Is wanting too much making you a less effective teacher?

  • 5th April 2017
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Are you juggling your day-to-day job with the desire to introduce new methods into your classroom? Do you feel overwhelmed sometimes? Would you value the opportunity to focus and give some time to develop new ideas? Despite being busy do you also feel that all of your efforts aren’t producing the outcomes you had planned? Martin Steno, a Challenging Learning Consultant based in Denmark introduces his new model to help you with this balancing act that most teachers deal with.

Background:

If you’re a teacher you may be struggling with the all important balancing act of implementing new and interesting classroom methods whilst delivering all of your existing beneficial practices whilst giving your students your undivided attention.

Teachers I work with on a day-to-day basis tell me that this is an all too common problem and as a teacher myself, know and sympathise with the challenges that we are faced with. As we strive for perfection we can often be too harsh and critical on ourselves. In one ear you may hear have the voice of reason whispering, “You’ve got too much you want to cram into your teaching. Too many ideas and none of them are really paying off yet. What happened to some of your good old ways of doing things? They worked didn’t they? Why have you stopped doing them in class?”

And then in the other ear another voice. A voice that maybe represents what we think we should be doing, ““You are not doing well enough. Your teaching ought to be better than it is. You should have a guilty conscience going into your classroom. I bet the headmaster expected you to better at this by now. I’m sure everyone else is better than you are right now.” 

Don’t we all, as teachers, know these voices and recognise the two tormenting emotions that they represent?

I’ve taught for 10 years and hear these voices regularly. They aren’t always particularly loud, some days one is louder than the other, but undeniably always there. I remember constantly striving to find a balance between researching and implementing innovative ideas whilst remembering those worthwhile approaches that I was already using. However, I became so invested in my students’ success and so pressured by implementing everything it just simply wasn’t sustainable. Many of my colleagues felt the same and it soon became apparent that it wasn’t just me – it was a common theme across the teaching profession. And it got me thinking. There had to be a solution to maintaining existing methods of teaching whilst allowing space for some new ones.

The truth is the most effective teachers maintain a level of professional distance—from their students, their classroom, and even their school. Wanting to get this distinctive view, I have developed a simple model. This model aided me enormously in my teaching career and ensured everything that I implemented was meaningful and beneficial.

It is called the Penta Levels of Implementing New Ideas, or just Penta Levels for short. Penta is taken from the ancient Greek word meaning five. This model shows the five steps or levels you go through when trying to embed something new in your own practice or in our professional toolbox. The journey goes from hearing about something to it becoming an integral part of your professional necessities. This model, with its supporting verbs, can be used in many ways but I’m going to focus on how it might help you keep the balance between those two conflicting voices or just help get an overview of your own professional development.  

Level 1: Inspirational Level

It all starts with you feeling encouraged to start playing with some idea. Someone might hand you a printout saying something along the lines of  “Hey, try this out. It’s brilliant”. And then you are off, trying it out in your classroom. You are now at level 1, the Inspirational level.

 

Level 2: Modelling Level
Having sampled the idea in your own classroom and liking what it did your next step would be to try to create one of your own, right? You are now entering level 2, the Modelling level. Here you will try to make it fit into your specific context and your way of doing things. This is not a simple task. You are spending a lot of time and energy on it, in the beginning your personal input and output scale simply does not align, therefore you may seriously consider dropping the idea. Now you have two options either you stick to it and you try again, or you leave the idea behind on the big pile of ideas that were not to be. If you try again and again until your input/output scales start to tip the right way, well then you are into the next level.

Level 3: Professional Level

Welcome to Level 3, the Professional level. This idea or concept is now something you have in your toolbox; it’s now part of your professional being. This does not mean that it is always quick or easy to put one together, but you know how to do it and the balance is fair between input and output.

 

Level 4: Change Level

Here, some might think that the model ought to end but I think we need to take it further. If we truly want to know if something is worthwhile and embedded in our classrooms then the students are the true tests. Have you managed to address your new idea so far that a change is evident in the children you teach? If yes, then you have reached level 4 the Change level. You have changed not only your own practice but it’s been embedded within the students that you teach. One might say that the idea has been made visible in your classroom.

 

Level 5: Maintenance Level
That leaves us with the last level in my model, level 5 the Maintenance level. This is basically about stopping and reflecting on what worked well in the past and trying to sustain this. When striving to embed something new we sometimes forget to look back at the things we have done at some point and recognise those that have worked well. These forgotten ideas might be in need of some maintenance in order to work in collaboration with our new ideas or tools.

Some helpful tips:

* It’s useful to follow the steps below BEFORE you begin the implementation of your ideas.

  • Step 1: Identify the various strategies that you are currently trying to juggle. What ideas are you trying to implement and what effect do you want this to have on your students?
  • Step 2: Decide at what level each of your ideas or skills are currently at.
  • Step 3: Discuss this with a colleague to hear where they see you are, and perhaps to hear were they are themselves.
  • Step 4: Ask your senior management team to identify their expectations of where the staff ought to be on the Penta Level considering the assortment of strategies you have at present. Possibly you are in a position to ask them to think through their expectations for you in particular.

* It’s not always easy to place your idea at the right level therefore I’ve put together this list of verbs to support you in step 2.

 

Levels

The Penta Level verbs

1. Inspirational level

Playing with, trying out, testing, probing

2. Modelling level

Struggling with, modelling, adapting

3. Professional level

Working with, recreating, adjusting

4. Change level

Talking about, behaving, demonstrating

5. Maintenance level

Remembering, Reviving

Summary:

Whilst I can’t promise that using Penta Levels will stop those whispering voices that I referred to earlier, it should quieten them down at least.  The model will allow you try out an idea, giving it a chance at least. It will enable you to focus and plan, which will help you decide whether to invest your energy or indeed press pause for a while.

 

During the last 2 and half years I’ve worked as a consultant where I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside hundreds of teachers. Within each and everyone that I meet I can see and recognise these versions of the voices I’ve mentioned in this blog and specifically how they are dealing with them. This experience laid the basis for my model Penta Levels, as well as reading about Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model. If you want to read more about the Tuckman and his model see below for links.

The teachers who have adopted this model mostly mentioned the word clarity to me. Clarity in terms of where they are at and how far they have actually progressed with the many ideas they are working on. They also regularly point out how much they value the clarity they have gained in terms of what the senior leadership are expecting from them.

I even had one teacher come up to me and say that she loved how Penta Levels had given her clarity on all of the good things she had forgotten to use within her classroom. She then gave me a kiss on the cheek. Lovely.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman's_stages_of_group_development

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm