Nicole contacted us at PDA after reading (and loving!) Fierce Conversations. At the time she was a Deputy Head at a local Primary School but has since taken up a post as Advisory Deputy Head teacher at a collaborative of 19 schools in the Borough of Solihull. She joins us on our open Fierce workshop in Birmingham this month to take her Fierce Conversations Accreditation so she can bring her passion for this powerful work to school leaders and students. Here she tells us what happened when she started to use Fierce in the classroom:
Journey begins with Fierce®
Through my own journey of engaging with ‘Fierce’ and under the guidance of Sarah Vogel (PDA Ltd), I had the opportunity to trial some lessons with learners between the ages of 8-11 years old. This revealed several insights into the possibilities that delivering ‘Fierce conversations’ could bring to our young people. In addition, the potential it has to impact pedagogy, assessment and apply more readily what we know about the learning process. This is just a brief outline of the effect that the sessions had on the classes and also the implications it raises for teaching.
The sessions encompassed some key elements of what would be considered ‘Outstanding’ under the Inspection Framework 2012 and these were: Passion, High levels of pupil participation, Thinking skills, discussion skills, high level questioning and Challenge. Pupils were learning something ‘fresh and new’ and this led to higher engagement and generated an air of curiosity about what they were learning. Due to the content being fairly challenging in the form of the FITS Field guide, I adapted the material and created new resources while maintaining all key principles and messages. This ensured that different learning styles were included and much attention was given to the style of delivery and the range of activities available.
Understanding Mokitas and asking for feedback
The skills that pupils learnt through this programme began to transfer to other areas of their learning as well as their lives. An example of this came through them understanding about ‘Mokitas’. I shared with the children how we could use this within other lessons and invited them to express how and when they might apply this concept. Within the same week, they were asking for feedback in areas such as mathematics and being more vocal about what they didn’t understand. In short, the number of conversations they actively sought out increased. They became confident to interrogate their view of their own learning as well as become more open about what they struggled with. This improved their learning across the curriculum because they made the connection of how important it is to have that conversation about their learning and the benefits of doing so. Being so ‘real’ about their learning can be alien for many children because they spend a lot of energy doing the exact opposite. This is down to their desperation to ‘look smart’ rather than actively engaging in their learning process (See Carol Dweck – Self theories and Mindset).
Provoked my thinking
As a teacher, leader and educationalist, this really provoked my thinking about how the system maybe partly responsible for un-doing the ‘Fierceness’ already so very apparent and present in our young people. The polarised standpoints we take on this issue, when the world of Business (apprentice programmes and young enterprise) is literally crying out to Education to equip young Leaders with these skill sets is at the very least disappointing. The same can be said of other areas of Teaching and Learning with a prime example being questioning. By the time children reach upper Key stage 2 we used ‘Higher order’ questioning techniques to support progress and thinking. Teachers labour over the fact that they want pupils to ask more questions themselves, yet, my experience in early years education tells me that young children are excellent at asking questions that start with the words ‘Why and How?’ Therefore, what happens in-between? What messages do we give these young leaders? It really is a crucial debate to be had! Having said all of that, I am thrilled at the prospect of having a real and tangible solution at hand. Even though there is some way to travel, what a positive and enchanting pathway lies before us!
Realisation hit me like a truck
After I had completed a number of sessions with the youngsters, the realisation hit me like truck one day as I went about my daily leadership walk between class to class just checking out the learning and visiting staff. On entering the room a voice projected itself over the tops of heads…”Miss, have you come in to teach us more about conversations?” As I scanned the room I realised that pupils had stopped in their tracks and were waiting eagerly for the reply. Some turned to look at me; some looked at the plucky young man who asked the question, some just froze mid- task and didn’t make a move as they were sitting on a table with their class teacher. “Not today, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a Fierce conversation with someone else.” Even before I had reached the end of my sentence, a wave of disappointed sighs and expressions exploded across the room. As I walked down the corridor and back to my office the expression on that child’s face stayed with me. His image spoke to me and immediately I contacted Sarah to set up a time to feedback about the materials. Some may say how effectively he interrogated reality – he wanted to know then and there – what I am learning today? Oh – and is it going to be relevant because that ‘conversation stuff’ helps me at school and at home. This is extremely profound because it is something that teachers everywhere battle with. Walk into any school and you will find committed, hard-working teachers that share a common issue and that is called trying to develop pupil ownership. There are whole companies and methods just dedicated to improving pupil engagement and participation. It certainly sent a shockwave through me!
I embark on the facilitation programme
I am about to embark on the facilitation programme and feel humbled by the outlook of where this could lead. Not solely for myself, my family, my friends and colleagues but for all of those young people and young leaders who may just get to hold onto their ‘Fierce’ nature. They somehow could get the chance to let it blossom, receive some guidance and above all, be supported in and allowed to have the conversations that could change their lives for the better. That alone, without question, should give us the reason to take this forward.