…well, two actually.
Just sat in Boston Logan airport, awaiting my flight back to the UK after just shy of three glorious weeks on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s been quite a good summer. I had a few weeks travelling through Japan and then to Hong Kong. That was the ‘look-see’ holiday. Then it was onto my ‘second home’ (I wish) off Cape Cod for a few weeks of relaxing, refreshing and also preparing for the new school year.
The new school year is going to have many new twists, given my new role as a Head of Department. I am sure it will be a great challenge and I look forward to it as such. I have had plenty of time to prepare, as I was appointed to the job on 1st February. I know my team and have been able to spend plenty of time with them trying to get our head around the coming year’s hurdles.
This year would have presented plenty of hurdles anyway, with new specifications hitting Geography for GCSE and A-Level. The prospect of new specifications has an added sharpness with the sense of responsibility for delivering them successfully. Of course, hat responsibility and the opportunity to have an impact – hopefully positive – on a slightly bigger scale is one of the things which attracted me to step up.
With that weight of responsibility, it has meant that I have probably spend more time that I would have getting set for the new year. I spent a good chunk of time on the first scheme of work for Year 10. As well as getting the new content sorted, there is also a need to fit in with the new school’s procedures. I am quite pleased with what I’ve got so far and I take the approach that a scheme of work and all associated plans and resources are dynamic, constantly-evolving things away. Suggested changes are to be expected and welcomed.
One of the steps I’ve also taken is to try and collaborate beyond my school. One of my good friends from my teacher training days is also taking on his first Head of Geography role and I have committed to sharing resources with him, so much so that we now have a shared folder ‘in the cloud’. Hopefully we can make good use of it, to both of our and our department’s benefit.
Whereas previously I’d sold the odd resource on the TES (something which I don’t at all object to), sharing resources with colleagues on a largely ad hoc basis, I want to try and do things differently. As well as my aforementioned friend, I have also been involved in efforts to bring together the town’s Heads of Geography. I also set up a shared folder for that, which could potentially be very powerful, if people use it.
A further possibility for collaboration should be through the Geographical Association’s Secondary Phase Committee, which I have been a member of for a couple of years now. I am very much the novice in the room at those meetings. Most of my fellow committee members have been Heads of Geography for many years and some have already stepped up to leadership roles. Quite how we could collaborate remains to be seen. It might be something I suggest we discuss in October.
It pains me how little collaboration happens not only between schools and but also sometimes within schools. I think there is a wider realisation that this is not a good way to operate. Whilst I fully understand that every class, department and school works in its own context, there is much that we have in common and we must collaborate on that basis.
Another project which has taken up some of my time on Martha’s Vineyard was my contribution to a new set of resources for the incoming A-level specification. It was one o those things where one thing led to another – a combination of meeting somebody from Twitter in the real world and being referred by my then Masters tutor for writing for a journal, led to the that member of the Twitterati asking if I’d help with the resources, which he was editing for Tutor2u.
Having only written a couple of articles for A-level students before now, putting together pages for a textbook together with case studies and worksheets would be another challenge. It would however help me to get my head around the new specification that I would be teaching and I was fortunate to get topics which I already knew well. As with most tasks that don’t initially come with the sense of urgency associated with an impending deadline, I only dipped into the research and writing occasionally. With the new term set to start, which will massively reduce the ‘free time’ I might have for such a task, I had to get the bulk of it done. Sometimes that added sense of time pressure is a good thing and avoids the procrastination which can sometimes come when you’re writing.
Most of my contribution is with the editor now and I have a couple of worksheets still to do. Judging from the samples I’ve seen of other people’s work and knowing how much time I put into my small contribution, I think it will be an excellent resource for teachers and students alike. If you want to find out more, then go to http://www.tutor2u.net.
Looking at the new specifications and reading some of the resources which are springing up to support them, it is quite exciting to see some of the content which will form part of the course. I have had a number of conversations about the traditional split into ‘human geography’ and ‘physical geography’ for teaching, especially at A-level. The traditional approach, or rather the one that I have seen and experienced most, is to split along these lines.
Having focused on human geography during my degree, I have taught the human content in the past. Looking at the human content in the new specification, with more focus on concepts such as place, it quite an enthralling prospect. Of course, dealing with big, abstract concepts like place is fraught with challenges. Students will certainly not have encountered them before and many teachers have probably not thought about them much since their university days.
Teaching place should be such a rich experience. The range of ideas, texts and resources is vast. The ability to tap into students own experiences and also the local area is also a welcome bonus. One of the really interesting challenges will be for students to think about place in an academic way, triangulating between writing about the real world as they experience it and the theories and concepts which geographers apply to place. As you can probably tell, I’m quite looking forward to it and will hopefully be motivated to write about my experiences!
On the point of writing, it is almost a year since I wrote my last post. Reading it again, it remains one of my favourites. It encapsulates so much about what makes teaching the unique profession that it is. As I look forward to another year of teaching, together with the challenges of leadership, I would like to write more, as a means to reflect. That reflection should help me and it may also be of interest to others.
Roll on Thursday!