Friday, 21 November 2014

Deliberating on deliberate practice

There is quite a lot written by others more qualified than I about students doing deliberate practise in order to learn or perfect a skill, however I've been thinking recently about deliberate practice, which is different...

Whatever you do, do it deliberately
It can become all too easy to drift along and do things because it's always been done that way, you think it's what's expected, or even because that's what the policy says. The problem comes when we forget why we're doing something, and just do it without thinking, without questioning.

Any one size fits all approach or policy risks losing sight of 'why' when deployed at an individual teacher, class or lesson level. Bloom's might be exactly the right approach to setting objectives for a particular lesson, but probably not ALL lessons. Interactive, active learning might be right at times, traditional chalk and talk might be right at others. I could go on with these...

What I'm getting at is that as professional teachers we should actively seek out as wide a range of methods and techniques for teaching as we can for all aspects of practice. We then need to use our professional judgement to select from this range, and to choose the right thing to do based on the needs of the class in front of us, and on a knowledge of our own skills and limitations. To do something because someone else has told us to do it (yes even if SLT have told us, or if it's what we believe the dreaded Ofsted will expect) is to abdicate our professional responsibilities.

Don't get me wrong, schools do need to have policies to act as guidelines (not straight jackets) and to set out minimum expectations. Similarly teachers of all levels should be able to offer suggestions to others at all levels. However we need to use these suggestions and guidelines as a starting point for a professional decision, not the end point; it can sometimes be right to ignore advice.

As a professional I would hope that a teacher both feels able in themselves, and feels empowered by their leadership, to take a deliberate decision about how to approach a lesson or other aspect of teaching. Actively choosing methods for differentiation, style of delivery, types of activities, etc. is vital. Choose because you believe as a professional that it's the right thing to do based on your knowledge of the class. When you take that decision then be willing to defend it if questioned, and be willing to acknowledge if your decision wasn't quite right. Reflecting and improving is part of taking responsibility as a professional too.

Basically teaching practice should be a conscious, deliberate act. Decisions need to be taken actively rather than received passively, and improvements actively sought.

If you're a school leader then ask yourself if you are empowering your teams to take professional decisions or giving them rules to follow? If someone deviates from policy do you start by asking them why they took that decision or by insisting they return to the policy? Have you questioned whether the policy is any good in the first place, is it possible that their way was better at that time and in that context?

This can even extend to demeanour around school, or in personal lives. Do you give off a frosty persona? Is that deliberate? Do you actively choose to be positive in your outlook? Is that deliberate?

I believe at times we all need to stop and consider if our practice is deliberate? At home, at school, as a leader, as a teacher, as a whole school, a department, at class or lesson level... are decisions taken for the right reasons?

Is your practice deliberate?

All thoughts welcome as always...

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