The second day of the Festival of Education saw equal amounts of sunshine and political debate given that Boris (finally) resigned so there was a real buzz about the place. I managed to fit in sessions on classroom practice, social mobility, coaching and the BAMEed strand, so there was no rest for the wicked…
Nicholas Hopton (@RisbyDuck0): Going On A Bear Hunt – Making Desirable Difficulties Desirable
After being in the bigger venues yesterday I wanted to start today with some pedagogy. The Maths and MFL Departments have a very different feel, as sessions are usually by teachers and about what they do in the classroom. The title of this one caught my eye, and it didn’t disappoint. Nicholas is Head of English at Bedford School, and in terms of being well versed on current pedagogical thinking he certainly knows his stuff. This session (as the title suggests) was about Robert and Elizabeth Bjork’s work on desirable difficulties and how we make that happen during lessons.
In Nicholas’ approach, lesson planning is structured around the Bear Hunt story with balancing classroom challenges (rivers, mud, forests and caves) with scaffolds (walking sticks, pathways and maps). Of course, when faced with an obstacle, pupils can’t go around it/over it/under it but have to go through it. It’s about creating obstacles that pupils can, with effort and just enough support, overcome. Nicholas also threw in some Ron Berger (feedback should be “kind, specific and actionable”), and I loved what he does every summer with his pupils. They write spy fiction, and afterwards the pupils publish their work and have a book launch. Overall, a very good session with a lot of practical advice that was grounded in the best of current thinking.
Hashi Mohamed (@hm_hashi): Adventures in Social Mobility
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Hashi since we both went on a Remembering Srebrenica delegation to Bosnia several years ago. Since then he has become one of Britain’s most important voices on social mobility and race (you can hear more about his own story via his BBC Radio 4 documentary series and his book).
Hashi is the 8th of 12 children, born in Kenya to Somali parents. His mother was illiterate and his father was killed in a car crash. He came to the UK in 1993 at the age of 9, and couldn’t speak a word of English. He then went on to Oxford University and qualified as a barrister. If you think this is going to be an inspiring story of how hard work and grit leads to success, think again. Hashi is a critic of the concept of social mobility (both absolute and relative mobility) and argues that his story is the exception, not the rule.
Hashi was keen to stress the importance of early years education.
“I really strongly believe that this period can make a huge difference in someone’s life. No period of life is as important as the first four years. It’s when the basic structures of your brain are established. They set the course for your life.”
When it comes to inherited poverty, he warns that “deprivation begins in the womb.”
Much like David Olusoga yesterday, Hashi is not a fan of “meaningless slogans and phrases” (what David called ‘deepisms’). Teachers tell children that ‘work hard and you can achieve anything.’ He was scathing about Michaela Community School (which is five minutes from where he lives).
“Children should not be robots who walk silently in corridors. That school would not have worked for me, as a traumatised child. I promise you now that that environment would not and could not have brought out the best in me.”
He was clear that we have to grasp the reality that the problems we face in society are far more profound than teachers can deal with. Yet despite this, teachers and parents will still be left to deal with the consequences of what happened over the past two years; sadly, we cannot rely on the current government to deal with that legacy.
Another interesting contention he set out was this:
“Data does not show a direct link between education and social mobility. It isn’t there. It isn’t the determining factor. Education gets you to the starting line of a race. You then have to run it.”
He talks about some young people benefiting from a life that goes “From quad to quad to quad. You run from one manicured lawn to another. It is a life that is both straight and square.” For his own part, he broke into this by luck as much as anything else:
“I know that I have been lucky. Luck is an important factor to consider. Bad luck is easy to see, you can’t miss it. Good luck is something we often think is not actually luck, but something created by us.”
It was a fantastic session with many important provocations, making it a natural successor to David Olusoga’s talk the day before.
There was a significant strand on coaching and some of the key individuals in UK and international education were at the forefront of this, such as Rachel Lofthouse from CollectivED and Jim Knight. I didn’t manage to see them but did catch Chris Munro and Christian van Nieuwerburgh from Growth Coaching International doing a session which was really a live demonstration and analysis of the process involved in coaching. Christian asked for an audience volunteer, who happened to be a lecturer from Oxford University, and they went through a coaching discussion (she asked for assistance with how to be a better coach). Chris paused every so often to analyse the method with the audience. It worked very effectively and they referred to the GROWTH model, which Chris was keen to point out is not linear, but can be done in any order.
I had a really good discussion with Chris afterwards (somehow he and I have managed to miss each other despite his long period of lecturing at the University of Aberdeen). I’m really interested in where coaching sits in terms of reflective practice, as my next book will be on that theme. He gave me a lot to consider and links to go away and read, so that was a big help. This is why the festival is so good; you can approach any of the speakers and ask them for advice and guidance.
BAMEed (@BAMEedNetwork) Mentoring and Coaching – Effective Development Support for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Educators
A really positive addition to the festival programme was a dedicated BAMEed strand, curated by Penny Rabiger (@Penny_Ten) (amongst others). Penny was in the audience and at one point reminded us that BAMEed was founded with both white and BAME educators on board, so that “it’s not a deficit model. We want to increase the racial literacy of white people who are in positions of power.” She also reminded us, when we hit the sensitive point of language and terminology, that “language is always dynamic and always inadequate.” For what my humble opinion is worth, we need many more people like Penny in education.
This was a lively panel chaired by Lizana Oberholzer (@LO_EduforAll), with Krupa Patel and Nazya Ghalib as the guests. The focus was on the network’s provision of pro bono coaching for three sessions, with continued support available thereafter. Contact can be made through the website and Lizana assigns the applicant a coach from the extensive and experienced BAMEed team. Krupa and Nazya gave a lot of insight into the way this works and what the experience has been like for them as coaches. Both are hugely experienced and I can imagine that anyone who has them for a coach is being really well supported.
The discussion became very open with frequent questions from the floor, and I asked if the coaches tend to experience normative issues with coachees, or was it more specific due to the constituency? The panellists agreed that they see much more in the way of coachees dealing with issues of race and barriers, such as lack of representation. That is predictably sad, but BAMEed is providing support that will be game-changing in the long term.
Mindful of the discussion I had yesterday with Sanum Khan (@Sanumjkhan) and Kamraan Khan (@Kamraan1984) (who I sat next to at this session and we picked up where we left off) about the level of diversity seen in the regular festival session audiences and the BAMEed strand, I have to say that was again the case here. It’s brilliant that the festival has this strand, and I doubt there is much the organisers can do about audience footfall, but it was a really interesting point that Sanum makes about running two different PL programmes. Further thinking is needed on that point, but I had a great conversation with Penny at the end that will hopefully lead to further progress on this point in terms of teacher recruitment. Watch this space.
Finally, if you haven’t already been persuaded to attend the festival in the future, consider the brilliant networking opportunities that it presents. I didn’t go to every single session because I spent so much time talking to people, many of whom I haven’t seen in a very long time. There are many areas where people can just sit and have some food, a coffee, or even a cocktail, and if you want to have a go at speaking then the outdoor ‘green room’ is amazing. I had a great lunch with Hashi Mohamed, Jim Heal, Sarah Donarski, Eva Hartell, Kim Kovacevic and others which was as good as going to any of the sessions. I strongly recommend putting in a pitch to be a speaker for 2023 via the website from September onwards.
That’s what makes this event so special; it genuinely is a festival rather than a conference, because the laid back approach, multiple stalls and activities, and sociable community it creates are wonderful. A huge thank you to Shane Mann (@shanermann) and his team (especially you, Adele Kilby!); you all did a great job. I’m delighted it’s back.