#CharacterEd2018

On the 12th May, 2018, my school is hosting #CharacterED2018, with keynote speakers Nicky Morgan, Sean Harford, Elizabeth Wright, and Martin Robinson.

I look at that sentence not quite able to believe that it’s true. What began as a silly idea dreamt up while I was mooching around last year’s ResearchEDRugby event is now just a few weeks away; and it’s real.

With help, support, and encouragement from my friend, colleague, and co-organiser @joanneowens, we have brought this thing to life. Our little Cathedral School is about to host what we hope to be the first of many such conferences, forming part of an important national debate about the nature of Character Education, whether it can be taught or if it’s caught, and how schools might go about embedding it.

Character Education is back on the agenda (did it ever go away?), with Damian Hinds talking about traits like “resilience”. However, I’m uneasy with talk of “soft skills” and preparing children for the “workplace”, as I’ve discussed before and I don’t want discussion around Character Education to get hijacked by these kinds of reductionist, utilitarian discourses. Rather, I’d like to embrace what Gert Biesta explores and describes as subjectification in his description of the three aspects of educational purpose, and what @bernywern discusses in his comments about educational fideism.

I’d like to reclaim the phrase 21st Century Skills, and wrench it from the hands of those who would seek to sell us technological snake-oil, or condemn our children to a lifelong job training scheme. I wish to redefine it as being-centred education – how to be in the 21st Century.

For me, Character Education is an act of what Foucault calls the “critical ontology of ourselves” and which he describes as a “philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them”.

Character Education, then, is not some vague notion of “soft skills”, nor is it anything to do with preparing for the workplace. Rather, it is the training of individuals to become subjects, it is a deliberate philosophical life, an ongoing experiment with the possibility of going beyond the limits imposed upon us.

Character Education is not just about individuals though. It is about society. It is about focusing on, celebrating, and nurturing those attributes which so many of our young people already demonstrate. It aligns, I think, with ideas around a post-critical pedagogy, taking a “positive stance”.

I’m quite exciting about our conference. Why not join us?

Link to Eventbrite page for #CharacterED2018

 

Character Education in the 21st Century

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP – Author of Taught Not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character;
    former Secretary of State for Education (2014-2016).
  • Sean Harford – Ofsted’s National Director, Education.
  • Elizabeth Wright – Paralympic Medalist, schools speaker and character education expert; co-author of Character Toolkit for Teachers: 100+ Classroom and Whole School Character Education Activities for 5-11 Year Olds.
  • Martin Robinson – Author of Trivium 21c; Education and Curriculum consultant with an interest in the Liberal Arts (especially grammar, dialectic and rhetoric).

Additional sessions from:

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Sonnet 2 – Education

I’ve been looking at some of my old stuff, and came across this sonnet which I wrote in 2009. It’s interesting to look back at stuff one wrote ages ago to see if it still rings true. This does, to an extent.  It’s not very good.

Anyway. Here it is.

 

The fatal kiss of targets blows upon
The wind like whispers heard in darkened rooms
The measurements become our only truth
Imagination murdered in the womb
And who would dare to question how and why?
For fear of fateful consequence to come
And judgement is that numbers are the key
For raising the attainment of just some
It’s more to justify the jobs of those
Pathetic parliamentary whores of hell
Who prostitute our children’s future dreams
And have no souls their own that they could sell
There is a secret hanging in the air
It’s only known by those who really care

Hearty Musings 3: Four Years On

This year, Valentine’s Day marks 4 years since I experienced a cardiac arrest. I wrote about some of my thoughts and feelings about this experience and how it affecting my thinking about education in two posts here and here. It’s interesting looking back on that second one, where I contemplated ideas about the Self before I’d read Foucault’s Self Writing. The ideas I was contemplating at the time around identity and an almost deliberate act of identity construction seem now almost ironic, perhaps.

Four years on, how have things developed? How have I developed?

Well, in general, it’s been a pretty good four years. Professionally, I finally decided to get out of the state sector and have found myself in the rather odd position of being happy at work. I’ve taken a promotion, and actually seem to be doing okay at it. I seem more able to deal with things, and to get things done.

Personally, I have been thrilled and humbled to speak at three ResearchED events and getting more involved in the Tweacher Society. This has been great. I’ve met lots of amazing teachers and others who have inspired me and given me confidence; far too many to mention all of them here, but I have developed a strong network of people that I genuinely consider friends. I’ve had some positive reactions to my EdD work, which have encouraged me to continue and I am hoping to finally finish this year.

My family continue to amaze me every day; my daughters are just wonderful.

But, and it’s pretty difficult to find the right words for this, I do still occasionally feel as if I’m piloting a cadaver. This sensation was the dominant one for about a year following the cardiac arrest; a sense of disconnect from the world that was unlike anything I’d previously felt. I was a zombie, rather like the version of Lazarus that Carol Ann Duffy portrays; a fraudulent ghost inhabiting a stolen body and a stolen life.

The obvious damage to my short-term memory didn’t help, and although I’ve gotten used to this, it still causes issues for me at times. People don’t seem to realise that this is a genuine issue; they think I’m just not paying attention. Which may be true. I really struggle with conversations at times still.

It’s timely that this anniversary – my sort of rebirthday – falls upon Ash Wednesday. Lent is supposed to be a reflective time; a time during which we refocus on the things which are important to us. But, whilst reflection is important, it is important also to look ahead. There is not much use in mourning a version of me that I’ve long forgotten.

And so, with Lent in mind, I shall choose to give up the doubts that tempt me to hesitate and procrastinate. It’s time to inhabit this body, this life, and to pilot the phoenix.

#CharacterEducation and #SelfWriting

I’ve been tweeting a bit lately about Character Education and what I’m calling Being-Centred Education. In my mind, these are merging with ideas that I’m formulating around Foucault’s Self Writing. So I guess it’s time for me to try and put some of these thoughts together and put them out there for correspondence.

During the course of my doctoral research into EduTwitter, I’ve been reading a bit of Foucault. I’ve been drawn, though, not to his big theme stuff on things like power or Panopticism, but rather towards some of his lesser-known ideas. I shall write more about these once I’ve completed my thesis, but the one that has really caught my imagination is a little essay he wrote titled Self Writing. I don’t intend to give a detailed exploration of that essay here, but I will endeavour to give a summary (I managed to do a three minute summary at #TMBrownhills with which I was reasonably pleased!).

IMG_1665

Foucault looks to two concepts from the Greco-Roman past: the hupomnemata and correspondence. The former is what Foucault describes as an “experience book”:

“a material record of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading and meditation” (Foucault, 1997, p.210),

Through this activity, these snippets are incorporated into the subject’s Self. This act of consuming the already-said and representing it enables the material to become part of the fabric of the subject’s being.

The second element, correspondence, is the act of offering up one’s writing to the critique of another. This creates a cycle of feedback and discussion which further develops the very being of the subject engaged in the process.

Foucault suggests that Self Writing exists somewhere between and outside of these two elements. A combination of the experience book and correspondence with a critical other.

For me, it seems quite obvious that engaging in EduTwitter is itself an act of Self Writing and I’d encourage more teachers to do it! Furthermore, I think that blogging is an ultimate expression of this kind of Self formation and re-formation.

I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Birmingham’s Philosophy of Education conference Thinking About Teaching in October 2017 where I was inspired by Gert Biesta as he spoke about his conception of the Three Domains of Educational Purpose. Biesta (Biesta, 2015b, 2015a, 2007) points out that schools generally tend to be pretty good at qualification and socialisation; they are perhaps not so good at subjectification:

“which has to do with the ways in which education ‘impacts’ on the personhood of the child or student, promoting such qualities as, for example, autonomy, criticality, independence, compassion, or grown-upness” (Biesta, 2015b).

This is what I mean by Being-Centred Education: a deliberate focus on how to be in the world, inspired by Biesta but also by other ideas about what education – or more precisely, schooling – should be for. I’m a keen advocate for improving the effectiveness of classroom teaching in order to help pupils gain good exam grades; I have been attempting to incorporate what I’ve learnt (so far!) about Cognitive Load Theory into my own pedagogical practices. However, it concerns me if schools have too heavy a focus on these aspects.

My current school has a strong ethos that I would argue sits within Biesta’s domain of subjectification. As a result, I believe that our pupils hold excellent attitudes towards their communities and towards society in general, and that they develop a strong sense of ethical leadership as they go out into the world.

For me, this is the essence of Character Education – Education with a clear moral purpose to help children and young people to grow in their knowledge about themselves and their place in the world and, bit by bit, to change the world for the better.

But it isn’t only our pupils who should be encouraged to reflect upon their own sense of Self and how they wish to nurture and cultivate it. For me, this is the best way to shape effective staff development. Teachers, and school leaders, should be encouraged to actively and continually reflect on their own practice. They should be encouraged, also, to expose themselves to the gaze and critique of others; not through the patently redundant and fruitless trauma of top-down, high-stakes lesson observations, but through a carefully considered narrative account of themselves as teacher.

So, get your colleagues to sign up to Twitter. Get them to blog. And, most importantly, Tweet like you’re Foucault.

References

Biesta, G. (2007) WHY ‘‘ WHAT WORKS ’’ WON ’ T WORK : EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE AND THE DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT IN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH that teaching should be or become an evidence-based profession has recently come tional research that were commissioned by the Department for Ed. Educational Theory, 57 (1): 1–22

Biesta, G. (2015a) Improving education through research? From effectiveness, causality and technology to purpose, complexity and culture. Policy Futures in Education, 14 (2): 194–210

Biesta, G. (2015b) Teaching, Teacher Education, and the Humanities: Reconsidering Education as a Geisteswissenschaft. Educational Theory, 65 (6): 665–679

Foucault, M. (1997) “Self Writing.” In Rabinow, P. (ed.) Ethics, subjectivity and truth. The essential works of Foucault, 1954–1984. Volume 1. New York: The New Press. pp. 207–222

 

(not) Action Research

I had the great pleasure of attending the SSAT National Conference in Manchester (#SSATNC17), which provided a rich mixed-bag of speakers, including the ever-brilliant Paul Kirschner, and the utterly inspiring Professor Phil Scraton who spoke about his work uncovering the lie about the Hillsborough Disaster.

In addition to the main stage speakers, there were a wide range of breakout sessions; my favourite of the conference being Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison) talking about the great work he and his team at Durrington have been doing to develop a research-informed culture of practice.

One session I was particularly looking forward to was on Action Research. I have long believed that Action Research is a potentially powerful tool for teachers and school leaders to bring about small but radical changes in practice. But I have been frustrated, really, with the poor reputation that Action Research seems to have with some amongst the education community.

So, as I sat in the session on Action Research, I couldn’t help find myself a little saddened, and beginning to understand why AR has such a poor reputation. The projects which the session leaders were discussing were perfectly reasonable and clearly had the potential to improve, for example, staff wellbeing. But I became increasingly curious as to what bit of this was actually AR. Having teachers conduct investigative projects and engaging in reflective practice is, on the whole, a Good Thing as far as I’m concerned – but why not call it something like Research Informed Reflective Practice, or just Reflective Practice? Why use the monicker Action Research?

As Professor Stephen Gorard (@sgorard) tells us in his book Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences (2013), much of what is called Action Research bears little resemblance to what was initially conceived by Lewin, originator of the term Action Research, who called for scientific rigour. According to Gorard:

Unfortunately, other commentators have used Lewin’s title of ‘action research’ to describe their own approaches, which are nothing like this. They eschew the robust science called for by Lewin, and take on only the idea of participatory reflective progressive problem solving. (p154)

So, I asked Gorard what he thought about teachers going Action Research, to which he gave this response:

Looking through the #ActionResearch hashtag on Twitter reveals quite a range of ideas and projects, some of which actually look quite interesting. But very few seem to be in the original, Lewin, mould of AR. Furthermore, I think it would actually be pretty difficult for teachers to engage properly in AR. Lewin said that AR “will have to include laboratory and field experiments in social change” (cited in Gorard, 2013, p.153). It is conceivable that, if working with researchers in universities, teachers could participate in elements of AR but, quite frankly, we do not have the resources at our disposal to actually run proper AR projects. At the very least, teachers do not have full access to journal libraries in order to conduct proper literature reviews; neither do we have adequate research design and methods training to conduct this type of work. I wish we had, and hope that this will become the norm at some point in the future. But as things stand, teachers simply cannot engage in proper AR.

I wonder if the term Action Research is being applied to not-actually-action-research projects in the hope of giving it a sense of academic rigour, or purposefulness, to add weight to what they are doing. Sadly, in my view, it has the opposite outcome – it can look like teachers play-acting at being academics, and we really don’t need to do this.

I think what these teachers are doing is, in the main, pretty good: engaging in an informed process of deliberate reflective practice, trialling interventions and strategies with their own pupils and colleagues, and assessing the effectiveness. I would urge more teachers and school leaders to foster a culture where this becomes standard practice. I would encourage teachers to take up their digital quills and write reflective blogs – to engage in Self Writing.

But let’s not call it Action Research. Let’s call it what it is: Reflective Practice, or Research Informed Problem Solving. Or teaching.

 

 

References

Gorard, S. (2013) Research Design: Creating Robust Approaches for the Social Sciences London: Sage

 

What is a Tweacher?

In this blog post, I attempt to summarise a section of my EdD thesis which explores the ways in which participants in #EduTwitter and members of the Tweacher Society construct an identity in their exchanges online. This exploration is viewed through a Foucauldian lens, taking as a theoretical framework Foucault’s What is an Author (Foucault, 1991).

Foucault essentially presents the author function as being a separate entity to the subject behind it. For example, our cultural representation of the author figure of Shakespeare has been constructed over the centuries such that it may or may not hold very much resemblance to the subject – the man who penned the plays and sonnets. Furthermore, how might our perception of the author be affected by a new discovery?

For example, should we discover that Shakespeare was not born in the house with which he is associated, it might alter our understanding of the life of the man, but it would not change the nature of our relationship with the text of Hamlet. “But if we proved that Shakespeare did not write those sonnets which pass for his, that would constitute a significant change and affect the manner in which the author’s name functions” (Foucault, 1991, p.106). The words would remain the same, the iambic pentameter would be intact, and a quatrain would still be a quatrain. But our relationship with the Statement would be fundamentally altered. And what if we were to learn that Shakespeare had actually written a work which we had previously ascribed to a different author? How might our relationship with that work be affected?

And what if the writer uses a pseudonym? In what way then do we related to the author and is this different from how we might relate to the subject behind it? It is easy enough to point to examples in literature and popular culture where pseudonyms are employed for different reasons, from George Eliot to Mark Twain; from Vic Reeves to Keith Lemon. To what extent is our relationship to the what-said affected by our conception of the who-said? Does the quality a ‘debut’ detective novel suddenly improve when we learn that it is written by J.K. Rowling? Or is its quality diminished by a perceived association with ‘children’s books’?

This plays out daily on #EduTwitter, where the what-said is overshadowed by responses that focus upon, or are influenced by feelings towards, the who-said. There are a number of high profile tweachers who, it seems, are likely to receive negative or hostile responses purely because of who they are and not because of what they have said. Perhaps I’ve been guilty of such responses myself. Perhaps there’s a certain inevitability about this. My own animosity towards certain national newspapers is likely to taint my personal reaction to anything they may publish. Similarly, anything that Gove says is likely to upset people just because it is Gove saying it. So there is nothing new or surprising about this, perhaps.

On #EduTwitter, we see some figures who quite deliberately and consciously construct a presentation of Self which, perhaps, they wish to market. Those with a consultancy to promote, or a book to sell. There is, of course, nothing wrong in this per se.

But I think to some extent we all do this, whether consciously or not. We all play games of identity construction and identity presentation on Twitter. And it is possible to have some fun with those games. Equally, it is possible to make a deliberate effort to shape the Self, through the articulation of ideas, views or beliefs, or through the questioning and interrogation of the ideas, views or beliefs of others; the interrogation of Statements. And, through our use of Twitter, to open up that Self in turn for interrogation bringing about the constant feedback loop to enable on-going formation and re-formation of the Self.

 

Reference

Foucault, M. (1991) “What Is an Author?” In Rabinow, P. (ed.) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought. [online]. New York: Penguin. pp. 101–120. Available from: https://monoskop.org/images/f/f6/Rabinow_Paul_ed_The_Foucault_Reader_1984.pdf