Sunday, September 21, 2008

A pleasant surprise

Friday 19 September 2008. my sense of gloom at the thought of the training day ahead only increased once I was on the Central Line, headed towards High Street Kensington. Don't get me wrong: I love London: I am definitely with Doc Johnson on that one. It's just the getting there that can be pretty horrible. Sweaty bodies, all pressed together. Hmm, I suppose put like that it would sound quite attractive to some people; let's not go there.


It wasn't just the journey, though. It was the thought of what awaited me. The training was to learn more about delivering training to teachers in respect of the new Diplomas. Run by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust on behalf of the Government, the day would, I assume, follow the standard pattern for all such training. In other words, it would:

  • Take place underground, with no natural daylight or fresh air.
  • Consist of several PowerPoint presentations, each comprising too many slides with too many bullet points on each one, and all delivered by people who think that the best, or indeed the only, way to learn anything new is to have it handed to you on a plate. A bit like painting-by-numbers, only not quite as creative.

    (OK, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh: a lot of the materials are first class, and the people involved tend to be both passionate and knowledgeable. But you know what I mean, don't you?)
  • Be punctuated halfway through by a buffet lunch consisting mainly of sandwiches, samosas and fruit. Nothing wrong with sandwiches, samosas and fruit, of course, but sometimes a bit of imagination -- indeed, a bit of luxury -- would not go amiss.

I could not have been more wrong. The training took place in a ground level, well-ventilated room with oodles of natural daylight. Lunch was a sit-down affair. Not table service, apart from the first course and the post-prandial coffee, but I'm not bothered about that sort of thing anyway. The food was delicious: too much, so, in fact, making it possible to be sensible only by a supreme effort of will.
The training itself was made more enjoyable by two factors. First, I knew four of the people there, and two of them were on my table. Secondly, and of more consequence, the training actually required us to evaluate and help modify the materials and approach we were being trained in.
It was not quite as self-referential as that sounds: changes in the materials and even the sequencing of them have to go through several million committees and "stakeholders" (a word I loathe, but apt in this context). But at least we got to discuss it and talk about how to make it work better, and fleshing it out with examples we could relate to. We were, in short, being treated as professional educators rather than salespeople required to learn by rote a script that someone else had written. In fairness, the kind of training that teachers have become used to is not quite as bad as that -- but I don't think it's much better.
This approach reflects the underlying philosophy of the Diploma itself which could, if only schools will see it, be the vehicle by which creativity will return to the classroom and teaching will once again become completely enjoyable -- because I think what we've lost in the past ten years is the maverick teacher, or even the odd maverick lesson, as everything seems to be driven by targets, timetables and tests.

So the day was a good one. All of which merriment leaves the question: how much writing was I able to get done? Answer: none, unless you count the few more squiggles I made in my squared notebook. But I did get plenty of time on the journey to reflect on the folly of making a really good pitch to a publisher when you don't have the time to follow it through. That's right: I had an itch for a pitch, so I scratched, last Thursday. I had a response the same day, telling my idea was interesting and asking for more details. More details? I wasn't expecting a reply so soon! Oh well, that's another day that the clearing out I promised to do will have to wait. I'm heartbroken.Tongue out

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