Lessons learned from lockdown. The perspective of a history teacher.

Thanks to Richard Kennett (@kenradical) member of Secondary Committee and SHP fellow for this blogpost…

Lockdown is a funny old beast. Some of us have hated it. Others of us have loved it. It will surprise few people that I fall into the latter and to quote a wise hero of mine “This social distancing thing is kind of a grouch’s dream” (Oscar the Grouch, 25 April 2020).

But whether you have loved it or hated it, it has definitely made all of us think and reflect on what we do. I’m a member of SLT, but first and foremost I’ll always be a history teacher. These are the lessons I have learned as a history teacher in the last 8 weeks (or is it 7 or 9? Time means nothing anymore).

Lesson 1: Community matters and social media can be a good thing.

Before lockdown I was becoming disillusioned with social media. Twitter was just full of people shouting at each other, falling into tribes and moaning about it. Since lockdown I’ve loved it. Why? Because it has shown that we are a community and despite differences, community is important. In the last few weeks (honestly, how long has it been?) we’ve seen the following happen:

  • History teacher’s running club
  • History teachers watching the same films and chatting about them (thanks @historybookgrp)
  • Numerous pub quizzes from TMHistoryIcons and the HA/SHP/Euroclio (the latter of which had participants from Ghana, USA, numerous European countries and the UK) to name a few.
  • A plethora of CPD (more on that later)

And more than that we’ve just seen a lot of people chatting and sharing and that is a damn good thing. We’ve talked about our favourite biscuits (@michaeldoron), shown the beautiful views out of our windows (@missklunder) and argued about the flavour sandwich Gavrilo Princip might have eaten on that fateful day.

All of the above is good. It’s been fun. It’s showed that we are united by the fact that we all have the greatest job. Community matters and social media can be great.

Lesson 2: The revolution will be televised

I’ve always used a bit of technology in my history teaching but lockdown has forced me to embrace it more and teach myself how to use it better. And sure multiple choice quizzes that self mark whether you use Google Forms, Kahoot or something else are fab. But what has blown me away is the power of video. 

As someone who writes textbooks it has never surprised me that writing clear instructions is a lot harder than standing in front of a class and talking. Getting written words clear is damn difficult. And this is why video is brilliant. With barely any effort I can add narration to a PowerPoint and whip it up on YouTube for my students to see. It’s easy to access for them, easy to do for me and is having a really positive impact. I’ve got a full range of videos on my YouTube channel now and I don’t want to say it too loudly but the work my Year 10s have been handing in as a result of these is possibly better than what they would have done in my lesson. I’ve now started filming myself introducing the lessons and giving feedback too. I just do these on my mobile and then upload to GoogleDrive. I honestly think that when (who knows when!) we return I am going to use this more and more. It works a treat for home learning / homework.

And huge hats off to @mrpattinsonteach for rallying the troops to collect videos from different teachers that we can all use and share.

Lesson 3: CPD needs to change

There has been so much CPD in lockdown. I’ve personally led webinars, lectures and videos. And I am far from the only one. For history teachers I’ve seen (but not had the time to participate in all of the following):

  • The Curricularium – organised by Will Bailey Watson with videos from Will, Tom Allen, Hannah Cusworth, Jess Angell, Claire Holliss, Mike Hill, Hugh Richards and notes by Chloe Bateman all focused brilliantly on how they are thinking about the history curriculum.
  • Outstanding work from the HA who have now filmed sessions of What is the Wisdom On with Christine Counsell, Helen Snelson and Katherine Burn
  • The webinars that Nick Dennis has arranged on Africa before the Transatlantic Slave Trade
  • And superb podcasts (that I count as CPD) from Virtually Teachers

And this list is far from complete. But what has struck me is how effective the remote CPD is. 

I tweeted the following in early May. You can see that I am not the only one to think this looking at the number of  likes (I never get this many. Ever.)

Screenshot (52)

The best of this remote CPD is flexible and inclusive. Hats off to the Curricularium team I think you’ve set a model that we need to follow. If you haven’t joined in, Will and his team sent a series of videos through via email. They could be watched at your leisure and convenience and after there was a light touch discussion on social media for those who wished to ask questions. By not committing to a specific time more people could join in. So people who are parents of little ones or who like me have SLT commitments or any other reason. We need to use this model.

Lesson 4: Honesty is damn refreshing and we need more of it.

The final thing I’ve loved during lockdown is honesty. Sometimes you look at social media and its just a long list of people showing off their amazing resources and their amazing lessons. You look at this and feel rubbish. You feel rubbish because we all have duff days. We all teach a crap lesson now and again.

What I’ve loved recently is blogs that acknowledge that we aren’t all perfect and suggest solutions. I loved the following:

Can we please have more of this! More honesty. More acknowledgement that we aren’t all brilliant.

Although I do obviously still want brilliance (I mean watch Mike Hill’s Curricularium video, good lord) we aren’t all ace all the time. This is totally flipping normal. So let’s acknowledge that too please.


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