The person who made no mistakes rarely made anything. So said someone, oft repeated, sometimes misquoted and usually known as Anon when those words are written on a PowerPoint slide, or in an ornate font alongside other similar gems on the wall of an upmarket drinking and dining establishment.
The meaning is clear: be brave. So what if you make a mistake? Embrace it. Learn from it. It’s a maxim we instil in the children we teach as we encourage the broadening of their horizons and the stretching of their comfort zones in support of their academic, social and emotional development.
Unfortunately, it’s not a maxim that we cherish quite as readily as teachers. The metaphorical pressure cooker of education can sometimes instil caution, or at an extreme level, downright fear, into our practice. Caution against making mistakes; fear of getting something wrong.
Of course, while there remain school leaders and systems which perpetuate such feelings, the profession is generally far more liberating than our own perfectionist tendencies or insecurities are sometimes willing to let on.
One of the great pleasures of working with and employing early career teachers, and indeed their more experienced courageous colleagues, is the opportunity to see fresh ideas, a willingness to try new things and yes – that courage – the acceptance that mistakes may be made, but also learnt from.
These teachers (and leaders) don’t just think outside the box – they occasionally jump out of the box and take their class or school with them. Just because something has ‘always been done that way’ doesn’t mean another way won’t work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the new way works either. Many in education will be able to think of methods or systems that haven’t changed in a school for years and years - not because they are highly effective but because nobody can be bothered to change them. This doesn’t mean that someone is being obstructive, nor does it necessarily mean that anybody thinks that ‘the way it is’ is any good - it’s just a result of at best everybody being too busy, at worse, an unconscious display of collective apathy.
But think of it like this… a new way may prove to be more effective. And if it’s not, there’s always the old way to fall-back on.
So courage is required, mainly because whether you are the recipient or instigator, many of us don’t like change. This blog post could have been given the title ‘change’ but courage is what makes change happen. Doing things differently requires change to take place, which usually means you, others or everyone has to have a change of mindset. This can be hard but it can also be very rewarding.
Unless you are brave enough to make changes to your practice, you risk your practice eventually becoming stagnant and, furthermore, you can quickly become so set in your ways that change becomes intolerable and a source of anxiety. Courage helps to avoid this. Seeking ways to change, to develop your practice will make you more accepting of change when (or if) it is forced upon you by, for example, school policy, Government policy or a global pandemic. The proactive, reflective and adaptive approach of trainee and early career teachers (and again, many of their more experienced colleagues) helps individuals to seek and discover solutions to problems that may not even yet exist.
And if you want to be sure you’re walking the right path, look into research. As a starter, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and The Chartered College of Teaching are both instrumental, in different ways, of developing ideas, using contemporary research and investigating the efficacy of a vast range of thinking in education. Invest a little of your time in seeing what they have to say.
And remember, you, the trainee, the teacher, the leader, are not the only one who is important in this. The pupils you teach deserve the opportunity to experience change, even when everything is going well. Change for the sake of it can be seen as a little pointless but even this can have its eureka moments. A change in approach in the classroom may or may not engage more pupils - you won’t necessarily know until you try but don’t be afraid to go for it. If something new doesn’t work, reflect on why this might be, discuss it with the pupils and with colleagues and consider additional changes which could make it more successful. If it fails, revert back to what you know, but you might be pleasantly surprised.
Innovation requires courage, perseverance requires courage and back-tracking requires courage too. We ask the children in our schools to have it, and we must make sure we have it ourselves.
Jon Goulding, KNSTE Personal Tutor.
Find out more about Jon’s background here: https://knste-shaw.org.uk/our-team/