So yesterday it was one of the biggest days in my teaching career - it wasn’t me starting my first job nor me waiting on a set of examination results; it was my chance to interview one of my education heroes, Ross Morrison McGill, aka Teacher Toolkit. As the most followed UK educator on Twitter with 200k+ followers and voted one of the 500 most influential people in Britain, you can probably understand why I was looking forward to it so much. It’s not everyday you get to chat to someone who is speaking with OfSTED one day, at the National Blog Awards another, and sandwiching that with a visit to the Global Education Forum in Dubai.
It all came about from my visit to BETT with my business partner, Dan Fitzpatrick. Ross had spoken in the keynotes but on the last day spent some time wandering around the exhibitions and tweeted (would he do anything else?!) a video that if we could find him at BETT he would give away a free signed copy of one of his books. That was enough for me so we hunted him down and managed to get one each. We then kept in contact and Ross kindly agreed to be interviewed on our podcast. So, nervously, we set up the connection and prepared what we would ask the man who I would vote in as Secretary of State for Education!
Ross gave a potted history of his career and how he developed Teacher Toolkit but what really stuck with me were two things:
The Power of Context
The Misconception of Assessment
1. The Power of Context
In Mark.Plan.Teach, Ross quotes Dylan William, the Professor of Education saying, “everything works somewhere but nothing works everywhere” to discuss the notion of context. Sometimes, teachers but more often senior leaders hear about a new initiative or methodology that is bringing success in one school or in one country and try to replicate it immediately in their school context. I used to laugh and joke with an ex-colleague that if you walked around the school building we worked in, you would see the remnants of tried (but not really tested) strategies (traffic lights, lollipop sticks, ActivExpression devices, Bloom’s Hats - actual caps, EBI wall, SOLE mats, PLCs and a whole heap of grids and checklists) in the form of posters and packed store cupboards.
Now, I am all for trying new stuff, as was Ross; in fact, I am categorically suggesting that new technologies are needed in the classroom. However, it is this notion of context that stuck with me - just because it is working somewhere doesn’t mean it will work for you. In Headstrong by Dame Sally Coates, she discusses this too but I certainly don’t want to copy many of her methods - silent corridors, military queues, rank ordering every student in a public forum - but the sentiment is the same: don’t try and make a method fit your context like the proverbial square peg. Instead, McGill & Coates argue, know the culture you are trying to build and currently have and then find your fit of strategies.
2. The Misconception of Assessment
Ross’ book isn’t called Assess.Plan.Teach because he says that isn’t as catchy (I tend to agree!) but by Mark, he is meaning a broader term than the tick/flick, green pen feedback on student work. Rather, he is discussing holistic assessment - gathering data on students and the school more than just from tests. He suggests that before any planning or teaching happens, we must know about our context and our kids - prior learning, entry level data, reading ages, pastoral and emotional awareness, social elements, the big picture of the curriculum - some of these aren’t easily measurable and Ross goes so far as to slam the current initiative of measuring a student’s mental health through a test rather than releasing teachers to understand their students. This notion of assessment really resonated with me and has made me think about the order in which I deliver information to students.
For the full interview with Ross and to listen to other episodes of our In The Studio podcast, as well as find all the shownotes like the one below, please visit www.theedutechproject.com/podcast, leave us a review and spread the word!
Also, don't forget to book onto The EduTech Summit on June 29th - early bird discount available until May 1st - only £50 for a full-day ticket!