Being a magpie teacher

Claire Doherty

Claire Doherty has been a teacher for 15 years and this year appointed as Lead Learning Coach at Cowes Enterprise College. She has had experience of being a Subject Lead of RS, Psychology and SEN. Claire has taught in Scotland and New Zealand and she loves learning about learning.  

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I have never had an original idea of my own, but that hasn't stopped me from magpieing ideas from other people to use in my classroom. I am a millennium teacher, in that I qualified in the year 2000. I’m also lucky enough to love my job and the challenge of teaching Religious Studies… I mean, if you think about it, most people remember their schooling of RS. I certainly do, and it involved distracting the teacher as much as possible through getting them to tell inane stories about their own beliefs / children / views on (insert your own choice here!).

"When businesses use each other’s ideas it’s called ‘collaboration'"

I think it was my subject alone that started me on the road to becoming a magpie. When I started the resources were not inspiring and were very floral… you know exactly what I mean here! In education you may come across those that don't like sharing resources, squirrel away their ideas, and turn their noses up at the thought of sharing! When businesses use each other’s ideas it’s called ‘collaboration’, and as one saying goes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel! I would say to those people, if using someone else’s ideas to improve your teaching in the classroom gives you the confidence to grow and share with others, then go for it! Don't get me wrong; I always credit the original person, as it’s important that you don’t pass yourself off as an expert when all you’ve done is ‘borrow’ someone else’s genius. I have an appetite for taking a topic and finding something to craft into an exciting learning opportunity, it’s either that or my addiction! The magpie, to coin a phrase, is how I have kept my enthusiasm as a teacher for all of this time.

If you are lucky enough to be embarking on your teaching career today, there are so many people to inspire you. My use of Twitter has revolutionized the way I continue to improve. One search right now will give you Poundland pedagogy and a huge range of ideas from different sources. Hywel Roberts, Lisa Jane Ashes and Zoe Elder are a few of many educators that inspire me; their enthusiasm makes me want to be that bit better every day, and their generosity with their ideas and experiences mean I can continue to evolve as a better teacher.

Hywel talks about a “learning hook” in his first book, and the use of images to get students thinking. Using images in my classroom has resulted in my students asking so many questions; for example, the famous picture of the self immolation of Thích Quảng Đức was used as a starter to my lesson on pacifism this week.

"The latest thing I am working on is RAG123, which I found from Kev Lister."

Lisa Jane Ashes and her thought bombs have been fantastic. Using balls that you find in ball pits up and down the country in children’s play areas (going cheap in Poundland) to introduce key ideas, or to reflect on a moral issue by using questioning in a thought bomb thrown around the classroom, has really helped to increase the engagement of my students. Ron Berger inspired me to get my students to organise an evening of Philosophy. This involved sharing their year’s worth of learning with their family and friends; to my pleasure another teacher across the country was inspired to have a go themselves.

Zoe Elder’s marginal gains have been amazing to explain to parents how to support their children’s learning at home. The latest thing I am working on is RAG123, which I found from Kev Lister. So far, this has had a really positive impact on marking and feedback in my classroom and I’m loving the dialogue of learning this has created with my students. I am marking more, yet it feels like it is taking less time. He has some fabulous blogs on the subject, have a look!

Something else got me thinking as well. If we don't use each others ideas, if we stop sharing and wanting to improve, what then? What will education become? So get out there, read, use ideas and collaborate with others, because if we inspire each other to have the confidence to grow as teachers, then the world is ours to magpie.

From whom have you magpied? Share ideas and give credit below!

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