was constantly impressed with much of what I saw. A confident, happy and focused student body. A confident, happy and focused staff who were very accommodating to me.
Did I see what I was looking for? A curriculum, staff, student body and environment which fills every pore of the school with excitement and anticipation to learn? An environment which challenges, supports and enables the very best out of every person who walks through their doors in the mornings? Well…. prbobaly not. I saw some great things, spoke to some quite exceptional students and teachers, but it was a school, which like any worth their salt was on the quest. The never ending quest for enabling brilliance from everyone. Some sad people call this raising standards.
Possibly my most informative 30 minutes was spent with the learning spy himself, David Didau. Never have I come across a teacher who must fill his head with 30 things at the same time and still manage to hold a conversation, pick up litter in several classrooms, speak to each member of his department, fix the blind I broke, make me coffee, show me every room in the English department, speak to the caretaker about some suggestion boxes and convince him not to blow up his century box, speak on first name terms to every cleaner, stand in the corridor at the end of the school day and ask every student to do their top button up as they headed out the door. In the midst of all this, we spoke about project based learning and how we approach things differently. No wonder he managed to write a book, keep a blog, get a new job…. you get the idea.
What clicked whilst talking to David was that we are all on this journey, we are all approaching it differently, but we all have one thing in common; a shared desire to equip every student we teach with the skills and knowledge to be even better than they were yesterday. There is no special potion, no elixir which one can take for your school. Just good thinking, shared thinking, good understanding, common understanding and a lot of soul searching, failing and failing better to be the best school you can be.
Mr Anderson, Mark, ICT Evangelist or the chosen one as he likes to be called, deserves a medal for letting me traipse round his school on a day when OFSTED were in AND… far more importantly TEACHMEET was about to take place, bigger, better and braver than ever. It was an honour to see this outstanding school in action. Thanks all at Clevedon. You rock. Literally.
Teechmeet was another one of the seminal moments of any teacher who writes a blog from Jersey who doesn’t get out much, especially to schools in the UK. You know THOSE moments…
With all the pizazz of a 1970’s game show, Mark, pretty much single-handedly whipped up a frenzy of excitement not expected by several hundred jaded, end of term teachers into a pedagogical party the like of which I sincerely doubt I shall witness in my lifetime again. Speaker after speaker got up and spoke with great eloquence and passion about their own ideas to fill my brain with some truly outstanding cutting edge practise. ‘Twas an absolute joy to be there, not only to be so inspired with ideas, but to meet so many map members who were just so damn lovely.
My seminar was with El Quiff. Also known as @totallywired77 also known as Coles, Tait Coles. A more sharper Leeds/Bradford man have I ever met? A resounding NO. Great talk on Critique as the missing link in many a teacher’s toolkit. Brilliant, brilliant talk.
The night ended down the boozer, where I got to speak again to some truly awesome teachers. A long. long day, but so very worth it. Thanks to all the staff and students at Clevedon and thanks to all the speakers and thanks to the rest of you too. You know who you are.
As for the quest.. I now know that the quest belongs to everyone who work in schools who care deeply about what affects children’s education. And that the holy grail probably belongs in San Diego, High Tech High. International teechmeet anyone? I know a great presenter who could do an amazing job in a gold suit…….