Using the new normal to better support new teachers

Thank you to Tom Pattison (Director of the Humanities Faculty at Greensward Academy, Hockley, Essex) for this new blogpost about supporting beginning teachers. In the toughest of years it offers a model for building community for new colleagues in a way that is professionally supportive for the new and old(-er!) alike. If you would like to build a similar community then look out for these new modules going live on the Historical Association website later this month. Firstly, ‘Structuring Learning for Beginning History Teachers’ is packed full of support for people organising learning for new colleagues. Meanwhile, ‘Teaching for Beginners’ provides an introduction to history teaching for people in their training year, for colleagues who have not had a first training year that has included the sort of subject specific work that Tom describes, and for colleagues needing to brush up on the basics. Coming soon will also be a module called ‘Beginning teachers’ professional learning’ which will support both the first training year and the first three years of being in a history teaching role. And meanwhile…

In what has been a year of new experiences for all of us, from January I found myself mentoring a newly qualified history teacher for the first time in over a decade. To say things have changed would be the mother of all understatements and the prospect was daunting. Heading up a faculty is busy in normal circumstances never mind in the midst of a pandemic and the worry was that I would not be able to adequately support someone with huge potential starting out on their teaching career.  In addition I was aware that the impact of Covid-19 last year disrupted students’ placements and training.  With both of these concerns in mind I wanted to find a way for my new NQT to receive the best possible history CPD that would have the highest impact in the most effective way.

When I think of high quality training my thoughts naturally turn to memories of my PGCE where I vividly remember engaging in discussions with fellow trainees such as  Michael Fordham, Hannah Dalton and Helen Murray, to name just three, over how to develop conceptual understanding in our students, the nuances of models for teaching historical interpretations or how the tale of Alphonse the Camel can be employed to unlock the puzzle of why that thing happened at that time under the guidance of Christine Counsell and Kath Goudie.   The lively, empowering discussions we had at Homerton were where my teaching approach was forged and I wanted early career History teachers to have a comparable exhilarating experience rather than focus my direction on how to get Year 9 to behave on a wet and windy Period 5 Friday afternoon.

The problem now was, how could I replicate that in my mentor meetings? My tried and trusted approach of leaning on others showed me the way. Thanks to the brilliant ‘History Teacher Book Club’, I have a network of wonderful teachers (and people) and it soon became apparent that many were in a similar position. A problem solved is a problem halved etc. A plan was formulated where I could adopt the ‘Cambridge model’ of setting reading which would act as preparation for a virtual meet between our mentees thanks to the power of google meet. The focus of each session would be a second-order concept and crucially the purpose of the webinar would be to facilitate discussion between trainees and NQTs, rather than us old hands holding court over our own experiences. This is where the Historical Association has proven the ace in the pack. With all participating schools being members of the HA we had full access to past issues of Teaching History. This has meant that selecting high-quality reading material has been as easy as it has been pleasurable.

For example, these were the instructions sent out to mentors and mentees two weeks in advance of the session:

Session focus: Causation
Preparation for the session
Please ensure you have:
Read Howells from Teaching History 92
Read the article or watch the video ‘What’s the wisdom on causation.’
Listened to Helen Snelson and Sally Thorne’s brilliant Handy History Teaching Tips podcast episode on Causation  
I have curated a few other materials I recommend
engaging with to further fuel your reflection on causation which you are very welcome to look at but do not feel obliged to in order to attend the webinar.  

In addition, the inspired decision to record discussions based on the ‘What’s the wisdom on…’ feature has meant that the type of discussions we hoped to provoke could be modelled for our mentees in advance. It would also be remiss not to mention the brilliant ‘Handy History Teaching Tips’ podcast courtesy of Helen Snelson and Sally Thorne which has long been an essential listen for me and has proven just as popular with our mentees.

From my own perspective, I wanted a clear idea of what I wanted to encourage the mentees to explore in their breakout rooms so in my reflections on the material I put together a list of possible questions to provoke discussion.

Possible questions for Causation webinar:
How can we get students invested in why something in the past happened?
How do we prevent students from losing confidence when challenging them with new information?
What might the risks/benefits be of encouraging students to think counterfactually?
How can we accommodate learners of all abilities into the same causal enquiry?
What is the purpose of an effective causal enquiry?How do we identify an effective enquiry question from a less effective alternative?
‘’My students never seem to understand causation beyond long and short.’’ What advice might we give to help move them on?

The webinars have been a brilliant thing to be a part of; enjoying the contributions of mentees, both before and after they engage directly with each other through breakout rooms, has been genuinely inspirational and hosting the sessions has been a real highlight. The impact of the sessions is difficult to distinguish as they act in conjunction with the existing expectations of our PGCE students and Newly Qualified Teachers. However, the discernible benefit I have felt from my position as mentor is the quality of dialogue on history pedagogy has markedly improved. In a way engaging in the same reading has been a great leveller given the gulf of difference in our relative experience. The dialogue with my mentees, between my mentees, and particularly between mentees from different schools, has been rich in depth and detail. Anchoring our discourse in a specific conceptual area, putting aside everyday issues such as classroom management, has enabled a greater clarity of understanding of the fundamentals underpinning the composition and delivery of historical enquiry.

I am indebted to the fabulous mentors, like Becky Carter, Katherine Klunder and Sasha White, who have been crucial to the success thus far and even more so to the incredible diligence and enthusiasm of our mentees. Should you have any questions about the approach, suggestions to improve it further or even advice on implementing a similar program in your own setting please feel free to get in touch (@MrPattisonTeach). 

VIews of some of the participants

“The new teacher/ITT CPD sessions have been a really positive excuse to talk to other practitioners about our discipline.  Tom has put together a thoughtful programme which encourages new teachers to reflect on their practice and discuss ideas whilst also being able to tap into the expertise of more established teachers.  Our trainee, Tracy, found the opportunity to listen to other people’s ideas, share good practice and bounce ideas around in an informal session really useful.  It builds on the University PFL days, but the smaller group allows more opportunity to discuss individual approaches to dealing with second order concepts.”

Katherine Klunder, Head of History, Broughton High School, Preston

“I found the session particularly useful as when on placements it’s quite easy to get bogged down in ‘reactive’ work (eg planning, reflections, finding resources etc) – and it’s easy to take your eye off the ball of the ‘long game’ (eg the actual stuff that makes lessons really good and what I should be focusing on). The session provided some really insightful discussions and some great food for thought. It was also great to hear opinions from people from other training providers – as at UEA we all do the same or similar readings and have our (FANTASTIC) tutors input… but it’s great to hear other voices too. I really enjoy the PGCE, and what I missed on Placement A was taking the time to stop and think historically about what I was doing, and how I should be doing it, as I find when I’m busy I may not be dedicating enough time to this as I should. I’ve also found myself doing further listening around some of the recommended content (handy history teaching tips)”

Kate Chappell, A PGCE student with the University of East Anglia, currently on placement at Ormiston Victory Academy, Norwich

“Like all the best ideas, once spoken, they seem so simple.  For me, departments are like families who see the world history world differently, and don’t mind telling each other, but have the love of history and the education of students at their heart.  With that in mind I didn’t necessarily want my NQT to teach or think about teaching completely like me I want her to have her own voice.  Being able to give her access to some absolutely brilliant and experienced teachers as well as early career teachers has helped develop her into a better history teacher.”

Martyn Bajkowski, a member of the historical secondary committee, SLE and Head of History at Pleckgate High School

If you have been inspired by Tom to do something similiar, remember that you can sign up to the Historical Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference happening this month. There are live sessions and all attendees will have the recorded sessions available to listen to until early September – perfect for promoting discussion with groups of colleagues.

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