Table Tennis or Basketball?
Former headmaster and world renowned educational consultant, Graham Powell certainly had an unusual way about him on the Staff Day as he turned the Music Performance Area into a classroom and the teaching staff into pupils for a day in order to challenge their perceptions of teaching and focus instead on building the habits of effective learners – beyond dependency.
In recent years, Graham has established a widespread reputation for his work on coaching and the ways in which this essential leadership quality can radically improve schools at all levels. He challenged the academic staff to be less concerned with teaching and to focus more on encouraging learning, with an emphasis on the habits that students should have by the time they leave Clongowes.
Asking whether our lessons were more like table tennis or basketball (is the conversation back and forth between teacher and pupil or passed around the room?) Graham deconstructed the methodology in the classroom and reassembled it using Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mushrooms’ as a case study. He urged the importance of planning before jumping in as well as changing the teacher from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.
Rambling, quirky, idiosyncratic – mischievous betimes – Graham was all of this and more as he tried to jolt us out of our certainties, reassess our approaches to teaching and secure our understanding of what it means to build independent learners, who will be equipped for the challenges within the curriculum and beyond.
Over the course of three stimulating yet entertaining sessions we explored the pedagogy that builds students’ learning capacities, recognised the changing role of the teacher as leader of learning and saw how the use of classroom learning enquiries can enhance professional development . Graham exposed us to the practices of teaching for effective learning and visible thinking routines that lead to the development of the teacher as learning coach.
Education is the silver bullet. The Jesuits quickly became known as the educators of Europe and their legacy lives well in schools like Clongowes – the first work, worldwide of the restored Society of Jesus in 1814. For a school that has always been changing with – and sometimes before – the times (witness our far-sighted co-operative learning centre and the use that students make of the state of the art James Joyce Library) this was a timely lesson in classroom methodology.
We are grateful to Graham for the challenges he brought to us, and the wit and wisdom that accompanied his presentation. Some of the changes he espouses are already in train in Clongowes and more will follow as we continue to strive to do justice to the visions of St Ignatius for the Jesuit mission, and of Fr Peter Kenney for the school he founded. Visions that will stand to us in the straitened times we live in and the challenges, which lie ahead.
Declan O’Keeffe, Head of Communications