Last week I was accused of being a communist. I was quite surprised, firstly because this hasn’t happened to me for about 5 years (the last time was by a PGCE student of mine who now works for David Cameron, which probably explains it). The other reason was that I am that most annoying of political animals – the moderate. My lawyer’s training means that I try to look for the merits in both sides of an argument, and the wannabe philosopher in me tries to help me see that life is an exercise in moving from holding weaker to stronger misconceptions.
So, as I age I try not to hold positions if they’re not working. I shift. I try to take on board evidence and argument. I am frequently wrong. In fact I’m always wrong, I just try to be less wrong today than I was last week. Life has taught me many lessons, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Catholicism, Socialism, Comprehensive Education, Mixed ability teaching, Constructivism, setting, vigorous exercise, formative feedback, Hattie, low-fat diets, high-fat diets, Behaviourism, Growth Mind-set, PGCE, CPD, ICT ,Post-Structuralism, Polly Toynbee, Historicism, Elton, Butterfield, Hobsbawm, Cannadine, Michael Gove, Owen Jones, Brian Simon, all of them curates’ eggs.
This leads me to seek out the good parts, and it makes it hard for me to explain what my position is when people ask me ‘what kind of teacher are you?’, or when I’m told I’m progressive or traditional. I’m Pragmatic. I try to find out what will work in the situation that I am in. That doesn’t mean I’m a ‘what works’ teacher – I don’t think that you can say ‘what works’. I tend to seek new ideas, but I like to know what they’re based on, and I think to myself ‘will that work, where were are now?’.
I went to a research Ed conference last year, and the one talk that really stuck out for me was Dylan Wiliam’s presentation on why Teaching will never be an evidence based profession. I’m aware that in saying this, and yet being interested in Education Research (I got an MSc in Edu Research Methods) last year, I could be accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it. Research findings and evidence have their role to play in Teaching, but to paraphrase Wiliam, education researchers need to abandon “physics envy”, and instead find ways of “Working with teachers to make their findings applicable in contexts other than the context of data collection”, whilst at the same time recognising that the job of collecting and interpreting evidence about education is never-ending and will never produce definitive guides to ‘what works’.