feedback,  Professional Development,  Teacher Reflection

Sharing our Failures


IMG_0873 by Taylorbri CC BY

Last week on Twitter, I had a conversation over a few hours with @IMsporticus, Dean Dudley, Doug Gleddie, Andy Vasily, Dr Ash Casey, MrsLieke, TimFletcher12 and Mark Williams came in at the end.  Phew!

The central take-aways of our conversation for me was the interest in how we should not continually high-fiving ourselves or using social media for this platform, but about how we can use our PLNs for a much richer conversation that involves feedback and critique of our work as #physed teachers and learners of our craft.

There is a lot of information on twitter and the original people who put the hashtags up for PE people to use must be amazed at the sheer volume that goes up under those tags.  Recently there have been new hashtags that make it easier to filter more content such as #PEblog which means it is easier now to find specific content which I appreciate as #physed and #pegeeks have become congested and I wonder whether people consider that their work is open to critique from the wider community.

The debate I feel I am wondering about now is: Do we say something if we see a post or idea that goes against what we believe or teach?  How do we go about critiquing work or offering suggestions when we don’t know the person that is sharing?  The context of their post may be perfectly explained for them, at their school, in their career with their students but may not hold any relevance for another person.  Should we be sharing our views on twitter of other’s work?  Would that be better done on their blog in more than 140 characters and how do we go about doing that if we are not in a working relationship with them?  Should we be using a hashtag about wanting critique or a purpose to our post?

For me, I feel that I have a handful of people that I would name on my blog post or idea if I wanted their critique, and I hope that if I add you as a name to something I am sharing, you will know that this means I know you have a proven track record in being honest and sharing your feedback on something I am grappling with or sharing for input or ideas.  I am also open to feedback from the wider community and hope that this will happen as a comment on my blog (if that is what was shared) so that more conversation can be added to ideas and we can grow and learn about that topic together.

I also know who to go to to ask specific questions or generate ideas.  Do you have those in your network?  Do you know who will consistently have high expectations of your work and hold you accountable to them?  Or are you looking for the high-five approach?

Recently I have been dipping in and out of twitter and relying on conversations from people who I have had learning chats with or read their work or can see that their philosophy or vision and approach is somewhat similar to mine – and I know I am growing as a learner because of these interactions, but if I limit myself to these then I am missing out on the next person to add to my ‘go-to’ list and so I need to keep dipping back in to read the tags that interest me and find those people who are leading the charge in their domains.  I wonder how others are using Twitter to grow their own brains.

So, this has led me to consider what I share on Twitter and own a failure rather than something I am more proud of.

This year I have had several Grade 8 students who I consider to be very talented athletic people.  They are not just physically capable but they have the knowledge and they interact with their friends and others to grow as athletes in a major way.  I have really tried to accommodate them in my planning but I have struggled to really push them beyond what they have already learnt and I know that this is a failure for me this year.  I have set tasks that have incorporated a lot of interaction, sharing of knowledge and evaluating their learning and making their thinking visible, but it is clear that I now need to become a stronger advocate for how they are learning skills and strategies in sport/games and grow their ability to transfer their existing and emerging skills into new games and to learn more and extend them physically.  I am going to need to seek out support as they move into High School as they are stronger and fitter than most kids I teach and they are so excited in PE to play and be active so I need to do less written work and give them the tools to be soar in PE at my school with my facilities and their peers.  I will need to consider this for Grade 9 PE and also the units we teach.  I will also need to find people to help me out and I will need to learn more about specific sports in this process.  I will need to find experts in Net Games and Striking/Fielding games as these are not my speciality and I will need to take the time to do this with these kids firmly in mind.  I have let them down, and I feel like I have let myself down in this process.

Sharing over.  It is time to get planning for how to make this change and I know a few people to ask….


  • mhamada

    Thanks for sharing Tim and taking the time to comment. I also think we need to scan what comes out and make it fit into the context of our own learning, teaching and school environment and the place where we are at the moment. I note that Ken Forde told me on twitter that he would be nervous to share his failures in case a future boss read them, it is interesting as I feel that any potential boss who judged me on my ability to share failure and the learning curve that hopefully came from it as a negative, is not someone I want to work with as my philosophy of learning is not going to align with them which would probably lead to unhappy working life. I totally agree with you about the balance of workload and learning – that proximal learning zone is so important and the balance we need to find between working at school and not so much at home (for PE I reckon we need limited homework, the kids have a busy life as it is). So much to consider!

  • Tim Kilminster

    Hey Mel,
    I agree with what you have said about the use of Twitter, Facebook groups and blogs. There is certainly a need to share what we are doing well, what we are learning, but also the trails we are going through so that we can grow. Understanding the intention and background behind what people post is also very important. I am not as active with these types of posts, though I do scan and read a lot of what is out there. I really liked what Andy wrote:

    You read blog posts and articles and draw in what resonates the most with you and your teaching practice. You do not judge as right or wrong but take what you feel can make you better at what you do within your own teaching space.

    I think this is a great way of approaching professional learning.

    Sharing our trials and tribulations is also a great way for us to learn, improve and develop our current practices. For us this year, we have really struggled to create effective assessment pieces for the planning for performance criteria that are not so massive they become unmanageable to assess effectively and timely. We are trying to identify ways that allow us to still reach the same or higher levels in the performance/health improvements, while making the students and our workloads realistic. Any suggestions would be great.

    Just my thoughts at the moment.

  • mhamada

    Thanks Andy – good truths to consider as we share our work. i think you need experience and confidence and a network that supports your growth before you will admit something isn’t working out, feeling like I have found that and am evolving as a teacher too. Keen to see more as we keep debating along the way.

  • mhamada

    Nice analogy Ash, I like the interlink that higher education brings to the practitioners who are in schools and accessing the new research and data about how to teach in PE is so important as we grow in our craft and seek out new ways to move onwards. I do think perhaps I have reached the point where I want more meaningful interactions with people that know me and my work and who are ready to be honest with me about how they would encourage my growth so that I can gain and in turn my students can gain from this too. thank you for sharing your approach and your knowledge and thinking Ash, the community is really enriched with you questioning us and sharing new ideas and information and making us critique as learners.

  • mhamada

    Ken, thank you for your input and sharing – I think that the idea of twitter has a bit of a Bloom’s Taxonomy about it with putting the feelers out first and then at the top end the need to be critical and I can see the professional growth that comes with experience and time. You are one of my go to people and I always like learning from and with you, I am looking forward to more interaction and time spent sharing ideas and how we are growing our own brains and interacting w our students in PE.

  • andy vasily (@andyvasily)

    The use of social media in my practice is certainly not about the big high fives. I use social media to share and connect. The questions you ask in this blog post are relevant. (Do we say something if we see a post or idea that goes against what we believe or teach? How do we go about critiquing work or offering suggestions when we don’t know the person that is sharing?)

    My advice is that you continue to be the best teacher you can be. You continue to have healthy skepticism for anything you come across which you may or may not agree with. You seek first to understand the perspectives of others who teach in completely different circumstances than yourself then form your opinions accordingly You read blog posts and articles and draw in what resonates the most with you and your teaching practice. You do not judge as right or wrong but take what you feel can make you better at what you do within your own teaching space. You share your ideas, teaching practice, thoughts, opinions, and comments freely but remember that others may not see things the same way. You love the profession you are in and continue to try your best to better it in any way you can. Along the way, enjoy the journey and continue to learn and grow. My thoughts Mel.

  • Ken

    The desire to “high-five” is inherent in any PLN, we want to share the best of ourselves, not necessarily because we are narcissistic or seeking glory, but because most of us genuinely think our work could benefit others and want to share it.

    Professional self-reflection is easy, recognizing and developing weaknesses in practice at a personal level is not easy but certainly not challenging, it just requires the work to be put in to do it effectively.

    Sharing your failures with a wider audience and asking them to critique or comment further is a very high-level professional skill. In my relatively short career I have only come across in a handful of professionals who are willing or even capable of doing this (primarily in my core group of Twitter people) because it is not longer a reflective process. It is evaluation and judgement and all the stresses, self-consciousness and insecurity that goes with that.

    The other challenge with this, in the age of social media that has connected so many outstanding #physed teachers is that we have to remember anything we post is effectively our professional record and online identity. I would like to think an administrator looking to hire me would view a post about a recent failure in teaching as a professional reflective practice, but part of me is terrified this evidence will influence their decision. We spend a lot of time helping our students develop awareness of their digital footprint and it is just as important for us to be conscious of our own. (particularly in the small circles of schools we work in internationally).

    So, in the spirit of professional sharing, one of my big challenges this year was recognizing the online portfolio system I have been building for our PSE is not an effective tool. This was tough, after the time (3 years) spent developing the system to fit our model of SLC’s and realizing this year that it had zero added benefit. I now know it is more important to ensure there is a clear purpose before selecting the tool. I was way to focused on the format/template etc. and lost sight of the purpose for the SLC’s.

    Thanks for a great post Mel, great to be thinking and reflecting critically at this point in a very long year.

  • Ashley Casey

    My daughter came to have her hair cut the other day but she didn’t see the need. Her hair was long and she wanted it longer so why would she need to have it cut? Sensible question really. Why would you trim something that you want to grow. Why not simply celebrate the fact that it looks good and move on?

    We (my wife and I) told her that cutting it would simulate growth which is true but it is a little illogical? We do the same with plants in the garden. We prune them, and sometimes fairly brutally it feels, and yet they come back stronger.

    I think this is the approach we need to take on social media and in our communities. I blog because it challenges me to read research – sometimes quite complex stuff – and summarise it. But I also do it because I want to have critical discussions. The new blog was designed to embedded this teacher-researcher discussion from the start and I am challenged by these discussions and I want to be challenged more (hint hint). It’s nice to hear that I got it right but I also like to hear a counter argument. Supportive and critical debate is good. High Fives and back slapping only gets us so far. So celebrate the good but be aware that there are pros and cons.

    We need to move beyond celebration and dispute our practices so that we can grow. We should, perhaps, treat our pedagogues more like our hair or our plants. Prune them, cut them back and aspire to see real growth in both what we do and what our students gain from this.

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