by Paul Hendrie
In my previous post I discussed my conversations with colleagues about the value of being ‘contributors’ (defined in that post as ‘ teachers who present, write a blog, publish articles, or actively share examples of their teaching practice’). In this second instalment, I will describe what these informal, anonymous conversations revealed about the barriers faced by contributors and non-contributors, and how the contributors overcame them.
Barrier 1: I don’t have time
This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common difficulty given. Teachers have many pressing commitments, and contributing sometimes seems to be ‘yet another thing’ to try to fit into a busy career.
Don’t try to ‘find time’ – you have to ‘make time’
‘Contributors’, however, seemed to recognise and overcome the barrier of time pressure. Some said that it was essentially a matter of priorities and motivation for them – they wanted to do it and therefore simply made the time. An interesting observation was in teachers’ word choices in the conversations; contributors used the phrase ‘make time’ more often than ‘find time’. This appears to show that motivation (or perhaps determination?) is a key factor in the process.
Barrier 2: I have no idea what to write/talk about
Another common barrier for non-contributors was their sense that they had nothing to contribute. This is interesting to note, as it can be given by teachers who are both highly qualified and very experienced. Contributors also recognised this barrier but had responded to it in two ways:
Actively seek a specific interest
Some were inspired by a certain idea they had come across which they wanted to trial, refine or report on. These teachers seemed receptive to alternatives for teaching, and this receptivity appeared to be a catalyst for contributions of their own. It also hints at a certain openness and flexibility towards one’s teaching practice.
Reflect consciously and habitually on your practice
Others suggested that ideas can be generated through conscious, habitual analysis of teaching practice: being ‘mindful’ or asking – ‘what do I do in the classroom’? ‘What works for me?’ ‘How can my students learn in a different/more effective way?’.
Barrier 3: I don’t know how to write
A common theme amongst many contributors was their sense of apprehension when they wrote or presented for the first time. There seemed to be a sense of personal risk when publicising, as it meant attaching their name to something publicly available. Collectively, they faced uncertainty about writing conventions, an occasional immobilising lack of confidence in their ideas, and a vague worry about readers’ reactions.
Take action: write, produce, draft, redraft..
All the contributors pushed through these doubts by simply taking action. Several said that their first publication was far from perfect, and others said that looking back, they might approach the task differently. However, all reported that completion of this task gave them an enormous sense of achievement. It seemed afterwards that the worry over their work had been a greater burden to them than the work itself. They saw value in what they had produced, they gained hugely in confidence, and were more likely to want to contribute again in the future. Such activities might have changed their perception of themselves as teachers.
So, the barriers are there, but they can be overcome. You could analyse your own teaching expertise, uncover the most effective elements and share them with colleagues. You could hunt down methods and activities to help your class learn more effectively, then reveal to colleagues what worked. You could identify, develop and publicise your interests through reflective practice. Any one of us has the right to become an expert.