Rise to new heights

10th September 2004 at 01:00
What makes some teachers stand out as inspirational? Gareth Mills looks at sharing ideas and good practice

We are often inspired by great performances. It might be Bryn Terfel singing "Don Giovanni" or Wayne Rooney slotting away a winning goal. As inspired and uplifted as we feel, however, few of us can go away and replicate the performance.

It is often the same with teaching. We can recognise why something is outstanding but we have to think more deeply about how we might build similar features into our own performance. Good practice is rarely developed exclusively by imitation. Some teachers inspire pupils by being engaging song and dance merchants, while others inspire through quiet listening and thoughtful challenge. One size does not fit all.

So how do we identify what we mean by "good" and how do we learn from the "best"?

I'd begin close to home, possibly in the classroom next to you. One of the most powerful school improvement initiatives I've witnessed took place in a school where teachers flung open their doors to each other. Every teacher took responsibility for monitoring one aspect of the curriculum and, on a rolling programme, visited each other to observe lessons. The headteacher saw the newly qualified teacher teach maths and the NQT saw the headteacher teach geography. Everyone had a monitoring role and lessons could be learned from the best and the worst of what was observed. What emerged was a powerful learning culture in which there was open and honest debate about what works and what doesn't It is also important not to underestimate the profound effect that can occur by adopting a very simple tactic. In their work on assessment, for example, Paul Black and Dylan William involve teachers as partners in action research. They describe the deep impact one teacher experienced by simply exploring the use of increasing the number of open-ended questions asked in lessons and allowing more time for thinking.

The teacher was effusive. "I tried it today and it works. I had fantastic responses from kids who barely spoke in classes all year. They all wanted to say something and the quality of the answers was brilliant." This approach acted more like planting a seed than providing a pre-ordained script. They argue that these action research approaches have the potential to grow deep roots.

Having first looked close to home it's worth looking further afield. Many organisations expend a lot of energy seeking out and promoting effective practice. At the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA), for example, we use our network of advisers, subject associations and practitioners to identify case studies that demonstrate the effective use of ICT in subject teaching. The case studies we have collected look at how ICT adds value to learning. These examples can be found on the National Curriculum in Action website at www.ncaction.org.uk. The case studies do not try to say "be like me", but "this worked for me". Individual teachers may need to adapt and customise the approach to suit their own context but they can be assured that the starting point is something that has worked for other practitioners.

Having talked about where to look it's useful to consider what to look for.

The view of e-learning embraced by enthusiasts is wide. It embraces any learning that is supported by ICT. This could be a pupil using a music package to create a composition or someone following an online course at home. Using the "e" to ask what extra value is being added through the use of ICT is a good starting point when identifying best practice.

I've visited two schools recently, both of which were using email. One school was delivering Unit 3E of the ICT scheme of work and pupils were emailing each other across a crowded room. They were developing basic skills but the communication was a little contrived. The second school used the same unit as a starting point but had begun to add extra value. Pupils emailed their parents with examples of good work and received feedback.

They emailed net-pals at a school in France, sent reports to the local council and sent examples of artwork to an online gallery. Email was integrated into practice and was genuinely enhancing the learning experience.

We can learn from the best, but best practice can also be something to do with planting a seed and growing your own. Be inspired by your heroes but look for the hero inside yourself as well. A word of caution, however, try to avoid ending up playing football like Bryn Terfil and singing like Wayne Rooney.

Gareth Mills is principal consultant for ICT at QCA


* Start close to home. There's a lesson to be learned in a classroom near you. Throw open the doors, overcome professional isolation and develop an action research group.

* Create the culture. The best developments are reciprocal. Work in partnership and learn together. Two heads really are better than one. Be open, be honest.

* Look beyond the school.

Getting involved in formal projects and plugging into national initiatives can provide a focus and an official label that can attract funding.

* Get connected. Case studies are available from all the major agencies.

Many areas, such as special needs, have active online communities sharing best practice.

* Action research.

In ICT new possibilities are emerging constantly. Begin some work exploring how e-learning can add something extra. Mighty oaks from small acorns grow.


* www.ncaction.org.uksubjectsictinother.htm

Case studies of effective ICT in subjects

* www.tes.co.ukictawards Becta ICT award winners

* www.dfes.gov.ukictinschoolsict_teaching Advice from DfES

* www.becta.org.ukcorporatedisplay.cfm?section =21amp;id=2403 ICT awards - how to take part and links to case studies

* www.schoolsnetwork. org.ukmain.asp?page=11 Specialist Schools Trust and advanced skills teachers

* www.nfer.ac.ukresearch papersAGMrudd2003.doc NFER research on developing practice through partnerships

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