How to Apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

When I applied for the Google Teacher Academy back in 2010 I found Doug Belshaw’s post on the process really helpful. His 10 points helped me through my application and I would recommend following his advice (even if it is over four years old). The application form may have changed since then, but much of the advice remains the same.

There are some differences between 2010 and 2014. One of them is that three distinct roles are now described in the process:

  • outstanding educators
  • creative leaders
  • ambassadors for change.

If I were you, I would consider these three roles carefully. All teachers play these three roles – aspiring to educate their students to ever higher standards; to lead creatively in their classroom, subject area, department or school; to pioneer changes that will make an impact on society. The application is clear: you have to be explicit about how you play each of these roles and also be clear about which one you major in. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you do all three with equal ability and determination.

  1. Think distinctively about the best example of how you have acted in each of the roles described.
  2. Be specific about the impact you have had in each role upon students, peers and colleagues.
  3. Avoid being negative about the two roles that you are less strong in.

The next thing is the whole ‘moonshot thinking’ idea. Google are really into this. I’ve heard that their chief exec is said to have been wondering recently whether Google’s work could eventually eliminate unemployment. Whatever you think about the reality of this, you can’t argue that it is a complete ‘moonshot’.

So do that thinking for yourself  for your classroom, your school, the community where you teach… What would be the thing that would make it amazing? What would be the complete moonshot that most people would say “impossible” to? Imagine that no limits of finance, ability, technology, space are put on you – what could be achieved. And make it personal – what is the thing that really burns in your heart to benefit your students – if you can write that clearly in that section of the form, you’re onto a winner!

Finally, keep to the limits. Make sure you don’t go over any word limits on the form or the 1-minute time limit on the video. There are loads of ideas on the video on Youtube – because every GCT video ever made is publicly available on Youtube, including mine, which I’m still proud of because it is the top hit when you put in the three words “motivation”, “education” and “telekinesis”. Seriously, when I look back at it, I still can’t work out why they let me in…

If you didn’t see the link at the top, the application form can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1OJyeT-WBtLJUnqol4CF5GhqwsieXMUOv13ma1D83viY/viewform?c=0&w=1 and the deadline is next Monday 22nd September

Why you should apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

The Google Teacher Academy is coming up in London this October. I was lucky enough to be part of the first one in 2010. If you’re a teacher this is why I think you should apply for it:

  1. It’s amazing. No. It really is. I learned more in the first half hour on the Google Teacher Academy that at any other full day CPD event I have ever been to. And that was just the first half an hour on Google Search. When you add that to Drive, Classroom, Apps for Education and all the other stuff, you will come away with a huge list of amazing things to do in your classroom or school.
  2. The presenters are fantastic. You can learn loads about how to use Google tools (that are usually free*). You’ll learn stuff that you can take back and put into your classroom practice immediately and you’l feel inspired to do so.
  3. You’ll meet brilliant teachers. The other teachers there are as FAB as you – and you get to meet them and continue networks with them that will continue to inspire your practice for years to come. Some of the best things that have happened in my school have happened because other Google Certified Teachers helped me make them happen.
  4. You’ll meet Googlers. That’s the name for people who work for Google. It’s no accident that Google are one of the most successful companies in existence – their recruiters are the top guys on the planet and it means the people they bring in have brains the size of small moons. I know not everyone gets inspired by meeting really clever people, but if you do, the GTA is for you!
  5. You get a badge. You can put the badge virtually on your website or wear it at conferences. I find that really useful because it stops salespeople talking to me.
  6. It’s awesome. Yes – there will be some Americans there, and ‘awesome’ is their word. Get used to it. It’s OK – in fact it’s better than OK – its awesome. But apart from that, you’ll get a taste of what Google is like to work for – even that can inspire you to make changes in your classroom and school. If things get really good, you might even hear someone say, “just raw awesome”.

If you to apply, the application is here. You have until the end of next Monday (22nd September).

(* by ‘free’ I mean cost no money)

The Coverage Curriculum

The coverage curriculum is the one that has us all running scared.

It’s a bit like the ‘health and safety’ of the curricula world. You must know that moment when you’re losing an argument that you desperately want to win and so you say, “but… Health and Safety…” Suddenly your opponent’s arguments come crashing down as you play the ultimate trump card. Well, ‘Coverage’ is a bit like that.

The thing with the coverage curriculum is that it is what is generally defined by Government. It’s the thing that civil servants print in black and white and subsequently ministers approve. It is the bottom line – the statements that set the learning objectives for the coming year. It is the mother ship of medium term planning: a hive-mind structure with hordes of little alien fighters that dart out to inflict teaching upon unwary students.

And so the Coverage curriculum begins its life already feeling superior to the three other curricula – Standards, Preparation and Education-for-education’s sake. In fact, given an intergalactic battle, ‘Coverage’ probably thinks it can take all three of the others put together. But it is not that kind of fight. In fact it shouldn’t be a fight at all. If teachers are not weighing up the standards their children need to achieve, with the preparation they need for the next stage, alongside the things that they love teaching about, then coverage will just become a meaningless exercise in box-ticking. And coverage will just drift off into the stars, its once mighty engines slowly being overcome by entropy.

That is what happened to the old National Curriculum. As a coverage document it was set up to be enhanced by the other three curricula. But when it didn’t work initially, or quickly enough, government concluded that they needed more coverage – so they designed National Strategies and other initiatives. They sent out more paperwork, often in fancy plastic boxes, sometimes with videos or CD-ROMS included. Each of them accentuated the coverage. Now you could cover citizenship, and problem-solving, and safety, and, lots of other things… But a trick was missed. More coverage was not what was needed. It was not the big issue.

And it has been interesting over the last year also. A new curriculum has been introduced at the same time as new teacher standards, new ways of funding schools, new legislation for special educational needs, new legislation for paying teachers, new frameworks for inspecting schools (at least two of these)… the list goes on. And yet the new thing that has caused most conversation and concern amongst teachers has been the new (coverage) curriculum.

It is important, but it isn’t the most important thing. It is September 2014 and the new curriculum is already two weeks old. Anyone noticed any really significant changes yet?

The Education-for-Education’s-Sake Curriculum

The most esoteric of curricula, the most elusive and probably the hardest to define. Education for Education’s sake is a strange notion in a sharply pragmatic world. Imagine learning something just because you can… Imagine teaching something because you are interested in it…

This is the curriculum that (I think) drives most teachers. It is the idea that Education itself has its own value – it is worth something all by itself. Set against other curricula, it defies the notion that education has a purpose other than just becoming more educated – it’s not for work, or for standards, it’s not to prove anything or to achieve a goal – it just is. Education for its own sake.

For teachers this curriculum is highly motivating. Teachers released to teach what really interests them fly. PE specialists teach their children to dance, run, compete; musicians teach their pupils to play, hear and compose; artists teach their children to appreciate the aesthetic, whilst RE teachers teach students of the ascetic.

Blended with the other 3 curricula that I am writing about, these highly motivated teachers will enable students to make great academic progress, be prepared for their next stage of life and cover all the necessary objectives required by local and national bodies.

Myself I feel I grew up with a curriculum that majored on Education for Education’s Sake. There were no SATs in the 1970s, yet despite no standards agenda many of peers did really well at school. There were no web designers or mobile phone engineers back then either, yet, despite this lack of specific vocational preparation I have friends who have become both. There was no National Curriculum either – no coverage agenda.

Each teacher was different too. Each had their strengths and weaknesses, but I learned something from each of them. Was this because they were allowed to teach with an emphasis on what interested them? I’m not sure. And I’ve tried to be clear in my previous posts that none of these curricula can exist in isolation.

But I think there is a danger in some schools that we try to clone a particular teaching style, or even a particular teacher. A strength of our education system is not merely the autonomy of each school, but also the autonomy of each teacher – each teacher’s strengths can make a big difference to a student’s prospects – if we clone teaching than we deny students a richness and a breadth that we might otherwise have had.

Education does exist for its own sake. This curriculum is important to blend in with the others that I am writing about.

The Preparation Curriculum

I am making the argument that there are 4 curricula that drive the broad curriculum in schools. This is the second: preparation.

Preparation for the next stage; or for the work place. This is the preparation curriculum. Back in 1870, the first Education Act was driven through by industrialists who were fed up of the Church having all the action in the education business. They said they wanted to prepare children for the workplace, although some would argue that they wanted a share of the growing national pot of money assigned to education. What has changed?

In Early Years, teachers prepare children more formal school by teaching the children phonics and the beginnings of maths. In Key Stage One children are taught to read securely to prepare them to use reading across the curriculum in key Stage Two and to do increasing amounts of work without support. Each stage has its own challenges and the Preparation Curriculum has the task of providing the knowledge and skills to meet these challenges.

The Preparation Curriculum is sometimes at odds with the Standards Curriculum that I wrote about yesterday. For example, when children are boosted to perform at their absolute best In Key Stage 2 SATs and perhaps score a slightly higher mark in reading than they regularly work at, it can be misleading for the Year 7 teacher who then takes on that child in September. Similarly, the current National Curriculum level descriptors at level 2 are often accompanied by the phrase “with support”, yet during the assessment period for Year 2 children Level 2 assessments are accorded the same amount of support as level 3 assessments (and of course, there is no “with support” phrase with any Level 3 descriptors).

This means that schools that are doing their utmost to enable their students to achieve the best standards possible are not always preparing them for the next stage.

Of course, the ultimate preparation is for the ‘workplace’. The Preparation Curriculum would advocate practical and vocational lessons that give students the knowledge and skills for jobs in the real world. In DT, use this glue gun – you might be a carpenter. In Computing, learn this html – you might be a web designer. In science learn about Darwin – you might be a biologist. Some of these jobs will exist in the future, some of them won’t. The challenge of the Preparation Curriculum is to have the right lessons that will prepare children for the workplace.

An advantage of being mindful of the Preparation Curriculum is that it can mitigate against the gaming that I mentioned in the last post: if you are desperate to prepare your students for the next stage of their education or life, that you won’t let them cheat at tests. However, the Preparation Curriculum is predicated on knowing what the future holds and so it is limited by our prescient ability and the stability of our society.

 

The Standards Curriculum

I am making the argument that there are 4 curricula that drive the broad curriculum in schools. This is the first: standards.

The National Curriculum for September 2014 has provoked a lot of debate since its inception by the current government. What should be in it? What shouldn’t? How should geography be taught? Why change ICT to computing? And so on…

While this debate is purposeful, I believe the new Curriculum has and will have only a marginal impact on what is actually taught in schools. A far more significant impact is that of the Standards Curriculum. This is the curriculum to do with the standards that students reach in various subjects: in reading, writing and maths at the age of 11; in GCSE subjects at the age of 16; in ‘A’ level subjects at the age of 18.

It is the teach-to-the-test curriculum. The curriculum that grates on most teachers. We didn’t come into teaching for this, we say. And yet year after year, we prepare our children for the tests. We cram, we boost, we plan intervention groups. We ensure that our students perform at their absolute best in their assessments.

And with ever greater accountability structures for schools, the tests that drive the standards curriculum become less about what a student can do and more about what a school can get their student to do. There is the temptation, some would argue the tendency, to ‘game the system’ – to take steps that make the school look the best in tests, irrespective of the performance of their students. Some call this cheating.

No one would argue that raising standards for students is an important goal – all schools need a curriculum that does this. But a curriculum that only focuses on standards in tests is a frightening prospect. The question to be asked is how reliable are the standards? Have the students just crammed something for a test only to forget it the next week? Will that teaching stay with them for life? A standards curriculum relies on the performance of its students: if that performance has been over-supported by the school, then students may come out with grades that they cannot sustain and therefore don’t prepare them for the next stage.

However a curriculum that doesn’t focus on standards is also frightening. Imagine a primary school where the teaching of reading didn’t matter. Imagine a secondary school where academic ability was laughed at. We test students for a reason and that is reason is that academic standards are important. Students who are better readers and better mathematicians have more opportunities for themselves and more opportunities to make society a better place.

For me, the Standards Curriculum is the most important of the 4 curricula that make up a broad curriculum within a school. But the other 3 curricula are important too and need to be blended with standards to suit the needs of the school. The New National Curriculum is a useful starting point for standards, but in reality schools will be looking for what is in the tests that will be coming out from 2015 – these will be the driver for the Standards curriculum in the future, not the National Curriculum itself. Imagine the Year 4 teacher in 2016 looking at how to teach her class – will she mainly look at the National Curriculum or the tests she will have to administer at the end of the year? I suspect the latter.

I’m aiming to look at the Preparation Curriculum in my next post.

The 4 Curricula

What I like about the new UK Curriculum (the one that becomes statutory in September 2014) is that it’s a bottom line. It isn’t an aspirational curriculum like the old one used to be – it just provides the basics for what schools should cover. I think this is important, because it is the role of schools to encourage the aspirations of their pupils, rather than national government. How can a national government in a multi-cultural society encourage the aspirations of every student, given the huge range of backgrounds and expectations that exist? Schools are much better placed for this job, and within each school, each teacher using their amazing skills to educate their students.

I think the broad curriculum that a student is taught at each school is made up of 4 separate curricula:

  1. The Standards Curriculum
  2. The Preparation Curriculum
  3. The Education for Education’s Sake Curriculum
  4. The Coverage Curriculum

I would like to spend the next few posts exploring these curricula and unpicking my claim that schools with more autonomy are better for students than schools with less autonomy

School Visits and Avoiding Risk

I wrote on Wednesday some thoughts about taking children to London. On the general principle of taking children on visits, I’m asking: do we do it enough?

I had been amused a couple of weeks earlier by a good friend of mine who told me of a school visit that would probably make the papers these days. Some 25 years ago, his rather eccentric history teacher took his group to London, told the students when to meet him and proceeded to spend the rest of the day in the pub. Meanwhile, my friend wandered round London with a couple of others (including now-education minister Matthew Hancock) for the day, having a great time and learning loads. In fact my friend described it as being a formative – even inspiring – experience, but one that his mother was not best pleased about when she found out how the teacher had ‘managed’ the visit.

I’m sure many of us of a certain generation can remember teachers of that ilk: risk takers who liked to explode things, leave students unsupervised and drink heavily during the day. We may look back with a misty-eyed view of ‘that didn’t do me any harm‘ and wish for a return of the days when ‘risk assessment’ meant arriving somewhere and saying “oh, that’ll be alright.”

And I’m sure many of us in schools have attempted to plan a visit, only to become mired in unrealistic amounts of process and paperwork. Unfortunately a few, much-publicised fatalities on school visits have pushed many schools into reducing risk to zero and not taking children on visits at all.

These approaches do not benefit our children. Neither dangerous visits with absent teachers, nor risk-averse schools with absent visits will give children the inspiration, understanding and experience of the world that will really benefit them in future life.

I’ve tried to get round this by using the risk assessment process as the visit planning process also. Previously, the risk assessment was something you had to *do* after the visit was organised, not it’s just something that you plan for as you plan the trip, just as you would any other lesson. So alongside the hope for learning, you make a note of any likely risks and write down any necessary interventions to make to help students avoid the risks. This has helped me simplify the processes to a single one, saving time and also (I think) making a better visit.

Maybe it doesn’t sound quite as fun as spending the whole day in the pub, whilst the students wander around London, but it makes for a safer visit, keeping the inspiration for the students and keeping down the paperwork for the teacher.

Raising Standards with Technology

On Monday, when I wrote about Chromebooks being the ideal device for the UK classroom, I was hinting at wider issue about technology spending in education: wastage.

We waste a lot of money in UK schools on technology.

The EEF teacher toolkit is quite clear: spend your money on training teachers to give effective feedback. That is the best way to raise standards in your school.

You should purchase technology if it supports teachers giving effective feedback. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. If you have any spare money left over, then maybe, you can spend some money on technology.

Raising Standards with technology is easy:

  • dont spend too much of your money on it;
  • don’t be distracted by it;
  • don’t waste time with it;

We have great resources in our schools – they are called teachers – if they are helped significantly by technology then buy it for them, but don’t make technology a barrier to their teaching.

Taking children to That London

Looking through the Gates of Buckingham Palace

Looking through the Gates of Buckingham Palace

I love my home city: Birmingham.

But I love London too, and whenever I go there, I can’t help feeling just a little parochial. It’s a great privilege to be able to take children to London and something that I’ve enjoyed doing over many years. Back when the O2 Arena was known as the Millenium Dome, I brought children down to experience what all the fuss was about.

London is so amazing, that you don’t even have to go into anything. A tube pass is all you need and you can spend the day boggled by Buckingham Palace, awed by the Houses of Parliament and stunned by the Tower of London.

I brought 6 children to BETT this year and aside from the ideas they’’ll be taking back to school council for future technology spending, they really enjoyed the whole travelling to and being in London.

Some of the group had not been on a train before (Birmingham is a very spread out city by English standards: the car and the bus reign supreme), but by the time we had finished the day we had travelled on ten trains.

Some of the groups had not seen a Palace Guardsmen in real life before, nor Big Ben, nor walked down the Mall. We did all those things as well as our visit to the technology show known as BETT.

I would love to take a whole class to London every year, but finances and time do not allow. Wouldn’t it be great though if every child had that opportunity, so they could find out all about their capital city, see the building in real life that they only normally see on Doctor Who and walk the same streets of those who make the decisions that shape their lives.

Yet many children in Birmingham never even travel to Birmingham City Centre, let alone London – is this an issue schools should address?