My last Blogs of the Week piece for Schools Week wasn’t used, but since it contains some great writing, I’m posting it here.  I’ve also included my ‘Blogger of the Year’ and a brief personal note…

Blogs of the month

More of a ‘long read for the summer holidays’ than a blog of the week, Amanda Ripley’s piece on the ‘Upwardly Mobile Barista’ reviews the first year of a dramatic commitment in the USA by Starbucks: to fund college (read: university) tuition for all its employees.  Ripley covers the approach of the CEO, Howard Schultz, who was the first in his family to attend university, and his partnership with Michael Crow, of Arizona State University, both of whom were “tired of waiting for Congress, colleges, and the other formal institutions of change to, well, change.”  But as the article proceeds, it takes on a series of new directions I had not anticipated, central among them the issue that “the barriers the central challenge for most Americans in the 21st century is not going; it’s finishing.  So Ripley explores the barriers to enrolment and continuation – the obvious, like money and loans and those which surprised me, like the hassle of collating transcripts.  She weaves the stories of individuals who have participated in the scheme into her tale, like Mary Hamm, who initially “thought about which of her young employees she could persuade to enrol. But then it dawned on her that this opportunity was meant for her, too.”  As someone with a degree of suspicion about the role of large corporations in social justice movements, and greater scepticism still about outsourcing in universities, this article not only fascinated me, it also forced me to rethink my own prejudices.

Neerav Kingsland founded New Schools for New Orleans, an organisation that has had a dramatic impact on the city’s rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina.  In this post he reflects on his career, offering advice for ambitious nineteen year olds who wish to work in education.  He mentions the importance of studying subjects other than education in depth, of taking ‘small bets’ by creating a new course at school, an app or volunteering and goes on to consider how those bets can grow into more dramatic and significant life choices.  A piece aimed – in name at least – at nineteen year olds may seem to offer little to Schools Week’s readers – most of whom have passed at least his first and second career choices.  Nonetheless, I found it an interesting perspective and a good prompt to reflect on my own career, and those of friends and colleagues.

The Education Endowment Foundation recently released the results of a number of trials – “But as with every batch, not every approach worked.”  This is neither a slur on the organisation nor an existential threat: given that it was specifically designed to help us better understand what does work, learning that some things don’t is helpful.  In this useful post, Robbie Coleman and Peter Henderson explain what surprises them about this finding, offer some possible explanations, and say what the EEF will do next.  The authors explain that two robust studies of peer tutoring failed to find an impact on those students who experienced it.  They consider whether changes in ‘business as usual’, issues with implementation or the variety of methods chosen affected the results.  Overall, this is an encouraging glimpse behind the scenes at the EEF when studies provide unexpected answers.

“I would like you all, as a class, to imagine that you are all grown adults”, begins Calamity Teacher, “and, as we have told you that you all can, you have achieved all of your dreams.”  The fictional audience at this assembly are invited to imagine the start of their day; “You’ve left your lovely house, perhaps it’s in the suburbs, maybe it contains a wife, or a husband, or two cats and a dog. Maybe it’s up a private track behind a set of ornate gates or maybe it is high up at the penthouse of a skyscraper.”  On each student’s way to work, they stop for a coffee.  “So you, living your perfect life, amongst other people living out the dreams we’ve told you that you can all work hard and have, walk up to the till to buy a coffee and my question to you is: Who is serving you that coffee?”  A powerful question when considering how schools are preparing students for their futures – fleshed out by Calamity Teacher in her own way – and one which might well be put to students.

Blogger of the year

This choice was not difficult.  Toby French, aka @mrhistoire, began blogging on Staffrm around a year ago, and it has been fantastic to see him ‘graduate’ to his own blog and then enter a prolific burst of writing to complete the year.  His posts are invariably thoughtful meditations on his classroom, combining a deep understanding of research and philosophy around teaching with his own highly individual perspective upon them.  A pair of recent posts illustrate this well: French turns orthodoxy on his heads, first writing ‘In Defence of Card Sorts’ then asking whether questioning is ‘yet another cult?’  Yet neither article is polemical: each is robust, thoughtful and rooted in deep reflection on his own teaching and what works for his students.  For an alternative and unusual post his science fiction around the training of ‘Taurans’ inspired by Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War was an intriguing and unusual treatment of some of the orthodoxies of teacher training to which he objects.  French moves to a new school in September – I hope the move goes well, and that he continues his blog there.

My fellow reviewers’ choices don’t appear to be up on the Schools Week site yet, but Jill Berry chose Helena Marsh, Andrew Old chose David Didau, and Emma Ann Hardy chose Bansi Kara.

On a personal note

I haven’t blogged for quite a while, although I’ve scribbled a number of ideas into half-finished posts in that time.  I’ve had less to say, I’ve been writing about great teaching elsewhere, and my life has been spectacularly full (almost exclusively of things for which I’m grateful).  I don’t post over the holidays, but I may have some more writing up my sleeve for September.

Have a great summer.

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