What are we really teaching our kids?
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to regular readers and Twitter correspondents that I am a keen advocate for both developing a research informed approach to teaching, and building a knowledge-rich curriculum. These two things have become dominant strands in the discourse of #EduTwitter and the Tweacher Society as it manifests online, through conferences, and in related publications. However, I have become increasingly aware of some gaps in this discourse around the pastoral work of schools and teachers. I have spoken about this at a few ResearchED events now, and have written about it in a previous blog post. I plan to write a series of blog posts in which I develop further my thinking about the pastoral aspects of our work. In this blog post, I’d like to think about the messages that we give children outside of the academic curriculum, and to encourage fellow teachers, Heads of Year, and pastoral leaders to think a little more deliberately about them.
I’m sitting in a Year 10 assembly as a form tutor. The Head of Year (HoY) is leading the assembly. It’s something about doing extraordinary things. Or something. The HoY is showing a video that she has found on YouTube. It is a montage of people doing amazing things: there’s someone doing stunts on a bicycle; there’s someone doing Parkour; there’s someone conducting huge jumps over a ravine. And there’s someone jumping onto a moving car.
It’s difficult for me to conceptualise now, several years later, what message this particular HoY hoped her Year 10 students would get from this montage of clips. Beside from the utter stupidity of the content, I’d also problematise the essence of the message. The notion of being extraordinary is dangerous territory: most of us are not, and never will be, world record holders, top ranking sports stars, olympians or inventors of paradigm shifting machines. Most of us are not going to do things that are going to be recorded in history books. And presenting such characters as role models can be quite damaging for some students, harming their self-esteem.
I guess what this HoY wanted to do was something around aspiration, and of course, I’m not against aspiration. But I think we need to be very careful about what kinds of aspiration we suggest to students and the kinds of activities that we promote and celebrate.
The Hidden Curriculum
Children and young people learn far more in schools than what we have written on our lesson plan. There are infinitely complex social networks that they must learn to navigate, between each other and the adults. There are unwritten rules about which teacher has what expectations. There are myriad unwritten rules about which kids are at the top of the hierarchy and those who dwell in the mud at the bottom. And, ultimately, there are the unplanned learning episodes that we as teachers transmit to students. The social mores, the expected behaviours, the allowed digressions.
Many of the artefacts of the hidden curriculum are manifested in those moments where we could so easily ameliorate the problems. Assemblies are an obvious example. I wonder how many schools have a curriculum plan for their assemblies.
Towards a Knowledge Rich Pastoral Curriculum
In my school its easy: we have the Book of Common Prayer to guide us through! Of course, assemblies are but one element of a cohesive knowledge rich curriculum. Other elements are built around PSHE, SMSC, Character Education, Ethical Leadership and so on. Some schools are doing great work on these strands, with dedicated lessons for, say, PSHE. But I wonder how many schools have actually scoped out their offer in the same way that they might for academic subjects. I have seen roadmaps shared on Twitter – lovely graphical displays of a department’s very long-term plans from Y7 to Y11. I’ve yet to see one for the pastoral.
In fact, despite some Twitter accounts and hashtags devoted to the pastoral, I rarely see discussions about pastoral curriculum.
So I would urge you to think carefully about the pastoral knowledge you might want your students to acquire. Plan it out. Unhide it.