Collaborative History Education: Final Reflections on the Value of the Placement

Today our participants offer their final thoughts on the placement. For most, this was a positive experience at what can be a difficult time of year. Many of the historians brought attention to the problem of precarity, and we would encourage you to think about how we could continue this kind of collaboration beyond the academy. It’s clear from everyone involved, however, that there is real enthusiasm for educators to continue to work together across the school/university boundary to improve our teaching. The personal connections forged during the placement will hopefully prove fruitful in future; our hope is to expand this beyond small personal networks and encourage more researchers and teachers to work together to improve History education in the UK.

 

How do you hope to benefit in future from the collaborative relationships established during the placement? Do you think the placement was a good forum for discussions about improving how gender history is represented in our teaching practices?

 

Alistair Ward, History Teacher, former PGCE History Student [@alistairward]

The relationships we have forged during this placement will enable us to better diversify the history we teach. They will help us enrich our lessons with new angles, fresh research and intriguing new sources. This placement was absolutely a good forum for discussing gender representation in history teaching. The fact is that today’s teacher is desperate to enrich history by putting back the stories of the people who are missing. The placement has enabled us to start doing this.

History teachers need to be proactively anti-misogynist. This placement provided us with ways to achieve this.

 

Amy Gower, PhD Student [@AmyG_Historrry]

One commonality we found, as newly qualified teachers and as late-stage PhD and early career researchers, is the practical challenges we all face in the coming years. For the PGCE teachers, joining new schools with already established curricula, whilst finding their feet in the whirlwind of their first year as qualified teachers, will be a feat of endurance. For us PhD/ECRs, job precarity, looming staffing cuts across universities, and a potential gap in

institutional affiliation will also create additional obstacles to meaningful collaborations. But, universally, we are all dedicated to, and enthusiastic about, sustaining connections and nearly unanimously, we saw this placement as the starting point for a longer term collaboration, perhaps dormant temporarily, but one we all hope to return to when circumstances permit.

Building on discussions around David Hibbert and Yasmin Khan’s collaboration about the demystification of the role of the historian is one aspect that I think is key to future collaboration. Demonstrating to pupils that historians, whilst experts, are also individual people whose analysis is part of a wider, always changing and evolving, historical discussion I think will be crucial in developing pupils’ understanding of what history is as a whole, and seeing themselves as part of the process of ‘making history’. One of the key things that came up in most of our sessions was the refrain: people in the past were real people. Whilst this might seem obvious, building pupils’ understandings of and connections with people in the past is vital, not just in relation to gender, race, age, nationality, and so much more, but in developing a nuanced, engaging, and most of all empathetic history curriculum.

 

Becca Grosse, PhD Student [@Becca_Grose]

Local collaborative relationships will help me develop more inclusive outreach and undergraduate pedagogy by helping me scaffold material better and think about the leaky pipeline: when do students disengage with history and how can we use this to help us create outreach events that engage with people who didn’t or don’t choose to study history.

By consulting with experts (in pedagogy or otherwise) rather than trying to do everything ourselves we have opportunities to learn from other approaches and criticisms. Through collaborating, we can better understand where our understandings of historical practice align, where they diverge, and what assumptions underpin the elements we pick from other disciplines.  For example, rather than simply copying a pedagogical technique we can understand its place in a broader method and what theories we are co-opting by using it. It is a good space to discuss this. But, doing so currently relies upon decisions by individual PhDs and teachers. I work on gender and am part of my Doctoral Training Partnership’s  gender and sexuality cluster, but it wasn’t central to my topic and the discussion didn’t focus on it because so much groundwork had been provided by other speakers.

 

Beth Rebisz, PhD Student [@BRebisz]

Our conversations reflected the mutual desire to continue collaborations with a clear view that it is beneficial for all parties. I personally hope to benefit by improving my own teaching skills and knowing who I can turn to when I need support and ideas for this. I also think it will be imperative in the movement to decolonise school education and university teaching that teachers and academics are working together on this. We recognised that this collaboration will also be strengthened when extended to those working in museums, as archivists, or activists etc. Our discussions emphasised the need to continue actively widening who is represented in the topics we teach. Our ongoing collaboration will help by empowering us all with more knowledge to broaden representation effectively.

I believe the placement created an excellent forum to discuss improving how gender history is represented in our teaching practices. Each PhD student who contributed a session assessed gender history in their own topics and this common approach demonstrated the breadth of representation that can be included in teaching. When the PGCE students presented their new curriculum to us based on our sessions, we were all blown away by how representative it was when considering gender, race, age and class. It showed the value in avoiding approaches where ‘women’s history’ is a supplementary add-on, for example. Instead the PGCE students demonstrated how vital and enriching it is for students to learn about gender history in all their topics.

 

Charli Burns, History Teacher, former PGCE Student [@cburnshistory]

There are so many more things that came from this placement that I could ramble about for pages and pages of writing – the importance of portraying a gendered experience of slavery, how vital it is to weave a coherent story of decolonisation into a study of empire, how the use of material culture in lessons can be a fantastic way to get students into the past, but for me it all centres in on the same key takeaway – humanising the past and those who write it. If your approach to history is a human one in the classroom, it becomes much easier to weave in stories of gender and experiences in such a way that it feels less tokenistic, and more nuanced. Undeniably, students should be exposed to a wide range of stories in the classroom, and from this placement, I have learned that by appreciating the humanity of the past, perhaps these stories are better told.

 

Liz Barnes, Early Career Researcher [@E_M_Barnes]

The question about future collaboration is an emotionally complicated one. I think this placement was vital, and something that all university history departments should be engaging in if we hope to keep our discipline relevant and appealing to young people. We are all educators, and working

together to face the pressing issues of our time is critical. Personally, I now know that I have established working relationships with seven teachers who I can turn to if I have any questions about what’s going on in schools, need advice approaching a problem in the classroom or some ideas about how to build schools into grant applications. I’ve also been introduced to the world of history teachers more broadly, mostly on Twitter, and have already benefited from some fascinating pedagogical discussions. These sessions encourage a more personal level of engagement – we were able to share individual dilemmas and work through them together, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that you might find in general advice essays or presentations. When it comes to sensitive issues like inclusivity and ethics, I think that this personal approach is really valuable.

While I will be doing some teaching in the next academic year, at this point I (like all ECRs) face a job market in tatters. I am without a permanent post, and given the plans for redundancies at universities across the UK I am unlikely to get the opportunity to secure one for some time, if at all. Moving beyond the academy and disrupting the hierarchies of knowledge that we discussed in our opening session is important, but realistically no one can do this kind of work for free.

 

Tom Collins, History Teacher, former PGCE Student [@Tomcol23]

I would certainly like to see this continue in the future! I have already informed my new school of the collaboration placement and we are trying to come up with ways of incorporating historians from Reading and elsewhere into our A level History modules (we have just opened our Sixth Form this year). I will be teaching Politics A level next year, and if some of the historians are considering working for think tanks (which I remember some of them saying) that would be amazing to get them involved in a politics session. Furthermore, if we ever need any resources for these modules the historians said that they would be more than happy to help us which is great to hear! Something that I found really interesting from our discussions and how we can continue these relationships post-placement is looking into how we teach at Secondary level and undergraduate.

Regarding Secondary level, it would be great for the historians to observe some of our lessons, learn a few forms of pedagogy and give us feedback. We could also do the same thing for the historians; some of the teachers could observe lessons and give feedback. What we also discussed, which is really exciting, is the possibility of marking work and getting an A level teacher to mark an undergraduate piece of writing and vice versa. This creates further understanding of the transition from A level to undergraduate level.

That’s it for reflections from our participants! Check back in tomorrow for Will and Charlotte’s closing remarks.

Please do join in the conversation using the hashtag #Rdgcollab2020

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