Disobedient Teaching – Welby Ings

‘Disobedient Teaching: surviving and creating change in education’ by Welby Ings really struck a massive chord with me.  The book is filled with inspiring ideas, relatable anecdotes and valuable points that helped to affirm some of my personal challenges and successes as well as point to next steps in my journey. I absolutely recommend this book to all teachers, or at least check out some of the media Ings did around it’s release including this superb interview on RNZ.

I was really moved by his discussion around change; declaring that “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20). It spoke to the conservative walls I’ve encountered and the issues I’ve faced in trying to evolve ideas that don’t come out of something being ‘broken’. Ings calls for bravery and disobedience in order to achieve reform.

In particular Ings takes aim at assessment. The arguments for why there needs to be change are familiar. But his solutions (framed up as self-evaluation, reducing the impact of marking, and quality reporting) gave me more hope for reform than I think I’ve held before. In terms of self-evaluation, he suggested three ground rules (72):

Only the person who has made the work can criticise the work

Others can offer positive comments, but, more importantly, they should ask analytical questions.

Deadlines are absolute.

The challenge therefore is to grow learners who have the reflective and critical skills in order to effectively self-evaluate. Ings suggested the questions “What is effective about the solution and why?…If I had time again what would I change and why?” (72).

Another powerful takeaway was his writing about passion and personality. A regular theme throughout the book was the power of teachers to create connections and moments that can effect a unforgetable positive change for a student. At the heart of this was the need for teachers to be authentic and real. “Showing feelings doesn’t make us vulnerable as teachers; it makes us complete…It’s by being ourselves that we become accessible” (112). I think this connects to a lot of the work that I’ve done around diversity. I’d go further to suggest that there is no way we can expect students to be authentic and real with us if we haven’t created an environment where we can be ourselves.

The final chapter was structured with a list of qualities to take forward:

  • Don’t criticise
  • Question bravely
  • Show an enduring interest in others
  • Think from the other person’s perspective
  • Humanise what opposes

I plan to keep this book nearby at all times and return regularly to its ideas. It was heartwarming to read such a real and moving account.

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