Punk Learning

Reading time: 4

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Did you become a teacher to ‘make a difference’?

Tweeters will know that a fairly common share is for colleagues to photograph a pile of books they have in their possession with an announcement that they “can’t wait to get stuck into these”. Many of the titles tend to be hot off the press and understandably we tend to focus on these latest titles and salivate over what nuggets and gems might be inside.

There are of course plenty of other books that might have been around for just a few years but with the passage of time have slipped off our radar. One such ‘must read’ is ‘Never Mind The Inspectors Here’s Punk Learning’ by Tait Coles, a Vice Principal at Dixon City Academy in Bradford.

A Different Kind Of Tension

It’s far too easy to say any book is a ‘must read’ because it has to resonate with you on a personal level but every teacher should take a look at Never Mind The Inspectors.

It is a no nonsense, in your face and cut the crap book that stick’s two fingers up and Tait Coles couldn’t care less if you like it or not. It’s a book that stares at you, intimidates you and enjoys a squabble.

If you are a spreadsheet teacher that likes to control learning and takes a look at a scheme of work and says, “this is great, can I copy it onto my memory stick?” then you’ll probably hate this book because it will challenge your teaching and shake you up but that’s all the more reason to read every page.

These teachers are the glam rockers of this world, all aluminium foil and make-up. These teachers are all show and no balls. They teach to tick boxes and appease their superiors…Their main reason for planning lessons is for them to be judged outstanding, using the Ofsted criteria as their mantra.

It’s scary, authentic and brutally honest and if you are already a punk teacher then you’ll love its boldness and pride. Never Mind the Inspectors is an angry Space Hopper furiously riding a livid Chopper bike and you’re in the way so shift.

For Tait Coles, a punk teacher is the opposite, someone who can walk the talk and facilitate great, memorable and deep learning and focuses on students being outstanding. Punk teachers are the professionals who own up to having had a rubbish lesson but then ask for help and reflect on what they can do differently. Tait says they ask questions like:

“If I did this, would the students have a memorable learning experience?”

“My students don’t get it – how can I change my approach?”

“Someone has spent a lot of hours writing these schemes of work, haven’t they? Bless ‘em, but I’ll do it my way.”

Complete Control

Tait Coles doesn’t mince his words and he wants you to know that ‘the only learning that matters’ is punk learning.  He says that,

The punk learning manifesto states that we, as punk learners, takes risks, do things differently, think for ourselves and decide how we want to learn. This is proper do-it-yourself learning…it is important to remember that punk learners are not just students; we, as teachers, also have to adhere to the manifesto.

Tait says that we can achieve punk learning by choosing how we present ideas and allowing students to learn in a creative and uninhibited way. He talks about punk learning stimulating teachers and students to ‘demand the impossible’ and provides 10 ways to create anarchy in the classroom (you’ll have to buy the book if you want to know what they are).

His punk vision is where learning is active, concerted, purposeful, challenging and self-liberating.

Make Change Happen

It would be far too easy to dismiss Never Mind The Inspectors as “not really for me” but there is a lot of wisdom in the book where students come first. My smug colleague read it and said it was “leftist clap-trap” but then he would because he’s glam and he owns the learning in his class, not the students, and he always plays in tune.

Don’t dismiss, discuss. Take a look at his chapter on ‘Who Invented The Typical Girl?’ and think again about the equality in your classroom, read why he thinks Bloom’s taxonomy is “pants” and share the  chapter on inspirational punk biographies with your students and why they need to be punk learners themselves.

Find out why we should encourage our “students to vomit their questions”, discover how to develop critique, look at why measuring progress is artificial cobblers, why work scrutiny sucks, how to share great learning and why we should assess learners using safety pins.

Pretty Vacant

Described as the “antidote to Ofsted-focused teaching “ by Ian Gilbert who provides the foreword, he says,

So, read this book and then go and kick your own bins over. Take your frustration over the way education is going and channel it into some devastatingly good teaching and learning, take fear and transform it into defiance, turn obedience into arrogance and put children centre stage in each and every viscerally unpredictable lesson.

Never Mind the Inspectors turns your mind attic upside down and makes you think and do things differently. If you’re a teacher that says you entered the profession ‘to make a difference’ then reading this book will make you sit back and wonder how much of a difference you have actually made if you haven’t created genuine student-owned learning. It could be the catalyst of change your teaching needs and might help you develop a belligerent stance and challenge complacency.

There are far too many teachers playing it safe in the classroom and the staffroom. Go and create some anarchy.

If you are a ‘glam’ teacher, go and listen to The Clash and ask yourself, “Should I stay or should I go?”

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