Collegiality in a time of Challenge
When I last guest-blogged, I wrote about my NQT year experience of teaching, and some of the things that I’ve learned since, about engaging pupils.
Today I return back to that NQT year, but that’s really the end of this story.
The focus here is the lessons learned on my journey to building up to being that confident NQT. I don’t think I knew at the time that I had that inner confidence, but it does take a lot of confidence and inner strength to stand in front of your first set of year 11’s when you’ve come straight out of education, right back into education as a qualified teacher. I wanted to reflect upon what helped me to get ready for that gargantuan first year in classroom teaching.
The picture below was taken in the small town of Potsdam, upstate New York.
I studied here for my exchange during my undergraduate degree. The scheme allowed me to travel to the USA for this wonderful opportunity.
My Potsdam experience was a game changer. It was during this time that I learnt techniques of instrumental teaching for the first time, formally. We had to study a range of electives and although I was on a music performance course, one of my choices was the Woodwind Teaching Elective. In four months, we had to show ourselves able of firstly learning two instruments we had never before played (in my case, clarinet and saxophone), secondly of demonstrating a strong understanding of our own first study instrument, and thirdly having the ability to teach the technical basics of hand positions, posture, embouchure and playing technique on all three instruments, to another ‘student’.
I found myself positioned in a hugely supportive environment but under time pressure, pressure to impress my Professor enough to pass the elective, pressure to actually produce a good sound from these two new instruments, pressure to remember how to physically play the right notes on a range of instruments, as well as demonstrating expertise on my own instrument, the flute.
Having passed my electives and made what would become lifelong friends whilst soaking up a new culture, I returned to England after an amazing and life-changing experience abroad, purchased a sax and a second hand clarinet, signed up to teach instrumental lessons wherever I could and took on my own private pupils. Unbeknownst to me, this was the beginning of a long journey ahead of teaching.
The lessons that came from my Potsdam experience:
1. It takes time, focus, practice, bravery and a willingness to ask the difficult questions, to hone a skill.
2. I was more resilient than I had realised. I had to work under time pressure, with the right level of support, to meet some short deadlines during that 4 month period. I had to keep my expectation of myself high and go back and work some more when it wasn’t coming together.
3. I came back to the U.K. believing that I had the technical understanding, ability and authority to teach woodwind, because I had just done it successfully, in a short time frame.
4. I had the mindset of a winner because we worked as a team in Potsdam. If one failed we all failed. We worked through the programme as a team of peers.
5. The need for clarity of explanation was of paramount importance when teaching a new and unfamiliar instrument to someone else - the same concept is applicable in classroom teaching. This isn’t something I nailed in 4 months. I still work on this, daily.
6. You’re never the finished article in teaching - I’ve always been willing to learn something new. I’ve made mistakes along the way and have always valued the opportunity to reflect, adapt and refine.
One of my favourite books is In Pursuit of Excellence. Author, Terry Orlick identifies confidence as being one of the seven components in the wheel of excellence:
Confidence comes from committing yourself to do the preparation or quality work, talking to yourself in positive ways about what you have done and what you can do, drawing lessons from your experiences and acting on them, and remaining positive with yourself through the many challenges and struggles along the way. Confidence grows when you discover what focus works best for you and regularly call upon that focus. (Orlick, T. p8)
My time in Potsdam was shaped by a collective experience of succeeding together. When I link this to the role of classroom teaching, I see the importance of this collegiality for teachers to thrive and sometimes, just to survive.
Working through a pandemic is a unique experience. I’m finding that conversations in passing, to encourage other colleagues, are appreciated. The teams that I’m a part of draw ever closer, with each week that passes. We see that we are stronger and more effective, when we truly aspire to work collaboratively.
Right now I’m finding it so important to draw strength from positive people and to surround myself with that positivity. Encouraging ourselves is key. I strive for excellence, but on those days that it just feels too much, I’m present and check in with my priorities for that moment and that day alone.
I learnt some years ago that team work really does make the dream work. As we approach the closing of our first term of working under extreme pressure in this new Covid era, pressure to remember and execute all of the new rules, to stay optimistic for the children, ourselves and our colleagues, to support all of our learners both in person and virtually, I hope that you continue to believe in your ability to teach well, that you tap into the skills you’ve spent time refining and that you’re able to draw strength from those around you.
Orlick, T. (2000). 3rd ed. In pursuit of excellence: How to win in sport and life through mental training. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics.