Principal’s Blog – Principle 4: Lifelong Apprenticeship

One of the wonderful things about working for the Great Schools Trust is that a number of teachers who I worked with in the first years of my career still work for the Trust. There are about 5 teachers at King’s Hawthornes who I worked with in my placement school (St Wilfrid’s) from 2009-2012. Each one of these teacher’s had a profound effect on the early stages of my teaching journey and shaped the teacher I was to become. I trained through an in-school training programme so I relied heavily on observing other teachers every free moment I had during my first year of teaching.

Every time I saw another practitioner I picked up strategies and tips to bring back to my own classroom. I remember watching in awe Mr Jones, a Spanish teacher’s lesson, at how calm and purposeful the first 10 mins of the lesson were. My lessons at the time were chaotic, to put it mildly. I learnt the power of specific modelling from watching Ms Mullany’s English lessons, whereas my lessons at the time were a muddled collection of activities. Each observation led directly to a change in my own practice as I tried to hone my craft.

At the end of the year I had my final sign-off and was awarded QTS. I thought that I was done, I had learnt all there was to know about how to be a teacher. Then in a conversation in the autumn I sat down for a chat with Mr Gaul, an Assistant Head and now the Head of King’s Leadership Academy Hawthores. He referred to teaching as a ‘30 year apprenticeship’, where each day in every lesson we teach or observe, every CPD we attend we are becoming a better educator – although it must be said progress is not always linear.

With these words ringing in my ear I strove to look for small ways to improve my practice each and every day. I tried to engage in as many conversations about pedagogy and education as possible – often with Mr Gaul himself. However, for a few years afterwards I felt my practice did not improve at the same rate it had during my trainee year. This was largely due to the fact that I no longer observed other teachers as often in-school observations are only done by SLT.

In setting up King’s I knew the power of the observation cycle (Observe, Be Observed, Talk About It) to drive improvement in the classroom. I wanted to create a culture where staff at all levels were regularly observing each other and engaging in conversations about pedagogy. Two years later I can see this culture is striving and am empowered when I hear staff having these chats in formal and informal ways throughout the school day.

Alongside this observation cycle is the need for regular self-reflection, asking ourselves questions each day such as; How successful was the learning today? How could I have explained that concept better? How will I embed that learning in future lessons? etc.

There is no such thing as a perfect teacher or a perfect lesson but that does not, or should not, stop us from aspiring to that. Whether that’s through self-reflection or working with our peers we owe it to our students to always be looking for ways to improve our practices and hone our craft. The race will never end but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run it!