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Teaching in the Zone

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As the last of the Autumn leaves fall and memories of London 2012 start to recede, various highlights will surely remain such as the unexpected tears of Sir Chris Hoy, perhaps. Or maybe the exhilaration of the Mobot moment.

In a summer blighted by cloud and rain, London 2012 was a magnificent televisual spectacle and a fabulous feast of sporting achievement.

Achievements were hard fought and won and the secrets of the years of struggle, strain and sacrifice were largely hidden from view. We spectators bore witness only to the final act.
We also saw something else too, most typically in the athletics arena where there was a curious variety of pre-event behaviours among the athletes themselves.

Who can forget the showbiz antics of Usain Bolt as he appeared to harness the energy of the crowd? Or the delicate finger rippling routine of Greg Rutherford which seemed at odds with the imminent and powerful long jump surges that would propel him to victory. I've spoken to a number of sports coaches and trainers about these behaviours and what they tell me is that what might look like spontaneous crowd-pleasing or mere eccentricity is actually a crucial component for most athletes as they prepare for competition.

Sometimes it's a simple, well-rehearsed routine that enables them to focus on the impending trial. Or there again, it could be a carefully honed technique to steady the nerves. And when an athlete becomes so strangely self-absorbed, they may simply be mentally and emotionally relocating to a more secure place where they feel fully confident and thus able to fully realise their potential.

Now teachers, like athletes, are also required to 'perform' on a daily, if not an hourly basis, for their students. Worse still, they must 'perform' for their colleagues, not to mention Ofsted Inspectors. Directly or indirectly, student outcomes are dependent to a large degree on the quality of this 'performance' in terms of its contribution to the learning and teaching in the classroom and the interactions a teacher has with their departmental and other colleagues. And under the new Ofsted Inspection Framework, teaching and learning is a key judgement and all must play their part and deliver in this important regard.

Back in September, my Twitter feed - @WorldClassLtd - was bristling with school and
Twitter accounts announcing the CPD schedule for the first week of the new academic year as well as the dates for the various year groups to start back. Interesting to note how of the many used the word "countdown" in these tweets. Heads of Department and classroom teachers took a different tack - their tweets typically tended to articulate and rehearse the various planning and policies to be completed. For many educators on Twitter, there was a mixture of excitement and trepidation as the new school year approached. Excitement at the infinite possibilities the year ahead held and mild trepidation in recognition of the adjustment required after the long summer break.

I'd argue, though, that the necessity to 'get in the zone' arises more frequently than teachers might consciously admit. Let's say you've got an especially challenging group of Year 9 students late in the day in the middle of the working week. With energy levels low and your voice battered and bruised, how do you psyche yourself up and ride the wave that's rushing towards you? Or perhaps you've just delivered an intense 'A' level session and now you're expected to segue seamlessly to a lower ability bunch of Year 7 students. No problem. Secure subject knowledge, effective classroom management skills and a pedagogical stool to stand on will all certainly make a difference. But you know, no matter how big the ammunition belt of attainment targets, pupil tracking levels or mark scheme criteria we wrap ourselves in, our professional rear end could all too easily remain exposed. To borrow the title of one of Graham Greene's novels - the human factor will always need some attention. Driven by high expectations and the requirement to perform, teachers can all too easily become prone to levels of anxiety and stress of the sort our Olympic athletes experience. But just as each athlete must conquer their own particular version of pre-event nerves, each teacher would do well to consider what it is that might work for them as an individual.

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