Last year, we, as a department, arrived at some words that encapsulated what we then called 'values' - responsibility, attentiveness, receptivity - that we think would be beneficial for students and teachers to exhibit in the classroom.
I have reflected further on what we might mean by the word responsibility, and think attentiveness and receptivity are part of what might be termed a caring relation. I also think these 'values' might better be described as 'ways of being'.
This year we have started by focussing on using John Mason's Discipline of Noticing to research our own practice more systematically. We started by each identifying something we would like to improve. I am working on something I call 'skimming over', which is about trying to ensure I don't neglect any of the students I teach.
We are now attempting to set ourselves to notice and record (make accounts of) significant events. This is easier said than done, as it takes energy and skill to be able to record events accurately, especially in the complexity of the classroom, or when one is tired.
We have started to share our accounts in department meetings, which has been interesting.
Personally, I have made just over 100 accounts so far - personal reflections, observations and conversations, things I have read - and have started to identify some common themes:
- An awareness of responses and reactions: a need to recognise the role of emotions, likes/dislikes, impulses, desires, habits, energies, ...
- Improved quality of conversation through being more attentive/present, waiting, listening, whilst considering the situational obstacles to intimacy
- An awareness of the possible benefits of stillness, slowness, quietness, softness...
These all seem connected with each other, with skimming over (and relations, more generally), and with the 'ways of being' we identified last year.
Perhaps the most notable change to my teaching practice has been a 'softening'. I have more conversations with students and colleagues, I listen more carefully to what they are saying. This informs the way I structure lessons, with less teaching from the front, preferring instead to move more systematically around the class in order to have more intimate conversations. When I do teach from the front, I try to speak more slowly and more softly, thinking deliberately about what I really want to communicate, and how.
I am currently exploring inviting students to meet the demands being made of them, rather than threatening with sanctions. More generally, I try to remember to consider the possibility that students 'might not yet have the ability for a better quality of response'.
Perhaps this phrase needs more explanation. Suppose a student has not accepted the invitation to complete some work. I might previously have given a sanction, threatened a sanction, or reprimanded the student in some way. My response instead might be to have a conversation with that student in which I adopt a stance of listening-confirmation. It may transpire that there are valid reasons for not completing the work. I might feel the need to make explicit what might have been implicit, to explain what is being demand of them, to educate an awareness of a better quality of response.
I have a strong sense, through conversations and observations, that this approach is leading the students and I towards a better quality of response to the demands being made of us; we are becoming more responsible to ourselves and each other.
The next steps as a department are for us to continue making and sharing accounts, and to identify those accounts which are relevant to our personal theme - or are perhaps common between us, and the ways of being we identified last year - with a view to improving our practice.