The circle of education?

Friday was a very important day. Not as important as today being the longest day – downhill to winter from here on in! But important nevertheless because it was sign off day for the first years. Yes, they had finished their final placement and their first year at university with only assignment marks to be verified before, after the summer, they start on their second year. Soon, everyone will be finishing for summer and the cycle of education will be completed for this year and a new one started. As this happens I started to think about working within a cycle and how this impacts on both my teaching and my learning…


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During a recent chat with the education professor within the faculty, he recommended a book to me(‘How to Write a Lot’ by Paul J. Silva) to increase my writing output for myresearch and PhD. As I got to the end of the first chapter, the author talks about returning after the summer break and making excuses or feeling either proud that you achieved a lot or disappointed with yourself about all the things you promised to get done and didn’t. Within the ‘circle of education’ this is a familiar feeling as the summer is often seen as not only as a time to relax and enjoy life, but also as a time to catch up. I’ve always been in education, from starting school to my current post as Senior Lecturer and I am somewhat comforted by the routines and cycles which exists within the teaching year. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach for me?

  • Yearly Progression– One of my roles at university is to be an academic tutor for the a group of students. I am lucky enough to actually have a group in every year, meaning that I am constantly getting a new group of students as the ones which I have been supporting for the last three years head off for the big wide world of teaching. As the third years receive their final grades and post about leaving university, I remember all the meetings, discussions and emails that I have received from them throughout their three years at university. The progression they have made is huge – even in appearance when you look at the first year mugshots on my office wall! Progression is a key feature for all aspects of teaching and learning. The yearly cycle of teaching/learning allows us to have dedicated points of time to reflect on what we have taught and how effective the teaching/learning was and, quite uniquely, have another go at it all. Although the repeat attempt is possible, this should not been seen as a second chance meaning that the first does not need to be fully engaged with. I once attended a talk by Mr. Drew from the television series, Educating Yorkshire, and he made the valid point that, although we will have another go at it next year, for the learners this is their one and only attempt. But, as well as providing the opportunity to progress our teaching, the yearly cycle also provides us with the temptation for repetition.


  • Repeating the sessions – We are all very busy. Every year I think that there are new things to do as your roles and jobs have those extra bits tagged onto the peripherals. As sessions reappear to be taught there is the temptation to accept the success of the previous year’s lesson or module and repeat them exactly the same for the second or even third time. Some sessions remain effective and challenge and engage the learners. But teaching and learning is always progressing and it is important to consider whether, although the session worked well the year before, it can be further improved upon. If this does not happen then there is the possibility that the circle turns more into a spiral, and a downward one at that. My own thoughts about this is that I tend to rework the sessions which didn’t work as well first, and then move to the other ones. This could be seen as a valid starting point, although looking at the module/topic as a whole is also important in order to maintain continuity and flow throughout it. But when is the best time to do this?

  • Making changes – Although this is often identified as a ‘summer job’ there is, as previously mentioned, the possibility that you might return to work after the summer not actually having completed this. Whenever the year finishes, consider extending your year by one more week in order to ‘complete’ the year by collating and preparing for the following cycle. In this way, you are still ‘involved’ in the current year before starting the new one and ideas and alterations might be easier to identify. I often collect information and ideas throughout the year, tagging them in Evernote with the module code, in order to remind me for the following year’s sessions. One of my summer jobs (within the previously mentioned one week extension), is to get a big sheet of paper and cut up the previous year’s module handbook and collate the information from Evernote back into the module, with the student’s comments about sessions also being taken into account. This allows me to create, or sometimes re-create, the module-flow ready for the next year. This is especially important since I use technology a lot within my teaching and I always want to model and include the most up to date resources.

  • I am a creature of habit with well established routines which form the basis of my day to day living, including writing this waffle every Sunday in Starbucks, so working in education has always suited the way I work and possibly live. I have to be aware of the security I gain from routines and ensure that I work on reflecting on sessions and making changes or advances where required. Maybe one day, my life, and maybe teaching, will shoot off on a tangent and I’ll head off into unknown territory but, until that time, I will continue to make my way to the end of the year which will ultimately become the beginning.

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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