Sharing our failures #2

This is my second post about sharing failures within PE. This was born out of a discussion with the online PE community about ultimately what we wanted from our PLNs. Some of us felt if we were to get anything useful we needed to get beyond a culture of self promotion and backslapping and start to critique each other’s ideas and practice. To try to bridge that gap that exists between high fives to critical analysis, perhaps we needed to start sharing our failures rather than our successes.

My second failure revolves around knowledge. Both hoarding it and not seeking it.


At the beginning of my career I could only be considered the Smaug of knowledge. What I had gained in my time up to becoming a qualified teacher I hoarded to myself. My knowledge and my experiences were mine and mine alone. If I observed something, or heard something, I would make a mental note and tuck it away for later use. I hardly ever shared it.  I instinctively understood that knowledge of the school, of the pupils and of my subject allowed me to be more valued. I did this not because I was malicious in anyway, but because I was young, inexperienced and was worried that I would be found out to be a fraud or not good enough for the job. I put on a demeanour that I knew best. That I couldn’t learn anything from anyone. I’m thankful for my DoS and HoD for having the patience, wisdom and understanding to deal with me, tolerate me and give me guidance.

I also didn’t explicitly seek out knowledge from my colleagues. I watched them and listened to them of course, but this wasn’t the same as sitting down with them and asking them questions, asking them to clarify why they used that method, or had that approach with that child. I saw this as asking for help. That deep down asking for help was seen as a weakness, a skill deficient, that I had made a mistake or that I had shortcomings that they would naturally see. Asking for help requires you to make yourself vulnerable to someone else, and to be confident that your vulnerability will not be used against you. In a system of career advancement, promotion, performance related pay, TLR’s and capability I learnt to be competitive with my peers and to do what I needed to protect my reputation.

I thought having knowledge and holding on to it was powerful. It helped me progress as an individual teacher. It wasn’t until I moved to a position of responsibility and I saw colleagues doing the same thing that I realised what a inordinate waste of time it was. I saw the energy it required for individual teachers to replicate what one of them already knew and understood. Departmental meetings were quiet. There was no dialogue, no challenge and no innovation because of it. I realised that what we were all holding on to wasn’t knowledge, it was information. I was sitting on a pile of fools gold.  It would only become knowledge if we made it social, if we shared it with one another, if we put it into practice, if we experienced it and then together refined it. That together as a department we could create knowledge for the better of all of us and our pupils, but as individuals we only were storing information.

I look at the current members of my department. I have someone who played for England U20’s in the Rugby World Cup, was a professional rugby player before injury forced him to stop and holds a Level 3 coaching qualification. Why would I not seek him out for advice? I have another colleague who coaches the County U16 football side, holds his UEFA B License and has been involved in playing, teaching and coaching football for 30 years. He has a wealth of experience. Why shouldn’t I use it to better myself? Another in my department has a Masters in Biomechanics, focusing on analysing movement in cricket and is currently woking on his Level 3 coaching qualification. He could help me both with improving my subject knowledge for A-Level PE and also my observation skills in cricket, especially with bowlers.

They have huge amounts of information in their heads. However once shared, not just with me, but with the rest of the department it becomes knowledge. This doesn’t just help us, in our own development or career advancement, it will potentially have a positive impact on the children we teach and coach on daily basis. I used to focus on building information in my head. However information is not as powerful as knowledge. Knowledge is created only when the information is shared, given cultural value within your context and then there is a maintained focus on its use overtime.

Just like in Eribor, there is a huge amount of hidden information in your departments and your schools. It is no good it sitting there, gleaming and twinkling in your eyes, as you survey your own personal wealth. It needs to be leveraged. Slay the dragon, share that information with your colleagues, turn it into knowledge that is both specific and useable. Try to make sharing information one of your core values as a teacher and look to seek ways to overcome those barriers that prevent its increased use. Share the wealth.

10 thoughts on “Sharing our failures #2

  1. Radical insights… fresh, honest thinking. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher I’m not comfortable with the notion that only shared information is knowledge – though the IB would probably love it! – BUT this is a helluva discussion to open up, and I’ll return to this post for sure.


    1. Hi Paul, my understanding of epistemology is shaky at best, so I’ve probably made a massive mistake with regards to knowledge in my post. It was more of a personal feeling about sharing knowledge within a departmental and whole school environment. Have just found that when you communicate what you know to others, sometimes it can be improved upon and made better, something that would never happen if you kept it to yourself. (The reverse is true when you may be ridiculed, but I suppose you’ve not got to take criticism too personally).


      1. Absolutely – I’m being pedantic. It’s just a matter of terms – your point certainly stands…


  2. Your two posts on failure are fantastic *back slap, followed by high five*

    I really enjoyed your admission to failure. I did many of the same things as you. Avoided change, advice etc for fear of being found out as a fraud. I found out what ticked the boxes of my observers and didn’t really know what worked or why and never seemed advice. It took me to move to a really supportive school in third year of teaching to find a leader who was strong enough to see through my “act” and carefully guide me down a path which enlightened me, without making me feel like a fool or failure.

    Trying to work with school at the minute to develop more collaboration, ie lesson study etc.

    I hope many teachers can read this and feel less like a failure and more open to look to help.

    Thanks for the post.


    1. Hi Conor. Having that supportive mentor/coach I think is hugely important. I don’t think I would have come out of my superior protective bubble at the beginning of my career without the wisdom and guidance of Noel and Richard. The process of going through my failures therapeutic and transformational. I suppose it all boils down to being self aware and being open to critique, something I’m finding a little easier, if not natural, as I get older. Having the responsibility of others development in my department has been a big motivator for that as well. Perhaps one day I can eventually pass on what Richard and Noel did for me at the beginning of my career in teaching.


  3. The very reason why we use social media. On my Facebook group many PE practitioners post resources on there for others to critique. It’s such a useful way of making improvements. I will often post something I am about to do, listen to the feedback. Follow it through then post a blog about the whole experience. This allows me to get my thoughts and feelings out there amongst a community that hopefully values being honest about your experiences in teaching whether positive or negative.


    1. Hi Dominique, you’re right. Sharing knowledge can also make it better and improve it in a way that perhaps you couldn’t on your own, as long as it is critiqued and not criticised.

      I always remember this from Judy Reeves in her book Writing together, Writing alone:

      Criticism finds fault/Critique looks at structure
      Criticism looks for what’s lacking/Critique finds what’s working
      Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand/Critique asks for clarification
      Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue/Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective
      Criticism is negative/Critique is positive (even about what isn’t working)
      Criticism is vague and general/Critique is concrete and specific
      Criticism has no sense of humor/Critique insists on laughter, too
      Criticism looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing/Critique addresses only what is on the page


  4. It is interesting how we move through phases, I empathise with the feelings you have identified here when I was a new PE teacher working with more experience people – I really didn’t know and it was important to acknowledge that and to NOT feel like this was failure. I am always curious of the teachers that I meet in schools who NEVER like to have another member of staff in their space. I wonder if they are worried about their teaching and lack self confidence or if they think that are superior and worry they might have to mentor or train another (time consuming). I love working and learning from others and I can see that the people I work with on social media are the same – I think we crave others to talk and critique with and to share and find those that can make us think and delve further into our journey and make our practice richer for it. Thank you for sharing your journey – I hope you will continue to mentor others with the same clarity of what is important.


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