Honesty is the best policy

As part of the Chartered Teacher Programme we are expected to write a reflective journal entry at points through the 14 months, and one of the Phase One assignments was an Impact Portfolio that documented an impact that had a positive effect and one that was less positive. I didn’t have to search very long for either of these impacts, and completing the ISQAM (HMC’s professional development programme for middle leaders) had given me a useful experience of writing about my work and reflecting on its effectIveness. It didn’t take long to write my assignment for CTeach and receive some peer-feedback from another participant in the Programme. What struck me was the comment about my assignment being very ‘honest’. I’ve never been one to shy away from saying if something didn’t work well (though my colleagues would say I can be defensive when receiving critique!) and it made me wonder if I had been too honest.

I attended one of the scoping workshops the RSA ran as part of their Learning about Culture. One of the comments that was mentioned by a participant at a workshop that involved funders was whether there was honesty about the success of creative projects: were practitioners confident enough to share when projects didn’t work, and were the conversations between funding bodies and arts organisations/practitioners open and honest? There is a nervousness about sharing when things don’t work, perhaps a fear that funding bodies will retract future funding from sharing an unsuccessful project.

I remember reading about academics making their rejections public via a CV of failures. Whilst I think this can be empowering (and encouraging to those that might feel there are some in particular fields that have been successful through luck and have not suffered any setbacks) there is a danger of accountability: ‘it’s fine I’ve made this error because people fail: that’s the human way’. How do we balance a need for honest reflection and a reflection that can lead to improvements, without promoting a celebration of failure as if success were irrelevant?

In the classroom I try and avoid any circumstances where a pupil would fail: a task is always constructed so they can succeed (success varies from pupil to pupil). One thing I promote is honest reflection: ‘ask me a specific question’ is my response to ‘I don’t understand’. In the context of a highly-selective School it can be easy for pupils to fear failure and to be nervous or sharing any misconceptions or asking questions that might reveal an ignorance. I promote an academic honesty and model it by acknowledging when I don’t know something, or if I made an error during the course of a lesson. It’s the same with colleagues new to teaching. I tell them to be honest, as they won’t be in any trouble for errors. By sharing and acknowledging things that don’t work, or misconceptions, we can resolve them together.

It will be interesting to see how the CTeach reflective journal entries progress: I hope I continue to be honest, and not shy away from sharing the less successful and positive impacts. I hope too that as the CTeach Programme will open for a new cohort that many will consider applying so they can develop their own reflective honesty that is separate from their job, reducing any fear that to share a failure or less effective impact would somehow harm their working life.

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