Predictably, yesterday’s book launch at Michaela School has generated much more heat than light on the corner of the Twitterverse reserved for the educaterati. I have to admit that when Michaela first launched, I was extremely sceptical about its ideology and loath to accord it any credibility. However, gradually my views began to change. Seeing Jo Facer speak with authority about the Michaela take on teaching reading at ResearchEd Swindon last year prompted me to follow her blog and those of other Michaela teachers. And I liked what I read on a practical level, even when it conflicted with my views about how teaching ‘ought’ to be. I started to question to what extent I might inadvertently be practicing ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ to quote He Who Must Not Be Named. Obviously, I’m not ever going to go so far as to suggest that Gove had a point, but equally I started to feel that I couldn’t let ideology stand in the way of figuring out what works best for pupils.
Then, this year I read Reading Reconsidered. Here was Doug Lemov promoting a rigorous approach to close reading that resonated with me and looked very similar to the methods advocated by Michaela. I started cutting down the time spent on fancy powerpoints and putting it into planning detailed sequences questions on the texts we were studying in class. Group work features less in my lessons now and I question more deeply and thoroughly. The texts I choose for my pupils are more difficult – and richer in meaning – than before. Am I going over to the dark side? At least, I am going over to the idea that there is no dark side. When I saw the Tiger Teacher launch promoted on Twitter I signed up. Out of curiosity of course.
Because, here’s the thing. Like every teacher I know, I want the best for my pupils. If you believe (and anyone who saw the passionate conviction of the Michaela teachers yesterday couldn’t doubt for a moment) that Michaela really thinks that they are making a difference to the life chances of the pupils in their care, then why wouldn’t you want to find out what they are doing and how it works, and if it might just possibly work for your pupils too? Why would you allow your ideological convictions to get in the way of improving the outcomes of the children you educate on the basis of a couple of Twitter spats and some ill-informed comments? We are professionals after all; surely we want to weigh up the evidence before we come to judgement?
So here are my takeaways from yesterday. Yes, the behaviour system sounds extreme, but it is coming from a place of care and love – that was really clear. The philosophy behind it was well thought through and aims to give pupils the tools to grow emotionally as well as intellectually. Every teacher I met was passionate about social justice and positively evangelical about their mission to equip pupils to succeed and excel in the world beyond school.
It is early days, but I am willing to bet that come 2019 their GCSE results will be spectacular. And I will be delighted for them. Because, hopefully, as a result of what I learned yesterday, my own pupils will have benefited too.