Terra nullius: No Man’s Land by @TeacherToolkit

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Next term there will be thousands and thousands of teachers across the UK, commencing new jobs in schools. In this blog, my deliberations regard the anticipation for those teachers who are in-between past and forthcoming jobs. I am confident, there will be many teachers who will be feeling like they are in ‘No Man’s Land‘.

“Blasted, blown up and raked by machine gun fire … ‘no-man’s-land’ was a place that people couldn’t go without risking death.” (Source)

Podcast:

New: Click on the ‘play’ icon below to hear me introduce this blog.

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What is No  Man’s Land?

“Terra nullius (plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “land belonging to no one”, which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state …”

‘Terra nullius’ translates crudely into English, ‘land that belongs to no-one’. No man’s land is land that is unoccupied or under dispute between two (or more) countries that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. There is an incredible list of territorial disputes here and border conflicts here. Far too many to list, but disputes within the UK include:

  • United Kingdom and Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle boundary disputes, Ireland.
  • United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
  • UK and Gibraltar, Spain.
  • UK and Chagos Archipelago, Mauritius
  • Uk and Bouvet Island, Norway.
  • Uk and Muller Island, Denmark.
  • UK and part of Akrotiri and Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, Cyprus
  • UK and border checkpoint near Strovilia, Northern part of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
  • UK and Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Argentina.
  • UK and Ill-defined terms of the Treaty of Paris between the borders of New Hampshire and Canada, within the United States of America.
  • and several areas in Antarctica, including areas between 25°W and 53°W, 53°W and 74°W and areas between 74°W and 80°W. The claimants include Chile and Argentina. Image here.

If you can forgive me whilst I crudely apply the ‘No Man’s Land’ analogy to education and teachers moving from school to school, then this gives the context for this blog.  In education, ‘no man’s land’ is the period a teacher moves from school to school and the period that sits in-between them.

“The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms. It is most commonly associated with the First World War to describe the area of land between two enemy trench systems to which neither side wished to move openly or to seize due to fear of being attacked by the enemy in the process.” (Sources)

Highgate Cemetery No Mans Land

Shadows & Light: At the Grave of Karl Marx – Credit: Steve Reed

The term ‘no man’s land’ actually dates back to the 14th century and to London (of all places) during the months preceding the plague, when the bishop of London purchased land outside the city to prepare a mass grave ahead of the bubonic plague. Incredible what you can discover when you rediscover local history and research famous phrases! I wonder if this ‘purchased land’ included my local Highgate Cemetery (and others) I have visited? (My photos here)

“The Oxford English Dictionary contains a reference to the term [No Man’s Land] dating back to 1320, and spelt ‘nonesmanneslond‘, when the term was used to describe a disputed territory or one over which there was legal disagreement. The same term was later used as the name for the piece of land outside the north wall of London that was assigned as the place of execution. The term was applied to a little-used area on ships called the forecastle, a place where various ropes, tackle, block, and other supplies were stored.”

No Man's Land A Cyprus Airways passenger jet stands in the abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Neil Hall)No Man’s Land A Cyprus Airways passenger jet stands in the abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Neil Hall)

No Man’s Land:

During the break, particularly the summer holidays, many teachers will be in-between jobs and have a feeling of knowing and not knowing. The familiarity of knowing a school they have just left, combined with the undiscovered, unknowing of a new domain.

There is a wonderful letter from “The famous First World War football match of the Christmas Day truce started after a ball was kicked from the British lines into No Man’s Land.” In this article, Staff sergeant Clement Barker describes ‘how the truce began after a German messenger walked across No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve to broker the temporary cease-fire agreement.’ Now, I am not stating that moving from school to school is akin to the battlefield, far from it, and what would I know anyway. It’s a poor analogy I know, but I do hope I have raised a little more awareness with recent events regarding the  World World 1 Centenary year.

With this in mind, what can teachers consolidate between working in two different schools? The period of being in ‘No Man’s Land.’

No Mans Land First World War FootballThe unofficial truce took place on December 24, 1914, in the trenches around Ypres Photo: ALAMY

Teachers in No Man’s Land:

For many teachers, the period between each term in No Man’s Land will be filled with excitement and anticipation.  One presumes that colleagues moving on to pastures new, should spend time digging deep into the minds of past and present colleagues during their last few weeks at school. For most, this time may be used to savour memories, or for packing away office and classroom spaces, as well as saying farewell to students and colleagues.

As No Man’s Land approaches, every teacher should also seek the words of wisdom from other colleagues to enable a smooth transition into a new place of work. This can be a great resource and perhaps, give you the opportunity to hear opinions that ‘you may not want to hear.’ This is exactly what I did. I spent many weeks reflecting with colleagues as I shared my departure with them. This was often filled with conversations on; ‘What to do? What not do to?’ and so forth. So, below is seasoned advice from some of my former colleagues, particularly my one to one conversations with my inspirational headteacher.

Crossing No Man’s Land:

I am certain there are many other tips missing from the list below. So, please do not take this as verbatim, as it was originally written for advice to myself as an incoming deputy headteacher. I have edited the list to suit teaching in general. Context will need to be applied to every situation, teacher, position and school.

Values:

  • A (deputy headteacher) teacher must be able to cut it in the classroom, cut it in the corridor and cut it in assembly. By ‘cut it’, if you are unfamiliar with this expression, in the UK we translate this to mean: ‘to deliver’. This was stated to me by my headteacher. Every good senior leader must also be able to do the same! Fact.
  • ‘Who are you?’ Not the job, but who are you? Why do you come to school? What gets you out of bed in the morning? I have thought about this here. Every other teacher will also have their own motivation, and it is likely to be very different to yours.
  • You will have to be you. Nothing else. Be yourself.
  • What is your student profile? What will students say about you? How will they respond and react to your conversations, your lessons, your message in assembly?
  • Avoid buzz words. Keep it simple.
  • Make lists – do not rely on memory!
  • Learn staff names quickly / get photos and know everyone. Know them well and listen.
  • and much more …

Behaviour:

  • Kill students with kindness. There will obviously be context needed when applying this theory, but as I have said before, “… put students’ success at the heart of the community & consider praise the highest form of discipline.”
  • Drop kindness when the time is required.
  • Never, ever fail to approach a situation or a conversation. Never.
  • Consistency – every day, every lesson, every duty, every break, lunch and meeting. Consistency.
  • During the first term, focus on the students, not the staff. Build relationships quickly with each and every one. And then maintain this.
  • Work to build your social currency. What I mean by this, is the respect of others in positive, negative and unknown situations.
  • Demand to see all systems and how they work.

Etiquette:

  • Always ask staff and students, “How can I do this? How do you do that?”
  • Remember to say, ‘Please, thank you and sorry.’
  • Get around the school. Know every corner, cupboard, quirk and tale. Know the history of the school.
  • Get to know the office staff and premises staff very well. You will need to call favours. You will need keys for everywhere. The front and back-door key; how to turn the alarm off. How to get into the school over Christmas. Know every situation.
  • Schmooze where needed.
  • *Assume you will sometimes have be the first to arrive and the last to leave! (for DHTs and headteachers only).

The above is intended as a snapshot for teachers taking ‘what they know’ into a new place of work, and not specifically for senior leadership. So, if you are feeling like me, take solace in the knowledge, that ‘No Man’s Land’ may last forever in many parts of the world, but in education, we will soon have the opportunity to leave it behind us …

We should count ourselves very fortunate indeed.

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This blog is dedicated to my Great Grandfather, William Wharton who was killed in World War One Battle of the Somme. He was in the , 3rd Battalion, infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. (See the Twitter reference here.)

William Wharton Great Grandfather of Ross Morrison McGill Black Watch World War One

Related:

If you are interested in current ‘No Man’s Land’ territories across the world, then Exploring No-Man’s-Land in the 21st Century captures some situations rather well. It provides a link to ‘Re-inhabiting No-Man’s Land’ which is explored, discussed and debated during the forthcoming Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference, being held in South Kensington, London from 27-29 September 2014.

There are also some astonishing photos of No Man’s Land in Nicosia, Cyprus: here.

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

23 thoughts on “Terra nullius: No Man’s Land by @TeacherToolkit

  • 15th August 2014 at 8:57 am
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    I started my new job 2 years ago after 13 years in my first school. I remember a nervous 6 weeks waiting in no man’s land. It’s not easy and the above advice is spot on. The checklist would be very handy. Starting a new school by creating the right impression (for students, staff and parents) cannot be underestimated.
    Damian

    Reply
  • 15th August 2014 at 12:52 pm
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    Not moving school, but thank you for the information on ‘No Man’s Land’. Love exploring the origins of sayings and this will allow us to make links in history and use comparison skills.

    Reply
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  • 16th August 2014 at 8:51 pm
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    Thanks for this.

    I’m moving into SEND in a 2 – 19 ‘Special Needs’ school after a varied 25 years in the same mainstream primary. Feeling very much in no man’s land; almost like starting a new career! This checklist will help a lot…

    Reply
  • 16th August 2014 at 9:56 pm
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    I’m sat in No Man’s Land as we speak! My emotions are currently a mix of excitement, fear, apprehension & blinding fear. On top of that I have masses of ideas running around my brain and a long list of things I need to sort in my new classroom. I got back off holiday today and was overjoyed to see I hadn’t lost my external hard drive with all my work on it and I even felt a pang of excitement when I thought about planning lessons! Arrgggggghhhh.

    Reply
  • 16th August 2014 at 10:04 pm
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    Thanks for this.

    After 25 varied years in the same mainstream primary I am starting a new job in SEND 2 – 19 in a ‘Special School’. it feels very much as though I’m in no-man’s land at the moment; even as though I’m beginning a new career!

    This list will be useful – cheers!

    Reply
  • 16th August 2014 at 10:35 pm
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    Thanks for this, Ross.

    As you know, my doctorate is on the transition between deputy headship and headship, but much of what I’m learning relates to transition from any job to another – especially when you’re moving to a different place/school, and if it’s a promoted post. I think the challenges of being internally promoted are quite specific in some ways, so I deliberately chose to work with six research participants who are moving to a new school to take up headship.

    What you refer to as ‘no man’s land’ I’m calling the ‘pre-appointment period’ between ‘getting the badge’ (being successful in the selection process) and ‘sitting in the chair’ (at the start of your first term). One of the things I’m clarifying my thinking about (and I’ve been through this process myself – a year long, in my case, but 15 years ago now) is how crucial this period is and how much can be gained if you use it well.

    But it’s TOUGH – partly because establishing yourself, learning about your new school/role and building relationships at a distance is challenging, and partly because you’re also doing a demanding job in your current school and preparing the way for your successor there, too.

    I’m hoping my research, when it’s published and disseminated, is of use to aspiring heads and heads-elect of the future – and perhaps its messages will also be relevant and helpful to those negotiating the ‘no man’s land’ at other levels, too.

    Reply
    • 16th August 2014 at 10:41 pm
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      Thanks for commenting Jill. As discussed before, I can’t wait to read and discover your EdE findings. I popped in the other day to sort my office space. Will be back next week and then it’s kick off time! Can’t wait.

      Reply
  • 16th August 2014 at 10:37 pm
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    Very salient. Entered teaching 7 years ago following a career change and have been in post since nqt. Now moving to Hod and feeling very much in No Man’s Land. I shall take your tips on board!

    Reply
    • 17th August 2014 at 5:12 pm
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      Hi Sue. I’m sure your 7 years experience will suffice. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, moving between schools at any time of the year, is ‘no man’s land’. Thanks for the comment. Ross

      Reply
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  • 17th August 2014 at 6:24 pm
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    Hi Ross, loving the blogs and Twitter as well. I am sat in No Man’s Land and also moving to a different part of the country after Bank Holiday Monday so the tension is definitely mounting. This will be my 21st year of teaching but feeling like a newbie is very disconcerting. I keep telling myself, it wil be fine. It will be fine won’t it?

    Reply
    • 17th August 2014 at 8:11 pm
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      It will be absolutely fine. You’ll feel great after your first day! Where from/to are you moving? Good luck!

      Reply
  • 19th August 2014 at 7:32 am
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    A great post. I’m currently in “no mans land” too. A definite mix of excitement and anxiety. I’m moving after 13 years in a primary school and returning to full time teaching after having my 3 boys. It’s all very daunting as the schools are very different. Just hoping all will be ok when the ball is finally kicked on 1st September!

    Reply
    • 19th August 2014 at 9:04 am
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      I’m sure it’ll all be fine. I’m certain that looking after 3 boys, is a much harder challenge! Good luck!

      Reply
  • 20th August 2014 at 10:58 am
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    I’ve left my school after a ten year span (I went to an international school for two years in the middle and returned) and four years on I’ve got itchy feet again. I’ve moved from Portsmouth to Kuala Lumpur as Head of PE. A new position, school, house, car and country! It’s all crazy!

    Reply
    • 20th August 2014 at 6:06 pm
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      Sounds so exciting! Speak to @headguruteacher who also worked as headteacher in Indonesia. I think Jakarta.

      Reply
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