Personal and professional learning from this summer’s conferences

I was tempted to begin this blog post with a witty anagram of BERA and BELMAS, the two conferences I attended this summer but it is with some degree of embarrassment that I have given up with nothing to show for my efforts.

BERA stands for the British Educational Research Association.  According to their website (, it is a ‘membership association and learned society committed to working for the public good by sustaining a strong and high quality educational research community, dedicated to advancing knowledge of education’. BELMAS is also concerned with the field of education but this society focuses on aspects of and issues concerning leadership, management and administration.

I have been trying for some time to identify ways of applying the methodological and analytical approaches, which I used in my doctoral work, to contexts of educational leadership in line with my roles and responsibilities within the North Leadership Centre.  My doctoral work was a study of teachers’ developing understanding of enquiry based learning.  It primarily concerned concepts of identity and agency in relation to curriculum innovation and formative assessment.  My current position within the North Leadership Centre allows me to work with serving school leaders on aspects of their personal and professional development including identity and agency.

I was delighted, therefore, that my first solo abstracts for both BELMAS in July 2016 and BERA in September 2016 were accepted and included in the conference proceedings.  The abstracts presented the rationale and outlines for two different workshops:

How can Bernstein’s (1996) concepts of ‘classification’ and ‘framing’ be used to explore the development of programmes for school leaders in the North East of England?

This workshop addressed the theme of the 2016 BELMAS conference by challenging a shift in government oversight of education from compliance to performance (Ball, 2000) with a more ‘humanist’ approach to professional leadership development.  It offered tasks aimed at identifying underlying issues which enable or discourage leadership curriculum innovation.  The discussion considered whether incorporating the development of ‘weak’ social structures in new leadership development programmes can help to address key priorities in improving the leadership and management of schools in the current Education sector.

Our dialogical selves: developing an analytical framework for exploring practitioner identity and agency.

This workshop introduced the concept of the ‘dialogical self’ (Hermans, 2001a; Hermans, 2001b) and invited participants to engage with a developing analytical framework for exploring themes of identity and agency.  It offered practical tasks aimed at uncovering underlying issues which enable or discourage practitioners to ‘act’ within their particular contexts.  The discussion considered whether the analytical framework I employed as part of my doctoral work can help to address key priorities in developing practice in the current Education sector.

Both workshops were designed to foster dialogue and encourage critical reflection in order to seek out whether my ideas for future work would stand up to the rigour and expectations of the academic community.  For the first time at these conferences, I felt like I was beginning to find my feet as an academic, capable of holding my own in discussions with others for whom I have a very high regard.  That other academics were prepared to share their experiences and expertise with me was a huge boost to my confidence.  That they encouraged me to continue with my approaches will be the motivating factor moving forwards.

Image: Outcomes from the BELMAS 2016 workshop

Moving forwards, then, I have committed to preparing and submitting an article for a special issue of ‘Management in Education’ later this year.  When I reflect upon my experiences at both BELMAS and BERA, I now realise that I engaged in the conferences as a personal and professional learning opportunities, where, by providing stimuli for discussion, the responses of academic colleagues helped me to move forwards with my own my thinking and doing.  Ironically, I feel I am undergoing a shift in identity myself, which is compelling me to engage further and with greater self-belief.

Dr Anna Reid is a Lecturer in Educational Leadership, Deputy Director of the North Leadership Centre and Programme Director for the North East Teaching Schools Partnership (NETSP) within the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.

Twitter: @AjrReid


Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Maryland: Rowman and Little Publishers, Inc.

Hermans, H,. (2001a) ‘The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning’, Culture & Psychology, 7(3), pp.243-281.

Hermans, H. (2001b) ‘The construction of a Personal Position Repertoire: Method and practice’, Culture & Psychology, 7(3), pp.323-365.

Reid, A. (2016) ‘Aspiring leaders understanding their ‘selves’ and/in social contexts’ [Online] Available at:  Accessed on 16 August 2016.


Reid, A. (2015) ‘An opportunity for change‘ [Online]. Available at:  Accessed on 16 August 2016.

“Step out of the shed and into the garden”: how lesson study enables deep professional learning.


Upon first hearing of the words ‘lesson’ and ‘study’ in the same sentence, I was puzzled. I was to be studying another trainee teacher’s lesson? Wasn’t I supposed to be teaching lessons? Wasn’t that, after all, the whole point of the PGCE, to learn how to teach through practice? I wasn’t completely wrong, however, once my blinding ignorance had slowly subsided, I realised that even though teaching and learning was now at the heart of my life, I had, up until now, focussed solely, if not obsessively, upon the teaching and learning of other subjects –  those of the pupil cohorts sent my way. I must get those learning objectives on the board. How will I be showing progress? Will behaviour for learning targets be achieved? And what about assessment?

In my misguided innocence to please and deliver, I had forgotten about MY own learning and what others could teach me. Of course, I diligently attended every CPD session and university lecture but it takes time to realise that independence in sustained professional learning is also vital. I needed to take time to breathe. To step back. And to slow down and reflect. We often spend so much time moving forward that we forget what sights we have passed along the way. This blog is my narrative of how I took a pause to process key stages and markers that are appearing with increasing frequency on my professional journey as my career in teaching continues to accelerate.

Education is not something one can ever really ‘finish’, not truly. I am learning and I will also be learning as an NQT and also for many more years to come for that is the cyclical nature of the profession to which we have entered – and this is not something mutually exclusive to education, either. Coming from a family of medical professionals, I have also been aware of the other contours of our public sector landscape continuing to reform and evolve as society progresses and years tick by. That said, I was more than a little disappointed, if not in a state of lamentation, of my failure to see beyond the four or five periods stretched out before me. I had been so busy in my shed of learning, attempting to differentiate, collate evidence, mark homework and plan lessons to name but a handful of examples, that I hadn’t heard the screaming going on just outside. I needed to step out, and beyond, so I could actually learn something within a wider professional context before returning to the aforementioned shed and returning to my own affairs. Lesson study was the means by which I could facilitate this process of study for myself for once – and not just my Key Stage Four French class which hadn’t quite mastered the imperfect tense yet.

Cynicism and scepticism dissolved, the lesson study process began. Here we were, myself and Matthew Hutchings, a Chemistry specialist, about to embark upon a professional task about which I knew relatively little. Writing retrospectively, I am now in a position to share what I have learnt and espouse the benefits of lesson study to one and all – an invaluable tool for education practitioners far and wide and one which is possibly, at times, overlooked.

The rise of genuine professionally-minded discussions about the teaching and learning taking place and the benefits of the lesson study process have helped both me and Matt become critical in examination of our own practice and what we would wish to do moving forward in the future, which was something I never thought possible to such an extent, especially in terms of cross curricular engagement with another teacher in a world where some scholastic departments have a tendency to be more than a trifle tribal. Sad, but true.

Personally, I have relished the chance to observe a subject outside of my own subject specialism to contribute to not only my Teaching Standards (T8/PPC) but also begin to examine within myself a broader, deeper and wider idea and construct about what I really think the purpose of education is and how fully-rounded it can be. The observation of Matt’s practical experiment was a chance for me to confess to his pupils that as a linguist, Chemistry was far from my forte but I’m not too old to be learning, too. The pupils seemed to respect this, albeit with a minor degree of surprise, but I’m sure it was hugely reassuring for them to know that I am only human too, teacher at 3:25 or human on the drive home.

Lesson study was useful to see the interactions and behaviours of some of my own pupils in a different lesson with a different teacher and think about why this might be similar, different, and/or unchanged and what I/we could do about it. Humans are social animals and school is, for many young people, the centre of their social environment before adulthood. This permeates into our lessons and as teachers, we have a responsibility to ensure behaviour for learning is largely a positive affair, both inside and outside the confines of the four walls of a classroom.

I enjoyed the chance to observe a trainee in practice to realise that I am not the only one learning, developing and training and this helped dilute any initial professional and/or training confidence issues, something which appealed to my introverted character and emotional nature as a person, distanced from the classroom persona I project on a daily basis when I’m ‘in the zone’.

Amidst a plethora of training, teaching and learning challenges that crop up during the PGCE year, the directed process of lesson study was invaluable in allowing myself and Matt to reflect more deeply about what we are actually doing, how we are doing it and even the ‘why’ (this doesn’t always happen for us in as much detail for a “normal” lesson with time constraints often an unavoidable barrier to the depth of our routine reflections).

Matt put the date in French as a nod to me as a MFL trainee in his Chemistry lesson. A pupil asked why, with more than a certain tone of incredulity and sarcasm to which the response was: “We don’t always teach French in French lessons, nor English in English lessons. We’re all teachers and, quite frankly, why not?” This genuinely made the pupils before my eyes ponder what had just been uttered to them by an education practitioner – even if only for a moment – and felt to me as one of the most sincerely tangible albeit short manifestations of SMSC and the broader notion of what it is ‘to educate’ coming to life before my very eyes in a classroom. If I hadn’t been involved in lesson study, I may never have even seen these fleeting but crucial seconds! It was almost as if the pupils were thinking that it’s actually okay to have a bit of French within chemistry and that, actually, subjects are interlinked as part of a broader curriculum and not mutually exclusive entities.

So, I leave you now with my reflections and invite you to probe at your own. Perhaps you already have. If so, keep doing it. If not, there’s never any time like the present. A real exploration of lesson study is beyond the ticking-boxes-jumping-hoops superficial. It is a real exercise, a deep process which places the spotlight not on them but on us. What are we learning? Step out of that shed and into the garden. You might be missing something.

Author: James Rivett Newcastle University PGCE Student, Modern Foreign Languages

The challenges and realities of implementing compulsory language learning in schools

René Koglbauer is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences (ECLS). He is also Deputy Head and Director of Operations of the School and Director of the North Leadership Centre. In this blog, he argues that the proposed changes to the teaching of modern foreign languages in our schools should not be rushed, and that we should engage in active discussions with practitioners, school leaders, researchers and subject associations to make this a successful change.

Two schoolgirls concentrated on their task with notebook

Two schoolgirls concentrated on their task with notebook

What’s the problem?

Since the majority Conservative Government were elected in May, there has been more discussion on the role of languages in schools. Most recently, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP outlined proposals to reintroduce compulsory language learning in schools. It’s positive to see that the Government are recognising the importance of language learning and to re-position the unique knowledge and skills it brings to the secondary school curriculum. However, should this policy go ahead, we must ensure this isn’t rushed.

There has been a shortage of language teachers in recent years. In the last two years alone, recruitment targets for teacher training places haven’t been met, with 16% going empty for the 2014-15 cohort and the forecast for the coming academic year suggesting a continued decline in applications and consequently in filling allocated training places.

There is also the problem of resources. Recent and proposed cuts mean that an average school will likely struggle to fund the facilities and materials needed. With Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw calling for text books to ‘re-enter’ classrooms, there is further pressure on resources.

We also need to consider whether a single, more rigorous GCSE exam is the right way forward for this policy. Nicky Morgan announced last week that EBacc students will have to gain a grade 5 – equivalent to a low B or high C. What is seen as a ‘good mark’ has therefore risen further. It’s time to get more creative with assessment, looking at how we can keep diverse learners motivated and supported throughout their learning journey.

What’s the solution?

The Government has suggested that where language participation figures don’t improve, schools won’t be able to achieve top grading. Is this really the best approach to motivate and encourage a positive working culture? To get teachers and school leaders on-board, we must not force this onto them too quickly. We need a slower, step-by-step approach, ensuring that change is fully understood, embraced and driven by the school, its culture and its communities, rather than being imposed from outside.

Unless the right implementation is put in place, we risk losing these valuable opportunities to get languages back at the heart of the school curriculum. If we rush and use the stick rather than the carrot, we will simply see demotivated and frustrated teachers, pupils, parents and school leaders. We must engage in active discussion with practitioners, school leaders, researchers and subject associations to make this a successful change.

Taken from the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal Blog

Written by Rene Koglbauer, Deputy Head and Director of Operations of ECLS, Director of North Leadership Centre