With this book being published on 11th January 2018, Emma Kell has written a very important contribution to the current debate. On a day where we have heard that up to December 2017, applications to teacher training are currently 30% lower than at the same time the previous year, it is incumbent on everyone associated with education to keep as many teachers in post as possible, as well as to create environments where young teachers feel welcome, are nurtured and develop the desire to make teaching their long-term career.
I’ve followed the past couple of years with interest, as, first, Emma developed her ideas for her doctorate, using Twitter to its best advantage as a conduit into discussion and sharing of background thinking through shared blogs. Twitter surveys enabled the development of broader and more focused questions. Emma acknowledges the contribution of many hundreds of colleagues who have spoken honestly about their experiences.
That schools vary, is something that must be admitted, from the start. Even within maybe ten miles radius of any particular house, in any city, it’s possible to find schools where recruitment is never an issue, whereas others will struggle to have any applicants for their vacancies. This latter experience inevitably creates immediate pressures on the internal operation of the school, with associated movement on staff in-year to cover needs, whereas the more comfortably placed school can continue its development journey, with the newbie having a mentor to support their settling period. The developmental experiences of young teachers, in a profession that is becoming ever younger, is, to me, one of the main areas that should be considered. In an ever-fragmented system, LA, MAT, Free Schools etc, continuous personal development can become a casualty, to be replaced by personal development, often through Teachmeets or Saturday conferences, and there are a lot of those about.
Teaching is a thinking person’s job. It can easily become a 24 hour a day, even in less-pressured environments. I have often perceived teaching as a three-dimensional puzzle, the linear dimension of teaching each day, with the third dimension of the multiple needs of children, in Primary, across multiple subjects. The ever-present demands of progress data, across every child and every need, the search for minutiae, has, for many, diverted necessary time for thinking to secretarial recording tasks. This can be exacerbated in challenging schools who have a permanent need to keep showing progress. Teacher judgement, such as drove the education reporting system until the 1990s, where parents were happy if little x was doing well, has been replaced by multicoloured tracking data, with small data shifts seeming to indicate security or insecurity. As if we can ever really know with absolute accuracy exactly where any child is at any particular point in time.
Teaching is a thinking person’s job, yet successive Governments since 1987 have sought to take greater control over every teacher’s thinking, with, to me, the greatest pressure being exerted from 1997 and “deliverology”, National Strategies and pedagogical dictat. Coming to terms with expected changes, while simultaneously teaching that which is about to be superseded demands additional thinking and reflection time. It’s no wonder that, when the curriculum changes, personnel leave, rather than go through more adjustment. Change is also why a number decide to go part time, simply to be able to do the best job they can and “buying” a day to think is their only way to life balance.
Teaching is physically and mentally demanding; at its simplest responding to the needs of an interactive audience of thirty (plus) children every hour for around six hours each day, exciting and enthusing them to actively participate in the thinking journeys of several subject areas, interacting, directing and investigating personal needs, feeding back, summarising and preparing for “next time”. For Secondary, it can be a different audience every hour. Beyond these contact hours, there is a need to think and plan, to interact with lesson outcomes, to follow up in-lesson concerns with in-depth investigation, possibly discussions with colleagues, telephoning parents or outside specialists. Is it any surprise that some teachers can’t really switch off?
So, to safeguard their team, heads and senior managers have to be “super-thinkers”, working at the system level, sorting out the working of the school so that teachers can get on with the day job, making sure that staffing and resources are as good as they can be; I recognise in a period of falling budgets, that this may become more difficult, but it’s still a management issue. Timetabling of meetings and other extra demands, such as parent evenings, concerts which show the broader school, need to be carefully organised; cancel staff meetings in parent evening week. Have clear agenda subject development focus meetings, so that they can be fully prepared, and give the presenter some time to think; a half day of thinking and planning at £80 supply for a staff meeting of 20 people works out at £4 a head, very reasonable CPD. Sharing internal expertise is a very good start point. SLT also have to learn to say “thank you”, in timely manner. Internal (team) etiquette can be the difference between staff staying or moving.
Emma Kell covers these issues and many more, with detailed example from the “chalk face”. There are a number of suggestions at the end of the book that seek to address needs. In many ways, by far the simplest approach would be to “love the one’s you’re with”, “let’s talk” and “we can work it out”.
A team of teachers, super-thinkers, working together, can bring each up to the level of the best, address problems and can come up with solutions to problems that affect them locally, working within contextual and locality resources to provide a quality product of which they can be proud. Pride in what you are doing is a very powerful personal boost.
Emma has harnessed, through social media and networking, the potential of such a super-thinkers team and has come up with some possible solutions to current issue. Some will need money, most will require modest alteration to practice, enabling classroom teachers to recover their role as front-line thinkers.