Feeling isolated? Why not swap classes with a peer?

Never leaving their homes, these FE teachers swapped classes and passed on their expertise to new groups of students

Sam Jones and Stacey Salt

FE college teachers have been sharing teaching ideas online

Sam Jones and Stacey Salt work at colleges many miles apart – but the creation of online networks has allowed them to not only meet but share their practice and swap ideas. Here, they tell their story.

FE college teachers sharing ideas online

Sam Jones, a lecturer at Bedford College, says: 

Lockdown has created so many opportunities to share in FE. #FEResearchmeets have successfully moved online, new initiatives like JoyFE have opened up and communication via Zoom and Teams has meant that those people in faraway places now seem closer. Connecting and sharing with these people means connecting with their ideas, research and practices.

It is exploiting this opportunity that I wanted to write about. It is nothing new, or revolutionary, just one action taken in a moment in time.

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Just prior to Christmas, I was talking to my teacher education students about my own research into CPD and how lecturer choice was an important element of the development of the professional. We moved into a discussion about enhancing the groups’ curriculum with new ideas and I offered a few different ideas I could bring in. The class, quite rightly, said that if what I said about professionals choosing their own CPD was right, then they should choose. They asked if we could have keynotes from elsewhere in the sector.

So, I hopped on to Twitter to ask if anyone was willing to "swap and share". If they would come into my class to share their research or practice, then I would return the favour and speak to a group for them. I was so pleased when I got my first notification, then I got more and more and more.  

I now have over 10 individuals from within and outside the educational sphere talking about everything from thinking environments to mental health and apprenticeships to inspirational educators. One of them is Stacey Salt. 

Stacey Salt, an advanced practitioner at Oldham College, says

I saw Sam’s post on Twitter. Being part of the FE community allows moments like this to happen and I felt that I had something valuable to share with future teachers. As an advanced practitioner at Oldham College, I have had many opportunities to experiment with effective teaching techniques, both gained from CPD at my setting and CPD I conduct in my own time. I felt I wanted to share and pass my experiences and knowledge on further.

Teaching a vocational subject, I had battled with developing students' skills when understanding command verbs. Secondly, I have embedded the ideas around learning zone versus performance zone – a developed theory by Eduardo Briceno. These two areas, I felt, were intertwined and could help to develop specific skills and behaviours and underpin knowledge. When, and only when, skills, behaviour and knowledge are developed in the learning zone, then students can then complete assessment in the performance zone – a "double-decker" approach, as Geoff Petty discussed at a recent SET Conference.

Thinking back to my trainee teacher days, I never experienced this, nor did I receive insight about practical teaching, learning and assessment techniques. Seeing Sam’s post, I just knew I had to share my developing professional practice with others.

The ability to be able to share and develop has become easier as our digital literacy has developed. The set-up was straightforward – a couple of messages, a link to Teams and I arrived in Bedford. The quickest journey ever! The students were fab and I was totally in my element being able to share my experiences. More importantly, the fact that the students had been given choice and had put the idea forward for the swap and share is just encouraging; the trainee teachers had taken ownership, showing nothing but enthusiasm throughout the whole session.

Keeping it real

I kept it real, just like I would structure a lesson – learning outcomes, an activity, feedback…the lot. I am a practise-what-you-preach-to-teach person, so providing the practical experience was imperative. The session was CPD for both me and the trainees – they gained so much from it and so did I – I got to see what it is like to work with trainees who are just so hungry for knowledge, and it was brilliant.

Following the session, I have stayed in touch with Sam, and in the near future the swap will be completed. Sam will talk about research with me and my colleagues as we embark upon our journey to discover action research. The ability to be able to tweet about these experiences also led me to sharing at Ashton Sixth Form with trainee teachers and Jo Fletcher-Saxon, and in March, I am off to University Campus Oldham.

The swap and share enables everyone to gain something from both experiences. It is a movement that could change the sector for the better – a mutual agreement, growing communities, with FE voices echoing further and the building of trust and hope within the FE and HE sector – what a connection!

Sam Jones is a lecturer at Bedford College, founder of FE Research Meet and was FE Teacher of the Year at the Tes FE Awards 2019. Stacey Salt is an advanced practitioner at Oldham College

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