The Teacher Education Review podcast is a one that I listen to when it comes out because of the well thought out discussions and research-driven conversations it contains. As Cameron Malcher says, it bridges the gap between research, policy, and practice. A recent episode, TER #096, featured an interview that Dan Haesler conducted with Katharine Birbalsingh, the Principal/Head Teacher of the controversial Michaela Community School in the UK.
I have to admit that I know very little about the Michael Community School, other than it is regarded as controversial due to its no excuses approach to education and so I was intrigued to hear about the school from the Principal herself.
The interview with Katharine begins at the 45:11 mark in the episode and I would very much encourage you to listen to it. It is a reasonably lenghty interview and addresses some of the most common critiques that are apparently levelled the school. I found it very interesting. From what I have heard in the media and through social media outlet, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a school run by the wicked witch of the west. Katharine, however, came across as very articulate, passionate, and knowledgable about education. Granted, that does not equate to a good educator, but it is a good base from which to have a conversation with someone.
I found it intriguing that at various points I found myself nodding in agreement with what Katharine was saying. Her thoughts on engagement, that it should be about the subject being engaging in and of itself through the authentic pedagogy rather than engaging because there is a singing and dancing teacher (obviously hyperbole, but the message comes through I believe) is something I think many teachers would agree with. Her comments around behaviour, and I am paraphrasing here, that students behave because they buy into the school and realise they are getting something back (an education) when they behave and that misbehaviour is the result of a disconnect between the teacher and the student through the pedagogy, was intriguing.
This is a perspective on behaviour that I have not heard before and I would be interested in your opinion on this area. Personally, I feel that I can see where Katharine is coming from with this, but that it is only part of the equation. I am a big believer in physics (hard not to be) and that there is a strong connection between physics and the classroom. Newton's third law of motion states:
that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The connection may seem woolly, but my interpreation of this into the classroom is that everything happens for a reason. A student is acting out, misbehaving, for a reason, and often there is some sort of deficiency, either in the classroom or at home, that is causing this. Maslow's Hierarchy of needs should be at the front and centre here, and we should be asking ourselves, when a student is acting out, what has happened that caused this reaction? I do not buy, for one moment, the notion that some kids are just naughty (hat seems as accurate as saying that some people are just racist) and so the notion that misbehaviour is a lack of buy-in into the school is an interesting one.
I think the only real area where I was in outright disagreement was the no excuses policy itself. I can see where Katharine is coming from with this, but I disagree. There are going to be factors outside of a child or parent's control that causes an event or incident that is at odds with school policy or rules. Punishing the child for that seems unjust in my opinion.
I would very much encourage you to listen to the interview and share your thoughts, either here through the comments, or on twitter.