What my students taught me during May 2015

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of posts about what I learn from the students I teach.

Most of these insights come from work KS3 students completed as part of a ‘takeaway’ homework set by SLT, and through talking with some of our leavers about their school experience.

1. Don’t let my preconceptions limit opportunities for Students. Despite over twenty years of teaching experience, I still sometimes underestimate young people.  One of the homework options was to enter a competition, run by the charity the Father Hudson’s Society, to raise awareness of the impact prison can have on women and their families. I included it because it’s a charity the school supports and we were invited to. I thought however that it wouldn’t appeal much to KS3 pupils, that they wouldn’t relate to it. How wrong I was. We received a wide range of poems, artwork and creative writing. The problem we now have is selecting only three items to enter from our school.*

2. Students make continual, largely accurate, assessments of teaching, regardless of whether or not we have organised student voice initiatives. A takeaway homework option was to write an application for a teaching post. They used this to write about the qualities a teacher should (and in some cases shouldn’t) have. Many were at least as good, if not better, than some actual applications we receive. Some year 13 leavers have been telling us about what helped – or hindered – them in their time at school. They gave unnervingly accurate vignettes of some members of staff! One quality all students value is kindness. We don’t currently put this on person specs, maybe we take it for granted but perhaps we should include it up front. I’ve seen that some primary schools include what pupils are looking for in job ads.

3. Family members are the major source of inspiration for young people. Another homework option was to write a biography of someone you admire. As you might expect, we got responses about all the great leaders of our time. Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Khloe Kardashian, they were all cited. As has happened before, however, a large number of students wrote about family members (most often mothers) and why they admire and feel inspired by them. When we ask leavers who inspired them most in their studies they most frequently cite family members.

4. We could ask students to write our self evaluation and improvement plan. Another homework option was to write to the principal with a suggestion for improving the school. Of course, several told us to ditch the uniform or serve chips every day, but overall we got a pretty good basis for a SIP! The student group who saw inspectors in our recent Ofsted also gave an assessment which matched our own evaluation.

Overall, I think these points emphasise the need for me to keep my expectations high because our students are pretty canny as a group and will rise to a challenge.

*June Update: It wasn’t only me who was impressed. Clinton was runner up for the art prize and Shahnoor’s poem won the writing prize!

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