A culture of blame?


I was inspired to write this post when I read Shelly Terrell’s post “Bad Teachers, Scapegoats, and Halting Education Transformation”  on the Cooperative Catalyst Blog. I think this is a “must read” post for all in education whatever their role. I added a short, and very hurried, comment to Shelly’s post but felt there was so much I wanted to say that putting it all in a comment would make the comment inappropriately large.  So here goes with the post!

The focus of Shelly’s post is on the escalating “blame the teacher” culture in the USA, which she writes about so graphically and with great passion. It is also about the need for informed reform rather then the “knee jerk” reactions that appear to be taking place. I began a comment and realised that it was likely to become inordinately long so I cut it short with an appreciation of Shelly’s very apt analogy and a reference to my feeling that this is not just an issue within the USA but is global in scope. As a child growing up in the UK I remember much more respect for the role of teacher. Certainly from my perspective if I was in trouble at school I was also in trouble at home because my parents (neither of them highly educated) believed that my teachers were entitled to be treated with respect. This seems to have changed significantly with time, not just in the UK but also here in Australia and as I am very well aware through my PLN in the USA as well.


By the time I became involved in teaching some 20 years after leaving school the whole focus was shifting strongly from the respect your teacher culture of my childhood towards disrespect for teachers and indeed for “authority figures” in general. My teaching was (and still is) in an adult education context albeit with many 15-19 year old learners and the culture of blame was becoming established in the UK then – just over 20 years ago! A colleague nearing retirement said something to me at the time that has stuck ever since – her words were “teachers are the only profession that is held responsible for the quality of others’ work without any authority over those people”.  I am aware that the phrasing is not “of this time” however the idea is still valid. I put this out on Twitter once and got a reply that someone was responsible for the actions of their work team. In my view this misses the point as members of a work team are there because they want to be for some reason, even if this reason is the pay cheque at the end of the week.  The work team manager also has “authority” in the form of organisational sanctions that may be applied if members don’t work appropriately.

Currently, teachers seem to be held ever more responsible when students don’t “learn” (learn often being quantified by level of achievement in standardised tests).  However teachers also lack the freedom to make the professional, informed educational decisions that suit the needs of their students and increase the likelihood of engagement and subsequent learning. Teachers often also have large classes, including students with a wide range of behavioural and learning issues. In my personal experience of working with disengaged young people (having behavioural and other issues) in a mixed group with mature age learners, much time is often spent keeping everyone safe! There is often little or no parental support for the teacher if the young person behaves inappropriately towards others either verbally or physically. Opportunities for learning can be difficult to generate in that situation, especially when we are constrained by the required outcomes. I am lucky I don’t have to “get my students through” standardised tests, because our vocational general education (ie literacy/numeracy) curriculum is outcomes based. However they do have to generate products that meet the assessment criteria, which in itself is a challenge.

Why is education treated differently?

As a global society there seems to be an increasing emphasis on consulting all stakeholders about policy and practice relating to every facet of society. However this appears to be disregarded when it comes to consulting educators about the future of education. I have wondered about this intermittently for some time and to me there seem to be a few points that keep recurring in my thinking, these are in no particular order.

1. We are an increasingly litigious society – because of this there always has to be someone to blame. Teachers are a useful scapegoat. They are in the front line and may often be in second place to a parent as the person (other than peer group) with whom the students is perceived to spend the most time. Of course no-one wants to be aware that with a class of 30 students this time spent is 2 minutes per student per hour!

2. Anyone who has been a student feels that they are more qualified to speak on and make decisions on education policy and practice then someone who has made it their lifetime profession. This is analogous to someone who regularly attends court cases feeling that they are qualified to frame legislation and hand down legal judgements. Actually perhaps not a good analogy after all as this is what politicians do all the time, although I believe they do sometimes consult with the legal profession!

3. Using standardised tests on one group of people to judge the competence of another group is illogical. Standardised testing in general makes no sense to me for several reasons in addition to its dysfunction in measuring teacher competence:

  • The (I believe) erroneous perception that learning (as opposed to memorising) can be easily judged by measuring (ie taking a test score). I’m not saying there is no place for memorising – I still bless the teacher who drilled me in “times tables” in primary school. However learning is more qualitative than quantitative, particularly as you move into higher order skills.
  • One size fits all approach – we have the juxtaposition of “treat students as individuals” versus the “students should achieve this score at this age” strategy of standardised testing.
  • Similar to the previous point – this score should be achieved in this time period no matter what baseline the student starts from. There is no consideration of “added value” ie how far has the student moved from their baseline
  • Narrowing of curriculum – the result of standardised tests with restricted content is that teachers are pressured into teaching to the test not the needs of the student or even the curriculum. This is made worse by the fact the students (and often their parents) only want the work that will be in the test.

4. Many educators are willing and keen to demystify education by debating the effectiveness or otherwise of their strategies with people outside their profession. This very willingness to be open to discussion and reflection has sometimes given those who would criticise destructively greater opportunities to do so.

5. I wonder at times whether there is not an element of jealousy in the sometimes vituperative criticism aimed at teachers. There has always been a perception that “teachers have it easy”, arising from the apparently short days and long holidays. I remember being surprised on visiting the home of my English teacher when I was 12 at the piles of exercise books awaiting marking over the weekend. This teacher lent us his own books, put on a school play every year – and gave those of us who took part a party after the last performance. At least he didn’t suffer abuse and blame for the fact that most of my peers were actively discouraged from reading at home and did not read well. We were rural children and many were expected to contribute to feeding the family or looking after younger siblings, rather than “waste time” reading.

In conclusion

I feel that all of the above are factors that contribute to what makes (in my personal opinion) education different. The net result is that teachers are trapped between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. The outcome is stressed, scared teachers. I think this is why some are joining the witch hunt. Like Shelly I am angry when teachers join the condemnation of their colleagues as “bad teachers” but I can see that they might feel (perhaps unrealistically) that this makes them personally more secure in their own jobs.

I also agree with Shelly that change has to happen and that it should be informed change with input from all stakeholders. I am unsure whether or when this will happen. However as Shelly indicates it seems possible that there is some re-evaluation happening in the UK with respect to judging teachers and schools on the basis of standardised tests. I think the USA is further down the road of standardised testing and subsequent blame than we are here in Australia and I fear that our politicians are treading the same path.

Thank you Shelly for providing the trigger for this!

Two Webinar Overviews


Our missing recording has been found and is now available – Thank you to the Elluminate Support Team for their persistence finding this long after I had given up!

A combimation of pressure of work and miscellanous other issues including a lost recording for the first of these two sessions meant that I got so far behind on the overviews that this week I have done a combined overview for the week with the lost recording (Students are Students) and the following week’s Serendipity session. I will also be doing a separate post for the most recent webinar on motivating students.

Students are Students


Unfortunately we have no recording available for this session which was very lively. Also I’m sorry for the delay in posting about this webinar but I was hoping that the recording would become available. If the recording goes eventually become available I will add it to the post and Tweet this. The post will be longer than usual because of the lack of recording, and will try to describe the activities and outcomes in rather more detail than the usual overview.

The Session

The focus of the session was on classroom management issues and on drawing some parallels between these issues in a face-to-face situation and in the virtual context. We began by inviting people to put their main classroom management issues on the whiteboard.


Then we grouped them to try and put similar ones together. This was slightly arbitrary as there is certainly a case for combining the “need/relevance” group with the “motivation/interest” group in that perceived irrelevance impacts on motivation. In my personal opinion, a perception that the class/work is not relevant is not the only reason for poor motivation and/or a high level of disinterest. So we ended up with six issues: behavioural; motivational; perception of need/relevance; attendance; parental pressure; differing “level”.

Using a series of polls we narrowed these down as it was not practical to consider them all – lack of motivation was a clear winner, we also took a brief look at the behavioural issue.


In both cases we whiteboarded some of our own strategies for managing lack of motivation, mainly in a face-to-face context.


Several of these were described in much more depth by people who used them giving us a great “feel” for how they worked in a particular context. We also touched briefly on barriers to implementing some of these strategies including: the heavy demands made on the teacher by project based learning; and the requirement in some places for “seat time” where students have to be in class for set times – this precludes time-out options.


In the short time left before the end of the session we talked about managing potentially disruptive behaviours whatever the cause in both the face-to-face and virtual environments. Again we used whiteboard, text chat and audio. As before a variety of strategies were suggested although we lacked the time to explore these in more detail. However there were a range of ideas put forward in text and audio as well as on the whiteboard.

These included: involving parents; the use of ground rules – preferably wholly or partly developed by the students; invoking peer pressure; adopting calming techniques and removal of the student from the room. There was considerable discussion in text and audio about the factors that may contribute to behavioural issues. Two main possibilities were raised:

  1. The almost continuous consumption by students of sweet beverages and “snack” foods high in sugar and other additives and the possibility of countering this by encouraging the drinking of water instead.
  2. An increasing trend for shorter breaks (recesses) and less physical activity undertaken within those breaks leaving students with excess energy that may be channeled into disruptive behaviour.

Due to the time factor we didn’t really explore the behavioural issues in much depth. Although from my personal perspective they are much more significant in a face to face situation than is lack of motivation. This is because in my opinion an unmotivated student impacts mainly on their own learning whereas a student showing disruptive behavior impacts negatively on the learning of all the others in the class. Of course unmotivated students often move into disruption for various reasons and then this becomes a behavioural issue. In a virtual situation it can be easier to manage disruptive students by simply restricting their access to tools and so limiting their impact on others.


Finally we looked very briefly at our perceptions of a few of the advantages/disadvantages of face-to-face vs virtual with respect to motivation and behavior. Face-to-face was seen as having advantages in: seeing body language and in opportunities for teamwork, and disadvantages: in that the students know if you are having a bad day, and also in the potential for physical risk. Virtual has advantages in: the physical separation for reducing risk and minimising disruption through controlling access, and disadvantages in: not being able to pick up non-verbal cues and also the inablitity to see when students are “playing” rather than working’

Luckily (from my perspective as we have no recording available) there were few links shared during this session. One of our participants Heidi Chaves suggested this book for  a variety of classroom management strategies.

Serendipity – the Place of Technology in Education


Our regular Edublogs Serendipity unconference sessions are always enjoyable, not least because we have no idea at the beginning where we will go in our journey!

On this occasion we explored our perceptions of the place of technology in the schools of today and tomorrow. For this session as usual we have a recording link that is well worthviewing.


As often happens in these sessions the discussion was wide ranging touching on many of the well known issues around technology in education. This is very much the nature of the Serendipity sessions in contrast to our Fine Focus sessions where we endeavour to stay ”on topic”. In addition to audio and text chat we filled three whiteboards with thoughts and ideas!



With lively sessions such as this using the three communication strands of audio, text chat and whiteboard a post can only give a “taste” of the session, catch the recording for the full “flavour”.

Join us each week for our webinars  alternate weeks we have:

Edublogs Serendipity – unconference session where you bring along your hot topics and burning issues (what makes you spit with anger or thump a tub with passion) and throw them into the melting pot for the poll to choose our topic in the first ten minutes.

Edublogs Fine Focus – one of three strands “Talk Time” facilitated discussions on specific topics;  “Tools and Strategies” where the focus is on the use of specific tools or strategies in a teaching and learning context; or “Techie How To” where we learn how to use a an application or tool

Same time each week on Thursday  at 23:00 GMT/UTC (7pm USA EST, Midnight BST) or Friday 1am CEST,7am West Aus, 9am NSW, depending on your timezone – in the Edublogs/Elluminate Community Partnership Elluminate room

Edublogs Webinar – Teach to the Test?

Wow! This was a session with a buzz! The Teaching to the test vs teaching to the learner’s needs debate is one of those perennial topics that always gives rise to a terrific discussion. Made even better by @philhart’s excellent facilitation, you should definitely catch the recording!

I don’t think Phil will mind me saying that he was a bit nervous. We have co-facilitated lots of times but usually with myself as lead doing most of the talking or in “Techie How To!” sessions where we took a section each. This was the first time that Phil had initiated and facilitated a discussion session, and in my possibly biased opinion he did a great job!

Phil has already posted about his feelings on the session  so it falls to me to give a bit of an overview.  The session included several polls and lots of whiteboard brainstorming, this combined with the strong contributions through text chat and audio made for a highly interactive session.  Whiteboards with stimulus questions were quickly filled with thoughts and ideas with the pace maintained by using the timer. This is not really the place to put up all those whiteboards but to whet your appetite for the recording I have made a Wordle  for one of them.  The question was looking for personal reasons for teaching to learners’needs.


Feedback at the end was very positive and everyone seemed to enjoy the session immensely.

SerendipitybsmallOur next Webinar is an Edublogs Serendipity – unconference session so bring along your hot topics and burning issues and throw them into the melting pot for the poll to choose our topic in the first ten minutes.

Join us here in Elluminate on Thursday February 18th at 23:00 GMT (6pm USA EST, Midnight CET) or Friday February 19th at 7am West Aus, 10am NSW, depending on your timezone.