In a chance online encounter for another purpose I ended up in yet another conversation with a teacher frustrated and challenged by teaching in a MLE. She was “yet to be convinced” of any value or advantage. She feels she’s lost her autonomy and her ability to be creative. She now has to teach reading, writing and maths groups to a timetable that matches perfectly with the three other teachers she shares a space with. While there may be some advantage in that the grouping they can use over four classes means each group has more similar needs and the academic content can be closely targeted, isn’t this just a form of streaming? Aren’t we starting to learn that ability grouping causes as many issues as it solves? I remain concerned that primary teachers, many of whom have decried the use of streaming and adherence to rigid timetables in the secondary system are now doing the same instead of using new teaching spaces as the driver to actually interrogate and change their teaching practice.
I’ve heard many times now- A modern learning environment is not a modern learning environment if all that has changed is the space and our practice has not changed. If we are going into these new spaces and putting four groups of learners and four teachers and multiplying what we once did by four then all that is likely to occur is stress and burnout.
I love collaborative teaching for the flexibility it could bring to the learning experience for our learners. The ability to tap into different passions and skill sets. The opportunities for modelling of and experiencing social situations and learning. But I wonder whether we are taking enough time to consider as leaders what that actually means for learning and then taking the time to support our teachers into interrogating their practice and then most importantly giving them licence to explore new practice. New practice is not doing the same thing just with four teachers in a bigger space. Too often I’m thinking the new practice stops at the organisational stage of how will we make this work?
Yes, I agree teaching in a MLE can feel like a loss of autonomy for a teacher if nothing else but the space changes and now you are having to cater for and cooperate with multiple adults and learners. But if practice changes autonomy is possible. Autonomy within a collective agreement responsibility and towards a collective outcome for our learners.
Agency is one of the important keys in a modern learning environment.Developing multiple opportunities and pathways for learner agency requires us to change our view of agency in a learning environment. If we organise and stream our learners and tell them where they have to be and with whom they have to be every moment of the day are we providing opportunities for them to have agency over their learning? A vital skill for their growth and their future.
Teacher agency and autonomy now fits under a much bigger umbrella. Within a team having a vision for learning that is clear, with teacher actions and decisions able to be linked to that. Flexibility within the learning environment for learners to take multiple pathways towards that vision, teachers relearning their roles in order to provide scaffolds within those choices, rather than their role being to dictate those choices. . So for teachers rather than creating the big picture of the learning themselves, then giving students some limited choices underneath a clearly adult designed pathway, it’s about working together to provide the pathways as learners start taking them. This requires a much more responsive approach that needs flexibility in approach and timetabling and planning, and some different measures of success.
Which brings me to the crux. If we keep measuring new practices with old measures we will continue to move at a glacial pace in schools.
We need to have courage to change our practices, which also means changing our organisation and changing our measures. And leaders need to have courage to let go of some of the old. What point is there in giving teachers freedom to innovate, or ask them to give learners lots of agentic opportunities and then insist on measuring the success with the same measures that were used and more appropriate to another time.
If we don’t work to change things at every level, then we will continue to simply frustrate and burn out teachers as we move more and more into modern learning environments.
Some Previous Posts I've written on similar topics: