Sharing our failures #1

In a recent blog, Mel Hamada, wrote about her perceptions of the culture of online Physical Education community. Mel felt that a lot of interactions within the community were about self-promotion, ‘back slapping’ and ‘high fiving each other’. Sentiments I both share and am guilty of through this blog and on Twitter. Reflecting on this I feel this might be due to the general personality of PE teachers; we are a pretty positive and confident bunch. Perhaps this is what is preventing us from being critical of each others practice? Maybe due to being heavily involved in sport we might see success = desired outcome, and that failure = undesired outcome. This is a narrow, and not very useful way to look at success as it doesn’t help our growth as practitioners. Perhaps we are just not ready yet to critique each others ideas?

Mel’s suggestion for sharing our failures might be a way to bridge the act of self promotion to the act of being critical. That if we take the time to share our failures with each other then this will help us as an online community to move beyond the ‘high five’ culture. Every single time we as an online PE community post a blog, compose a tweet, hit retweet or respond to a comment we reinforce the culture. We shape that culture. We are that culture. If we fail recognise that then the time and effort we put into building our PLN and being online may not be worth it. So with that in mind I’m going to share some of my failures in the hope that others will also. That through the act of sharing our failures as teachers we then might feel comfortable enough in critiquing our shared ‘successes’.

Not changing your lesson when its failing.

I have on countless occasions in my career been stubborn within my lessons, stubborn to the point of blindness. This is due to a potent cocktail of which I am only recently becoming aware of mixing. It is 3 parts my failure to confuse ‘high expectations from my pupils’ with unrealistic expectations as I haven’t considered previous learning, knowledge and understanding. A dash of not considering the environment I am in and background of my students including their peer groups. Shaken but not stirred with a streak of stubbornness a mile wide that is a fundamental part of my nature, which in a teaching environment is paradoxically both a strength and a weakness.

This ‘mindset’ meant that I have done the following in my career:

  • Kept teaching a basic skill through drill for an hour in sub arctic conditions with Year 7 boys who neither had the body fat or muscle mass to cope. I should have got them more active and warm through a gross motor activity that involved them all.
  • Not realising that every single student in my gymnastics class couldn’t perform a basic forward roll, and therefore continuing to push them to do it. I should have gone back to basics with some simple body tension exercises to build strength and confidence.
  • In a cover lesson for languages I gave out the work left to me by the teacher, then forced them to work in silence due to quite severe conditions that I set. After 30 minutes of working in silence one brave child told me that I had given out German work instead of French which was their subject. I should have double checked with them and assisted them before they started the work.
  • Coaching a set piece move in rugby which wasn’t working with my U16s. For 6 years my previous teams got it, why couldn’t they? We weren’t going to move on till they got it. I realised much later that they neither had the skill set or experience to execute it. I should have allowed them to share with me some ideas they had and were comfortable with and allow them some more autonomy in making decisions.
  • Following the whole SOW with Year 9 badminton and not deviating from it once, even though I could see that all the pupils had never once picked up a racquet in their lives. I should have started with the basics, probably through SSG or a TGfU approach.

Openly I shared to my colleagues within the department that I thought changing a lesson, whilst in the act of teaching, was a failure on my students behalf. That they weren’t listening, that they weren’t engaging, that there was a lack of effort on their behalf that I would not tolerate. This lead to interactions that undermined my relationships with the pupils and the learning environment I was hoping to try to create. In reality what I secretly believed was that it meant that it was a failure on my behalf. That I was poor at planning, that I was a weak teacher and that I didn’t know what I was doing. This in turn meant that if I changed my lesson I was admitting this to my pupils and I would lose their respect. That I would lose my credibility as a teacher. None of which I see now as being remotley true.

Changing your lesson whilst in the act of teaching, deviating from your lesson plan, or not following your SOW to the letter due to what you observe is neither a failure of your pupils or of your teaching. There is always an element of risk of failure within teaching and learning, due to the complex nature of the individuals involved, that even that the best of planning cannot solve. Being able to spot this and adapt and refine your approach in the middle of a lesson is not a failure, it is a strength. It requires brave, knowledgable and skilled practitioners to stop what they are doing, inform the pupils that it isn’t working and that they are going to try something different or something new. As I become more experienced I am beginning to see where this course of action might be appropriate and then implement it. That, in PE especially, there is a need to be more consistent in setting realistic and appropriate tasks in the context of ‘real time’ within a lesson.

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13 thoughts on “Sharing our failures #1

  1. I think you’re wrong! :O)

    My Year 7 Rugby Team kept on missing tackles in matches so we practiced tackling… for 3 sessions a week. They lacked the skill and size to perform to a higher standard, but their determination to improve, completing the same drill for a third time in a week, made me move past my anger and focus on their all-round games-skills. Their attitude towards the sport improved greatly and I didn’t have to chase them to attend practices anymore, even if we continued to get thumped each week.

    I’ve found the phrase of my teaching and standards having to be ‘Consistently Flexible’ to be useful, but future experience might prove me wrong!

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    1. Hi BB. Thanks for your comment. I like that phrase ‘consistently flexible’. A colleague who retired suggested to me in teaching I try to become less like an oak and more like a reed. Reeds are still firmly rooted in what they believe is best, much like the oak, but they allow some flexibility when the environment changes. Its why they survive. I’ve tried to take those comments on board. It can be difficult at times to see where persistence is needed or a completely new approach. Much like yourself I think experience will help me with that.

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  2. I think your reflection is valuable! I have been doing the same lately, realizing where things succeeded and failed and I’ve already began preparing to work on those failures for next year! Happy teaching:)

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  3. I believe that we need to grow as Educators and Teachers – I remember in my first year of teaching (science) I had a break down. I was colouring in overhead projector slides ready for class the next day and I saw that my shoe lace was undone. I burst into tears. The counsellor that I went to see asked me how things were (??) but her advice to me at the time was very timely – only you know what you planned, no-one else – so if you don’t colour in all the slides, or you make a change to the lesson – only you will know this. I took this really to heart – and I now do not write such meticulous lesson plans, more a guide of where I want to go and a bit of a road map of how to get there.
    However, 15 years later, I recognise that the teacher I am now has 15 years of ideas and experience of how to change things up in lessons but I do find that sometimes I keep going, even if I should have changed things – some days are like that. But I still believe that if we keep high expectations and we are truthful with our intentions then we will get there.
    I appreciate your sharing your failures and look forward to seeing #2 #3 etc where you reflect on where you are going with the failures you are identifying and making changes on – thank you for being brave and honest – we need to do it more regularly.

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  4. I enjoyed reading this post. You have been very honest and I believe you have to be your own worst critic to move forward. At the end of the day, we are all still learning. That’s why we have the best job in the world 😉

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    1. Hi Majid, thanks for your response. I’d like to get past the stage, at leat within my own department, where I am my own worst critic. I’d like to get to a stage where every member of the department feels comfortable holding each other to account, in a kind and supportive manner. Sharing my failures online has helped me to share them with my department. By opening up and making myself vulnerable I am hoping others do the same, leading to the conditions I’ve just stated. It is then we can hopefully be a successful team and do the best for the students we have been made responsible for.

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