“The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent” – Fundamentals of Chess 1883 (from the opening of the film Revolver by Guy Ritchie).
I started my career in maths education straight after University at a time when words such as authority, compliance, control, discipline, explicit instruction, rules, and sanctions were in my naughty words and ideas list, and words such as activity, autonomy, creativity, democratic classrooms, discovery, free thinkers, fun, and investigation were in my good words and ideas list. I was compelled by articles and books by Alfie Kohn on contrarian and progressive essays on children and schooling, Pasi Sahlberg on Finnish education, Jo Boaler on classroom maths teaching, and Ken Robinson and other Ted talks on un-schooling.
When I was eventually placed with the responsibility of a class, the philosophies I had started to accept as part of my identity were promptly challenged as I failed to get the results that I wanted. At an extreme, my attempts at democratically established rules lead to items on the agenda such as 5-minute smoking breaks during lesson time, and at best, the rules we created that may support behaviour for learning weren’t followed (I didn’t believe in sanctions). I was surprised and confused that my pupils weren’t motivated by rich investigative group work as the books I was reading said they would be. Maybe I wasn’t good enough to apply the philosophies I had read about. Maybe I was doing them wrong. Maybe they were wrong. Whatever it was, I struggled to find a progressive minded person that was giving instructions on exactly what to do to get results. Rather apt, I think, given that some progressives would want me to discover what to do on my own (I had no access to a guide on the side).
I wanted to know what to do and eventually I stumbled upon some edu-bloggers that were offering just that. The voice I could hear in my head as I read their words spoke with conviction describing similar problems that I was facing and the solutions that follow. Wait… holding pupils responsible for their behaviour by having fair and consistent rules and consequences is a loving thing and pupils will trust you and like you more for it? Explicitly teaching pupils facts and having them practice recalling them will mean they remember more, be more creative, and will be more motivated? Optimizing routines and expecting things to be done 100% will free up time and sets up a culture of excellence? It was all contrary to my views but reading what they wrote made sense and gave me confidence to try the ideas. I’m not going to knock an opponent that seems smarter than me until I’ve given their ideas a go and fully understood their side of the argument. I haven’t looked back yet.
I recently met some of my edu-blogging heroes on 26th November 2016 at Michaela Community School’s event ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’, and when I booked to visit again on 17th June 2017 for ‘Michaela Mistakes’, I had a mission in mind. I know this reeks of the argument from authority but I figured that if whatever they are reading is making them talk (and blog) this much sense, then I predict that if I read the same stuff, I could reach a similar level of understanding. While I was there I asked as many of the Michaela staff that I could find for one book recommendation. Some gave two. Many doubled up. What follows is my unofficial Michaela Booklist.
May the books in this list provide you with a smarter opponent.
Katherine Birbalsingh – Progressively Worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools
Katie Ashford – Officious: Rise of the Busybody State
Jake Plastow – The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism
Dani Quinn – David Rayner maths books
Tom Kendall – What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology
Hin-Tai Ting – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Naveen Rizvi – Making Good Progress?: The Future of Assessment for Learning
Abi Smith – Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism
Mike Taylor – The Story of San Michelie
Sarah Cullen – Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality
Jessica Lund – Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged
Sarah Clear – To Miss With Love
Bonus book recommendation from Kris Boulton – The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science
The following books were often suggested but do not appear on my list as I have already come across them from implicit recommendations from the blogs, and have read them:
Teach Like a Champion
Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Please let me know if I have made any mistakes or if bits would benefit from changing.