The day didn’t start well at all… my train was delayed by 1.5 hours (yes, 1.5 whole hours!!!) which I spent worrying on the platform that I would be late! And it was freeeeeeeeeeeeeeezing cold too. I was wearing clothes for spring weather… silly me!!! I thought I was further South… anyway, at least my brain was operating… sort of, and I tried to find a solution… what could I do??? I was going to be observed that day and could see the time slipping away and be arrving late…
This is of course typical. Whenever you try to be super early and get ready for something special… something goes wrong! I am sure you all have experienced this.
Eureka! I contacted one of my students who has joined us on Twitter (I wish more had so that we could keep in touch easily!!!). After explaining briefly my situation, I asked her for help. I was so pleased that we did co-ordinate some prep activities remotely. Thank you so so much Liz!!! Twitter to the rescue!
I arrived just on time but with my huge granny wagon full of stuff. Unpacking and sorting everything out was a task I wanted to do much much earlier but now had to do in speed mode. There is a danger doing this, that I would forget things despite the fact that I actually had a checklist… frustrating!!! Very frustrating!!! Yes, I forgot to hang something on the wall, which I wanted to do, the intended learning outcomes… which was important but I forgot completely that I had this printout!!! Too late now.
On top of all this I was observed by Frances Bell, a dear colleague from the Business School. You know, when you want everything to be perfect and well orchestrated and you realise that it won’t happen? Well that is how I felt. Minute by minute my hopes disappeared on the frozen platform that morning. But then I started thinking. Is a peer observation really about perfection? Of course we want to show our best and do our best, but should we not be doing this all the time???? I think we should, so this problem actually helped me to improvise and sort out things on the spot. I had to think fast and be resourceful to problem solve, which I tried and did with the help of my student. It would be wonderful to find out how the student felt when I called her to the rescue. Perhaps she will read this and comment. I think, she will 😉
1. How did I feel?
I felt frustrated that I didn’t get there earlier. Frustrated that the trains didn’t run that morning. Happy that I did manage to contact one of my students. Very happy that she helped me remotely. At least Iknew that somebody would be there to start the session in time. This was very important for me and I am pleased that my student was so helpful. When the session started I relaxed and tried to get into the rhythm of the session that I had planned. It was hard because I was just not yet in tune and somehow, some parts of the session felt a bit disconnected for me. Our focus was planning a session – yes, what an irony!!!
I have to admit that I didn’t feel that nervous when Frances arrived and started filming too. Maybe because I know Frances, maybe because I felt that she would be constructive and would focus on how I could develop further as a teacher. I do believe that if we know the observer and have a good working relationship with this person, it does help the peer observation to be more useful, honest and constructive as it is not about performance but rather development. Frances made me feel relaxed and I could just be myself. Of course, it can’t be exactly the same as when I am just with my students but my students are teachers too so in effect I am un-officially peer observed all the time. My practice is under the microscope constantly 😉 This is something else, I would really like to investigate further and I think it would be a great project to do with one or two students of this cohort. I must find out who would be interested to explore this type or peer observation from the double student-teacher perspective.
2. What did I learn?
Connecting with our students outside the classroom can be very handy not just for supporting their learning but also supporting our teaching. I reached out to my students to help me in this difficult situation and it worked. For me that was a sign of partnership and shared ownership in teaching and learning and I think social media do allow us to create these links and strengthen them too. Social media are not one way channels. We support our network and our network supports us. It is a genuine camaraderie. I like that! Too often we focus on what can I get instead of focusing on what can I give! And we all can give so much! And should be more giving. It is wonderful to experience this.
Working in groups, sharing experiences is definitely effective. I tried to use the expertise of the group and enable them to lead parts of the session. I think that worked well. I learned that my students love sharing their experiences and feel comfortable in contributing in smaller groups. Some are quieter than others and I need to be careful and make sure that they also are able to fully participate. I would like a thinking classroom and create throughout opportunities for thinking, reflection, action through sharing but there also needs to be a quiet time for individual thinking and learning.
The session planning activity was also ok. Was it? I saw everybody engaging and contributing. Was this useful for my students? Some might say no. But I hope they will recognise the value of contextualising their sessions to a specific situation and more importantly to their students context. No longer is it about what we do, but how we do it. No longer is it about what the teacher does, but what the students are doing. No longer should teacher talk non-stop! Let the students lead! We need to learn to be silent as well and let our students drive learning and why not teaching too. We learn loads and loads through teaching! I always say: teaching is learning.
3. What would I do differently?
I think I was overly ambitious. I had too much stuff to go through with my students and while I make the stuff available in advance, I don’t really know how many look at the resources… My plan for change is to do less in class and provide opportunities to deepen our dialogue and conversation around specific issues students might have. So, thinking now already about week 5, as week 4 is our game ;), I decided to change the action learning set activity and turn into into a flipped classroom activity in preparation for week 5. So the wiki in Blackboard has been updated and I am going to warn my students next week what they need to do in preparation for our week 5 session. We are ready to edit wikipedia!!! PGCAP username and password now available too. This will be interesting, I think and I would like to capture their thoughts on this experience. So, the plan is also to invite them to reflect in their portfolios about week 5, before, during and after. But, I am already now running away with my thoughts from week 3… is this because I want to forget, or is this because I have processed my thoughts about week 3 and am ready to move on?
Snippets from my feedback conversation with Frances
Immediately after everybody left the classroom, we had a relaxed conversation about the observed part of the session. I was really interested to find out what Frances thought and was happy that she recognised that specific aspects of the session worked really well. I was pleased that she found that the introduction to the concept of constructive alignment through an activity worked really well and I would agree with this.
Constructive alignment when introduced on a slide disconnected from practice, completely de-contextualised can be tricky to understand. I have seen this happening in previous cohorts and students do struggle with this. However, I tried a different approach this time and I think it did work well as the theory was constructed through a practice-based activity. As constructive alignment is one of these fundamental concepts we need to crap as teachers to that we can truly make sense of teaching and learning and help our students to learn, this is a ……………… …………….. and I am leaving the blanks here, hoping that one of my students who will read this is able to recognise about what I am talking and fill the cap.
Frances also noted that I gave my students to differ and co-construct their own theory. However, she noticed that they were reluctant to do so. I feel that it is indeed very important to be critical of what we read and not think that what is in a book must be right! What is right and what is wrong? Is there such a thing? A book, a theory will focus on a specific perspective. We will add our perspective. Of course in order to crtique something, we need to be able to understand first (but what does understanding really mean????) but we also need to make sense of our own thoughts and feel that it is ok to disagree with something and somebody. This is what I am trying to achieve and perhaps it didn’t work. I will keep trying and I will try different approaches. I think in week 5 we will have an opportunity to critique learning theories and perhaps create our own personalised learning theory. I am going to give this a go.
It was also very interesting that Frances noticed that some of the students might have been tired and this is something my previous peer observer also noticed. The session lasts for 3 hours and a lot of action and interaction are happening. Are my students really tired? Well, they could be, as they are the ones doing all the hard work. But what can I do? I guess, I could shorten the session and make it last for 2 hours and the remaining hour, students could focus on working in a more organic way with their students. I am actually going to ask them if this is something they would like to trial.
Overall, I felt that Frances’ comments were contructive and very helpful. I am pleased she could make it and also recorded some snippets, which I need to watch again and identify if any of them could be useful for others. It still feels hard to watch myself teaching. I don’t like my voice, how I move etc. etc. but I am not going to repeat myself… these thoughts have all been captured in my previous observation.
Thank you Frances for making the time to observe me and your valuable feedback! A big thank you to my students who helped me in the early hours of Tuesday morning and put together a plan B and thank you of course to all my students who experimented with me during this session 😉
Ok, that is it for now. As mentioned before, all my sessions are open. If anybody would like to observe me teaching, get in touch and come along.
Next week it will be about creativity in learning and teaching. The concepts are introduced through playing a game that has elements of experiential and problem-based learning. Remember to bring your £3 spending money with you, ok? See you in Manchester City Centre on Tuesday at 9am. Can’t wait!