What advice would I give to my younger self?

I was asked this the other day by @memneon as I was musing about the fact I had so few lessons less to teach. It really got me thinking and I completely failed to give him any adequate response.

Here are my thoughts on classroom management:

  • Establish really strong routines right from day one. Don’t take any nonsense. Don’t give an inch. Be relentlessly consistent.
  • Learn back to front the school behaviour policy. Test it out on colleagues. Roll play different scenarios to learn how to handle them calmly and with authority.
  • Shout less (stopped doing this a few years ago but did far too much earlier in my career).
  • Pause more. Give students time to think and process, then test their understanding with good quality whole class feedback.
  • Say what is needed. Don’t be afraid of talking for longer than you planned to ensure a class understands what you are teaching.
  • Talk more slowly. Teachers who talk too fast will never get the whole class to understand a concept.
  • Equally don’t waffle. Keep it concise. Pause. Repeat key points where needed.
  • Talk with authority. You are the expert in the room. Students need to listen to you to get better.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw out the lesson plan if the class just aren’t getting it.
  • Go and see others teach, then talk to them afterwards about the what they did. Do this often. It is one of the best ways to learn your craft.
  • Don’t change routines to try and get a class on your side. This rarely works and smudges the boundaries.
  • Focus relentlessly on good modelling in the classroom.  Model good behaviour. Model good written maths. Model how to set out their work. Model respectful discussions. Model good use of language. Model good use of subject specific vocabulary.  Model everything.
  • Always meet and greet at the door (if you can). Learn their names and welcome them.
  • Be the same every day. If children know what to expect then they will feel safe in your classroom.

Other advice:

  • Make friends with the cleaner, site team, reprographics team, and all members of the admin team.  Without them the school falls apart. They are the glue that holds the school together.
  • Make friends with the rest of your department/team.  Working as part of a great supportive team can make the difference between a bad and a good day.
  • Do your best to follow the systems in school. Systems help to keep the school moving forwards.  Equally don’t worry if sometimes this slips. It happens.
  • You are entitled contractually to a work life balance, and Heads are mandated to provide one in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. Make sure you have one.
  • Try not to take work home every night. Having some down time each week is important.
  • Don’t feel guilty about having down time.  Ever.
  • Keep at least one day at the weekend work free.
  • If you are struggling TELL SOMEONE. You are entitled to support when life throws a few hurdles at you.
  • Work to live. Don’t live to work. This is not healthy. It only leads to one thing in my experience.

And finally, some sage advice:

  • Not everyone on staff have the motivation that it is all about the students.  Some are all about themselves. Watch out for them. They will trample on you if they need to.
  • Watch out for the ambitious ones. They too will trample on you if they need to. Be careful what you say around them as it will get back to the boss and will be twisted on the way like a game of chinese whispers.
  • Join a union. Make sure you know who your union rep is, and don’t be afraid of seeking them out for advice.
  • Look out for hypocritical leadership. Leaders who implement policies then don’t follow them in their own practice need to be called out for it.
  • Be cautious about how strongly you argue your point. There are people who will use this against you. These people are snakes and cannot be trusted.
  • It is not a badge of honour to never have a day off.
  • It is not a badge of honour to do more hours than anyone else.
  • Your health matters. Don’t put off seeing a Doctor because you don’t want to leave cover for a class.
  • You must look after yourself. Better to take one day off to beat the illness than have to take a week off because you pushed yourself too far.

Trust – where has it gone?

This brief blog is in response to a tweet seen earlier that @rogershistory tweeted:

This sort of thing really winds me up. I mean gets be actually angry about what is happening in some of our schools.  Ultimately it boils down to one simple thing:

TRUST

A policy such as this is put in place by an SLT that no longer (if they ever did) trusts their teachers to perform their role in line with the teacher standards.  This is a reactionary policy in response to either a Local Authority visit where concerns were highlighted about consistency of feedback and it was raised as a red flag in a period where OFSTED are due at any time, or worse, it is in response to an OFSTED inspection where feedback is highlighted as an area needing attention.

I’ve been increasingly asking the question of when did senior leadership teams stop trusting their staff and embark on systems and processes such as this that are purely there for a draconian purpose to trap the small number of teachers who are not regularly marking their books?  Who is to blame for all this nonsense?  Unfortunately I’m left with only a couple of possible answers.

  1. The Heads themselves – some headteachers are simply not up to the job.  They have been over promoted, accelerated through the ranks without taking the time to really learn about leadership and management. They forget that to build successful teams you need to have good relationships based on mutual trust and respect.
  2. Governors – effective governance is all about being a “critical friend” to the leadership of the school.  They are there to support and encourage, but also to ask hard questions and hold the staff to account.  This does include having one eye on workload management for teachers and leadership. Governors need to have a constant eye on new initiatives to ensure that the demands on an already overworked teaching workforce are not exacerbated by an over-zealous SLT who initiate changes in policy off the cuff without little or no thought about how their teachers are going to put it into practice.  Governors need to have regular meetings with staff through a staff forum or similar, as well as effective whistleblowing procedures where policies that significantly impact on their ability to be effective in the classroom as well as maintain any form of work-life balance can be red-flagged without putting them at risk.
  3. OFSTED – a huge amount of trust has been lost over time and systems of measuring impact been demanded by SLTs over many years as part of chasing a “Good” or better OFSTED rating.  Numerous frameworks have come and gone, and I have worked through somewhere approaching 10 inspections in my career. They all are constantly looking for evidence of policies being consistently applied, of impact, of consistent whole school data tracking to show progress, etc. This historic drive to find evidence for everything, and SLT creating ever more numerous systems and procedures (and no end of fancy spreadsheets) to track it all have added almost exponentially to workload over the last decade.
  4. Government through the accountability culture that has built up over schools since the 90s and made worse by both Conservative and Labour Governments.  Accountability measures are the key driver of the need for schools to measure impact of everything in order to support with moving schools up the league tables, beating other local schools, being in the “top 25% of schools” etc.

Thankfully there is an increasingly vocal profession that is fighting against this sort of oppressive regime. More teachers are prepared to call “bullshit” on these kind of practices. We need to continue to be brave and stand up against policies such as this.

A headteacher I know often uses the phrase – “a teachers day is already full up like a glass. If we are going to add something for them to do, we need to take something else away”.

Policies like the one Tom cited are utterly contemptible. They show a deeply worrying lack of consideration of workload implications.  They show a complete lack of awareness of increasing levels of research that show that the most impactful feedback is instant and verbal.  They show a complete disregard for the differences of the subjects taught in school and that effective feedback can look quite different depending on subject is being taught.

Ultimately, they show a complete lack of TRUST in the staff they lead.

Supporting Subject Leaders in Primary Schools (part 1)

As a primary governor and teacher who is passionate about reducing workload and improving work life balance for teachers I’m looking more closely at how schools can support more effectively subject leaders to fulfil their role and have an impact on school improvement without an excessive increase in their workload.

To help I ran 4 polls:

The results were actually quite distressing to read.

With over 1000 replies, only 28% of primary teachers are paid a TLR for being a subject leader.

Almost two thirds of those who replied to poll 2 don’t have any allocated time to fulfil their leadership role.

90% of responses thought that primary subject leaders should get allocated leadership time.

Just over half of responses felt that a fortnightly allocation of management time would be appropriate for subject leaders.

I then followed it up with another poll as a result of a tweet I received with two paragraphs from the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (Sept 2019)-

Management time
52.6. A teacher with leadership or management responsibilities is entitled, so far as is
reasonably practicable, to a reasonable amount of time during school sessions for
the purpose of discharging those responsibilities.

Section 3 – Guidance for Local Authorities, School Leaders, School Teachers and Governing Bodies of Maintained Schools

Allowances and other payments TLR payments (paragraph 20)

48. Teachers are expected to contribute, both orally and in writing as appropriate, to
curriculum development by sharing their professional expertise with colleagues
and advising on effective practice. This does not mean that they can be expected
to take on the responsibility of, and accountability for, a subject area or to manage
other teachers without appropriate additional payment. Responsibilities of this
nature should be part of a post that is in the leadership group or linked to a post
which attracts a TLR1 or TLR2 on the basis set out in paragraph 20.

The poll showed this:

This appears to suggest that a significant number of subject leaders in primary schools are not currently being paid a TLR but are being held accountable for the subject that they lead through the performance management process.

Part 2 of this blog will suggest some possible strategies that schools of varying sizes might be able to employ to support their middle leaders to drive improvement in their schools.

If you have any suggestions of strategies that work in your setting then please comment on this blog.