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It’s not you – it’s me

By Mark Dawes (September 2021)

Over the past year, professional development courses, mathematics teaching conferences, meetings and work group have all moved online.  This has had many obvious disadvantages, but a major positive has been not needing to travel.  As a result, I have been in the fortunate position of being able to attend lots of sessions in the past 18 months, including CPD in summer term 2020 (after CAGs were complete), both of the subject association conferences during the Easter holidays in 2021 and more CPD after TAGs this past summer (2021).

This blog post is a reflection on two presentations I attended.  There were lots of similarities.

  1. Both of them were built around mathematical tasks.

  2. The mathematical tasks were ones I was familiar with already.

  3. The attendees were similar.  Both sessions included (and were aimed at) primary and secondary teachers.

  4. I had previously enjoyed sessions from both presenters.

  5. The structure of the sessions was similar, with opportunities to work in breakout rooms.

  6. The mathematical tasks were relevant to the title of the talk.

I thoroughly enjoyed one of the presentations and am still thinking about it now, whereas I found the other one frustrating and didn’t get much out of it.

Why was this?  What was the major difference between the two sessions?

On reflection, the difference was me.

In the session I regarded positively:

  1. I had had a less busy day.

  2. I was feeling more rested.

  3. I had recently had some coffee.

  4. I saw the tasks in advance of the session.

  5. I was more relaxed.

Why was it useful to see the tasks in advance?  I could recall, with the tasks in both sessions, what I done on them previously, but by seeing them in advance I was able to think about what I would say if we worked on them in a breakout room, to ensure I didn’t spoil them for others who hadn’t seen them before.  This was one reason why I was more relaxed.

During that session, I could see some ways to extend the tasks too, and I had a lovely time thinking of other interesting avenues I could follow.

The reason, therefore, I got less out of the other session was because I was slightly on edge and a little grumpy.  It was my fault and not that of the presenter.

What can I do about this?  (As a participant)

When I am taking part in a session, perhaps I just need to be better!

I need to be able to recognise when I am flagging and perhaps choose sessions carefully (giving myself breaks), or make sure I have coffee on hand.

I need to be ready to amuse myself if there are tasks I have seen before.

Maybe I need to be a bit more selective about the remote sessions I attend: with sessions that take place online, it is very easy just to say “yes” to every opportunity!

What can I do about this?  (As a work group leader)

Perhaps there are some things I can do when I lead my own sessions, to support grumpy attendees.  I could be aware of the daily baggage that participants bring with them.  I could provide support/scaffolding/extension for the tasks.  Maybe I could offer the opportunity for people to choose whether they want to work in a breakout room, or to work by themselves.  Perhaps providing some of the tasks in advance would help.

What can I do about this?  (As a teacher)

Finally, there are times where students will arrive at my lesson with ‘baggage’.  If a student is having a hard time in one of my lessons I need to ensure I don’t take it personally, and perhaps I need to give them some space to work in the way they want to on that day.



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