What if every teacher could learn from, and be as good as, the best in the school, with an extension into the local area or wider organisation (LA or MAT)? Teachers are full of great ideas. Shared, they take on another life, can be adapted and developed, then returned with interest.
One of my roles with a local Teaching Schools Alliance is working closely with mentors, including five formal sessions of training during the school year, supplemented, as needed, with personal support. In many ways this works extremely well.
The mentor is, in most cases, the class teacher, so the feedback loop is very tailored within each lesson, not reliant on a timed “drop in” for an observation. The role, in interpretation, can occasionally become a little formulaic, with judgements being more judgemental than developmental. In a training year, the latter has to be paramount. Judgements about capability have to be kept in mind, but, trainees are not the finished article, by any stretch of the imagination. Everyone has to start somewhere...
In reflecting on the first year of my own career, I am wondering if elements could be useful for institutional reflection.
In 1974, I left training college, armed with my “permit to teach”, having passed the three-year course of training. This let me start teaching in what was then called your probationary year. In the August of 1974, I received a letter from the Department of Education and Science welcoming me and informing me that qualified teacher status was contingent on my passing the probationary year.
That first year, I spent a term in a boy’s Secondary Modern school, mainly teaching science successfully, but with additional teaching responsibilities for the ROSLA children, the Raising of the School Leavers Age group that had to be in school for an extra year, but who were not taking any exams at the end of the year. There was no curriculum and no support from the head of science who had no ROSLA groups, so it was very much trial and error with very challenging classes. The deputy heads were rarely seen, a couple of times to check on the quality of my teaching, with an “ok” at the end, but they were no use in curriculum support. It was colleagues in the science department with whom the probationers spoke in the tech rooms who offered some help and guidance. The hours were long and stressful, which, combined with little support became destructive. Plus ca change…
In January 1975, I moved to a local Primary school. In those days, there was no-one designated as a mentor, taking a supposedly key role in guiding and monitoring your development. You were a team member and were expected to be a team player, working and talking together, sharing the available resources and ideas. Everyone had something to offer and, as a result, the rest of the year went relatively smoothly. The principle was that sharing what you knew helped everyone. It was simply a sharing culture.
It is very hard to think that that class of children are in their mid-50s. I’ve met a few who stayed locally and they have done well in life, so I can’t have caused any permanent damage!
In addition to staff collaboration, there was a local teachers’ centre, with a dedicated lead, who would organise courses run by local teachers with acknowledged expertise that they were willing to share. These courses, all twilight, ran for between three and six weeks, so genuine background reflections into processes behind subjects and an opportunity to try out ideas supported deeper insights into what children could produce, especially if there were opportunities to share outcomes from the week. Some of this happened at our regular TGIF meetings, informal probationer chats over a bottle of beer at the teachers’ centre. It was a good way to unload and start the weekend and some of that group are still friends, some 43 years later.
The driver to all this was ourselves, as self-developers. It was not required by external demand; certainly not the school head or deputy, simply a response to personal awareness of need to fill in inevitable gaps from initial training. I didn’t have a mentor, just colleagues who shared.
Today’s trainees and NQTs have a dedicated mentor. This is seen as a significant role and has been flagged up as a need within the most recent Government consultation on QTS. Colleagues who currently take on mentor roles are usually senior members of staff, often SLT, with a range of competing responsibilities, some of which will inevitably interfere with planned time for discussion, observation and the myriad other requirements of supporting a trainee. Universities and TSAs pay receiving schools from the received fees to host trainees, so there is a pot of money available to facilitate meetings etc.
Trainees are also expected to show that they are self-developers (teacher standard 8), taking a full part in school life, working within school expectations (TS1) and behaviour systems (TS7) contributing, as possible, to year or subject planning (TS4), supporting wider school life, becoming colleagues, rather than just a trainee.
Mentoring is a multi-faceted role; I blogged this as https://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/mentoring-modelling-moderating-and-monitoring
Where schools regularly take trainees, it is a very good idea for the whole staff to receive briefings from the providers of their student teachers, so that they can work in concert to provide the best training base; each knowing that they have something to offer. This year’s NQT was last year’s trainee, so they can empathise with the workload; others can give of their specialist help. Every school has to reflect on the needs of “newbies”, both NQTs and those new to roles.
There appears to be a relatively young workforce currently in teaching. CPD for all is important, but is also an expensive element, with supply for release and course costs. How about a bit of self-help first? All of the following were, at some stage, a part of my career experience, especially within my headship.
· What about seeing internal sharing as first stage CPD, with colleagues sharing their practice, process as well as outcomes, to provide progressive descriptions that might begin to underpin descriptions of learner progress?
· What about staff meetings occasionally being simply sharing what’s happening in classrooms, through alternating the venue to visit each other’s rooms?
· If colleagues are sharing, they will have organised and clarified their thinking, in order to present. In doing so, they may well have revisited sources to be able to quote accurately. This research may well have resulted in questions that might stimulate discussions that, in themselves, increase the general understanding.
· How about occasional papers, think pieces, to stimulate thinking and further consideration ahead of staff meetings; moving discussion from reactive to developmental?
· Mentoring skills are the first steps in middle management; being able to harness the capacity across the organisation to best purpose.
· Specialists, especially in foundation subjects, can share the underlying developments in subjects, with essential “staging points” against which to make judgements. Collecting and collating outcomes across a school can provide essential reference points for others; the art of celebrating what’s possible. This can become aspirational, but also guide the non-specialist to ask appropriate questions.
· Engaging in discussion about outcomes and processes, with interpretation into descriptions of progress, are essential to every classroom decision, from overviews and broad decisions to refined interactions.
· How about a book club, which could be expensive if supplying a copy to everyone, or a led book session, with one colleague each month sharing an education book that they have read? This could also develop with a fiction title or an author being shared. This latter idea could become a staffroom display, with colleague reviews encouraging others to have a read, and share with classes.
All the above can be classified as part of the general collegiate discussion. I would hazard that it is rarely considered as any form of CPD, which has become synonymous with “going on a course”. These events, often costly, may have limited impact if they remain the property of the attendee. “Cascading” is often a hit or miss affair, unless it is timetabled into other meeting times. Reporting back, with a summary appropriate to the school needs would seem to be a minimum requirement after a day out of school that’s cost perhaps £500 in total.
The essence of all education is communication. Collegiate, talking schools share good practice and ideas, to the advantage of the whole. Talk is relatively cheap CPD, unless you count the cost of a cuppa and a good biscuit or two.