Lost on path to learning

14th April 2006 at 01:00
I vowed some time ago that I would always try to offer a positive voice during school in-service training days, to confront the usual knockers.

"Actually, I thought the guy from the advisory service made several new and incisive points... I think that your grandmother-sucking-eggs jibe does him and your grandmother's table manners a grave injustice... Well, I thought the role-play activity was a huge leap forward for us all... A man bored with PowerPoint presentations is bored with life."

It is more productive to adopt a smiling, enquiring demeanour on such days.

Sometimes, however, it's so hard it isn't fair. That was the case most recently, I'm afraid, when someone came to talk to us about a new nationally-funded initiative called Learning Walks. Never heard of it? Nor had I.

Learning Walks is intended as a new way for teachers to observe each other more effectively. If you thought classroom observation was simply a case of identifying a focus, asking for your lesson to be covered and then watching a colleague teach, think again, and get kitted out for your first "walk".

But you can't set off on your ramble willy-nilly. You need to find at least two others to walk with you. The "walkers" must hold several preliminary meetings, then walk into their targeted classroom, then "corridor de-brief", then have more meetings.

Team-planning is plainly vital. We were told how one team managed to agree that none of them would go into the classroom with clipboards. Instead, they would use pieces of card. Brilliant! And you can take off those hiking boots right now if a key aim of your observation is to absorb colleagues'

best ideas and so become a better teacher. That was explicitly ruled out.

It was emphasised that a Learning Walk was "not about improving our practice".

I already had a feeling that Learning Walks wasn't going to be a stroll in the park when I spotted the brochure. The cover displayed a verdant and somewhat symbolic picture of a path meandering through a dense forest.

Symbolic, too, that no one appeared to be venturing upon it.

Somehow the Learning Walks people have turned the valuable practice of classroom observation into something loaded with elaborate, costly and off-putting procedure and proscription.

Designed to encourage more observation, the programme had precisely the opposite effect on our audience. Nonetheless, I'm determined not to break the positive vow. So, if I don't appreciate the Walk, it probably means I'm holding the map upside-down.

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