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March 2017

Using SWOT analyse to change my practices

This week  I want to offer yet another way of thinking about how you might move forward in a particular area of your practice.

I’d like to offer you the idea of a SWOT analysis as a way of thinking about the next step in your journey – whether that is thinking generally about making progress, or focusing on one specific area of your practice that you want to concentrate on.

swot

A SWOT analysis can be a really useful tool for helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses and understand the opportunities open to you and the ‘threats’ you might face.

The best way to approach this is to see the strengths and weaknesses as personal to you – they are your characteristics as you see them. The opportunities and threats can be seen as more related to the context you find yourself in or factors external to you.

If you do a good job of identifying the strengths and opportunities, this can give you confidence to take the next step in your professional development. Knowing what you are perceiving as weaknesses or threats enables you to:

  • talk to someone about your anxieties;
  • think about the ‘weaknesses’ you perceive yourself to have and perhaps reconsider or reframe these – the ideas of polarities I shared in an earlier post may be really helpful here;
  • think about the things you have identified as threats and consider:
    • whether they are really threats or whether they are only threats in your mind;
    • whether you need to ask for help or support and focus on exactly what aid you need to ask for.

So let’s think about an example:

What if I was thinking about trying to change my approach to behaviour management with one particular class that I am struggling with. My SWOT analysis might begin like this:

Capture

What else might I add to each section?

Now think about how this can help me:

  • Am I really making the best use of the opportunities available to me?

For example, how am I using the teacher who is eager to support me? Am I being proactive in asking for help and coming up with ideas on how they might help me? Could I approach them and ask them to do something specific – e.g. could you sit next to Jade next lesson and make sure she doesn’t interrupt the class? Could you do a specific observation focusing on classroom management (perhaps using the proforma from School Experience?)

  • Can I think about the ‘threats’ differently?

Are the pupils really thinking about me and my lessons all the time? Did I do this as a pupil?! Is it possible that if I started the lesson differently next time they would respond positively? Surely it is worth trying?!

Instead of trying to be the class’s normal teacher, or worrying that I can’t be, can I learn specific skills from them? For example how to have a structured start to the lesson.

In terms of strengths and weaknesses the messages are the same as many previous posts – are you making best use of your strengths or are you dismissing them? Can you identify one specific thing to try to address a ‘weakness’ – for example, if I know the pupils I am perhaps unfairly quick to chastise, could I select one at the start of a lesson and work hard to praise them and notice when I am becoming unfair?

So, here’s another tool to try and help you reflect and plan for change …

 

Small steps to make big headway

This week I want to follow on from last week and try to help you to continue to take small steps forward instead of thinking you have to solve everything straightaway.

As I said last week, instead of trying to think about keeping going till June, let’s focus on how to potentially take a significant leap in progress in the run up to Easter.

Every week you get given lots of feedback and targets and it is often difficult to filter these and identify exactly what to focus on – what more often happens is that you have a long list of things and you flit from one to the other, making some progress but then going backwards as soon as you start focusing on something else – sound familiar?

Normally, I wouldn’t want to talk about the individual Teachers’ Standards – as we have said many times before, we take an holistic approach to assessment and, as we are confident everything we do addresses the Standards, we avoid conversations that might lead to you feeling like you have ‘ticked off’ a Standard and, thus, can stop thinking about it. This week, however, as you have just had your Interim Profiles they seem a useful way in to narrowing down an area to concentrate on in the next few weeks.

You will have been given targets for development for each group of Standards. For some of you these might be very specific as this is a key area for you to concentrate on, for many of you, though, you might feel like you have things to work on in all sections, you aren’t fully clear about what you need to do and you certainly don’t know which to prioritise. Particularly if there are no real areas of concern, your profile might very quickly become a distant memory and you just carry on as you were doing before the Assessment Point.

So, how can you make really good use of the profile?

First of all, now a week has passed, have another look at it.

What stands out as real strengths? Did you really acknowledge them last week when you discussed your profile with your mentor or did you just accept them?

I have already emphasised enough times the need to celebrate your strengths so won’t rehearse this again, but, have you thought about:

How your strengths might help you with another target?

For example,

Imagine a key strength is your ability to reflect and act on advice and targets and an area for development is in relation to Teachers’ Standard 2: Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils. How can the former help me develop the latter?

Would it help to consider the substandards:

  • be accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes;
  • plan teaching to build on pupils’ capabilities and prior knowledge;
  • guide pupils to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs;
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching;
  • encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.

Here’s a clue – why have I put certain ones in bold?

Have you ever thought of sitting down and working out why your ability to reflect and act on advice and targets is a strength? What is it that you do that makes you good at this? What is it about the way your mentor acts that helps you? How could you apply your emerging knowledge of theories of teaching and learning to your own growth and identify what is happening when you progress in a certain area?

How do these questions help? Surely they identify how you should teach pupils to be reflective and take responsibility for their own learning?

With this knowledge could you identify some new strategies and approaches to use with pupils that make overt how to become reflective, identify personal emerging needs and respond to targets?

Perhaps you could identify the internal questions you ask of yourself when you are reflecting and model these to pupils? Or, identify the language someone who has helped you learn about teaching uses that you respond best to and build this into the way you talk to pupils?

How do you shift a target to an action?

Unless you and your mentor have identified a specific area to work on, many sections of your profile will just be targets. How can you identify exactly what you have to do to meet these targets?

Firstly choose one area to focus on next week. How? Pick the one that interests you most!

Now imagine what really good practice would look like in this area. Use our ‘Moving to …’ documents to help you do this.

Next pick your favourite class. Imagine this good practice actually happening with this class. What would perfection look like? What would individual pupils be doing? What would you be doing before/during/after the lesson? If you don’t know the answer to these questions discuss them with a friend or your mentor.

Now very clearly write down what you want – this should look different to your target, it should be a description of what you are picturing happening when you have made progress in this area.

Now return to the target(s) set in this area by your mentor. Can you see how they will help you reach what you have imagined? If the answer is no you need to return to your mentor and explain you don’t understand what you are aiming for!

So, you know what you want. How do you get there?

After targets you need strategies. Again we have documentation that can support you to think of strategies to meet targets (Targets to Actions), so please take some time to look at these. The one I want to prioritise here is to observe an expert.

Talk to your mentor and identify the best teacher in the school to show you what effective practice looks like in the area you are focusing on. Don’t tell yourself you are too busy to fit in an observation, force yourself to see them in action next week! The key, however, is not to just watch a lesson.

Before the lesson decide exactly what you are hoping to see. Now set some questions.

For example, if a target is to ‘make sure pupils become more independent’ then questions might be:

  • What does pupil independence look like? Why does the teacher think it is important?
  • What is the teacher aiming to do? Why?
  • How do they plan for this?
  • How do they recognise it?

Share the questions you have asked with the teacher before the lesson. You might even agree that they will alert you to something you should notice in the middle of the lesson that they think will give you answers to your questions.

What do you then do in the lesson?

Sticking with the same example:

Notice when a child is being independent,

  • What does this look like?
  • What happened in the run up to this moment?
  • How long does it last?
  • What happens after?
  • How does the child feel?
  • Why are they happy to work independently?

After the lesson return to your vision of what you want to achieve.

What have you learnt that you could apply to your own practice?

Have a go!

Remember whenever you try out something, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Feeling unhappy? It’s normal!

I have decided this week to write about being unhappy!

Why? Because, I know that this is a peak time for student teachers to be feeling disillusioned, unhappy and anxious even if they are doing well, and I want to give you permission to feel a bit fed up and to say I am not remotely surprised if this is the case!

Am I weird if I am not enjoying everything about the course at the moment (even if everyone is saying I am doing ok)? No!

Try to look down on yourself and consider what has happened to you since September:


For the best part of six months, you have been bombarded with information, new ideas, feedback, advice, targets, building new relationships, settling in to new contexts, intense situations, … the list goes on! Surely it is no surprise then that this doesn’t always make you happy?


You have not had a real break –

  • in October half term you had lots of planning and preparation to do for your first teaching experiences when you returned to school;
  • over Christmas, whilst you might have had some time away from teaching, it is likely to have been a very busy time socially – you will also have been preparing for Teaching Practice and working on assignments;
  • February half term is a key week to catch up and get organised so it is likely you will have only had odd days off and, perhaps even then, you were thinking about teaching!

Easter is really the first time when you can designate an extended piece of time to proper relaxation. You have long enough to do some work and get organised but also have plenty of time for guilt-free time off teaching – remember this and look forward to it!


Every day of Teaching Practice you will have been observed teaching and you will have received advice and feedback – sometimes the same targets will emerge, sometimes they just add to an already long list and sometimes they conflict with what someone else has said!


If someone else was describing these experiences to you would you feel a little bit sorry for them and understand why they didn’t always feel happy? Yes? Then be kind to yourself and don’t worry!


Why else might you not be happy?

I think the main problem might stem from the very reasons why teaching is such a wonderful job. Like most of you, when I decided to train to be a teacher, the two main reasons were because I liked my subject and because I liked working with young people. These have both stayed with me throughout the years and are the key things that kept me happy in my job.

The difficulty, however, is that these are the two things that are almost impossible to get as a student teacher – certainly in any consistent way.

I remember in the middle of my main placement I had quite a major wobble and really wondered about whether teaching was for me. I felt like I no longer liked my subject because I was struggling to learn a whole new set of subject knowledge (what I now understand as subject knowledge for teaching). This annoyed me because aspects of my subject I had loved just became really frustrating – I wasn’t allowed to just get on and ‘do’ maths, I had to think about it from a teaching perspective all the time. I hadn’t expected this to be so hard and it was wearing me down. Learning to plan in a manageable timeframe, coping with lessons and constantly being given ideas for improvement was making me feel like I had lost the passion for my subject.

What upset me most though was the fact that I didn’t like many of the children I was teaching! This really shocked and unnerved me. I now know that what was actually happening is that I was taking pupils’ behaviour too personally and that, in most cases, it wasn’t actually the pupils I disliked but what they were doing and how they were making me feel; at the time though I just thought that I must have got it wrong and teaching wasn’t working for me.

The issue is the two things that are likely to be the most prominent reasons why you came in to teaching are the two things you are going to find it hardest to get right at the moment!

Even if you are managing behaviour well, and lessons seem to be going smoothly, it is unlikely that you will really like all the classes you are teaching. Pupils take time to trust teachers and build relationships with them and the ‘fun’ of the teacher-pupil relationship normally comes with this trust. This means in many cases you won’t be having the relationships with pupils you imagined and, without these relationships, it may be hard to like some pupils and really enjoy many of the lessons you teach.


So how do you combat this?

Focus on the positives – don’t sigh, I know I keep saying this but it is so important! You need to find the class you like, the lesson that went well, the breakthrough in a relationship and celebrate it. If you are only enjoying teaching one class (even if there are no problems with the others) then this is the class you need to think about at the end of the day. Tell people about them and what you enjoy about working with them. Similarly, notice when you have actually enjoyed planning a particular lesson or using a specific task with your pupils. Don’t expect this to happen all the time, just make sure you notice when it does!

Ask experienced teachers how they felt in the first one or two years of their career – pick a teacher you trust and ask them to be honest about they felt in their training year. They are likely to begin by talking about how challenging it was and that ‘it gets easier’ but try to push them to talk more about how they felt – do they remember not being happy? Not liking pupils? Not enjoying their subject? This will help you know it’s normal.

Prioritise your targets – instead of looking at a whole list of targets, and feeling like you don’t know where to begin, try to agree with your mentor a specific target to focus on for a few days. At the end of each day think only about your development in relation to that target and, again, celebrate and enjoy the steps you have made however small.

Don’t think about getting to the end of June – instead of thinking that the end of June is a long way off just focus on the upcoming week. What do you want to achieve by Friday? Break the weeks running into Easter down and just take them one at a time. Focus on finding one thing to enjoy or celebrate each day and, before you know it, it will be time for a break!

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