This is a blog about the importance of getting the smaller details right, within a bigger picture.
On 5 July 2010 the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, announced that following a review, the Building Schools for the Future programme was to be scrapped. The damaging effect this decision has had on thousands and thousands of students and teachers has destroyed the opportunities of many generations to come. Many missed out on a new-build decision, despite approval for funding, within a matter of days! With further budget cuts predicted by George Osbourne for 2015/16, I am not optimistic about any new buildings sprouting out from the ground in the most challenging and deprived areas of the country that need it most.
Over the past two days, I’ve been like a child in a candy shop! I have much to say and much to write about our new building. I once again walk with a spring in my step to class, to break and lunch duty and even to work on a Monday morning! I don’t know how many teachers are lucky enough to work in a brand-new building, but from the age of 18, and after 23 years of being in a classroom, this is the first time it has ever happened to me! I have worked in partial rebuilds and I have also worked in the most dilapidated school buildings in the country! I also know what it feels like for colleagues who have been unlucky enough, to never have worked in a new building. I’ve spent many days walking around new buildings as a visitor, attending CPD events or meeting with colleagues; excited by the fact that I can spend an hour or two in a new and shiny environment, only to dream about the possibilities of arriving to work in a brand-spanking new environment and how this must transform teaching and learning.
The motivation a brand-new building can give to a staff workforce within any school, can never be underestimated!
I am planning on sharing a more detailed blog about the overall picture of our new building and how we have moved on since we unpacked our belongings into the new build. Before Christmas 2014, I shared my DeCamp story; a blog about the former school building and shared over 30 photographs of the process. Many readers contacted me to say how fascinating this was to read and with that in mind, I do plan on sharing the other side of this journey (in every possible detail) so that you can gather a picture from start to finish. A note to self, and possibly other readers, is that both these blogs may serve as a CPD read for other potential schools moving to a new building.
Getting It Right:
Do not underestimate the smallest of decisions that can make the greatest impact on teaching and learning; or how simple decisions can improve student behaviour and the ethos across a school. This week, I had one of the simplest, yet in my opinion, a significant decision to make. One, which gave me great pleasure. After a number of verbal one-to-one conversations; staff popping into my office and many passing, corridor conversations, we took one small step forward towards eliminating our school bell! Not only have we done this, but we will be reducing the amount of time any ‘pavlovian-sounding’ bells and sirens resonate throughout the school building.
Staff are elated!
Two days ago, I drafted a suggestion for the school bell timings. This was discussed at leadership, and based on staff feedback, we have decided to take a large leap forward in reducing unwanted noise in return for welcomed peace and quiet around the school building. Of course, we have not eradicated the school bell in all its entirety. We are still keeping key moments throughout the school day to ensure (non-verbal) communication will guarantee a safe and secure premises for all who reside within the building. To ensure 1,300 students are moving along within the curriculum requirements, and at the right moments.
Of course, we do not expect corridors to become silent corridors. In return, we hope that general playground, corridor and shared spaces reduce in noise; staff wellbeing is supported whilst punctuality to lessons, and in teaching those lessons, becomes sharper and that generally, the entire school site becomes a much more calmer and smoother place to be, lesson to lesson and day-to-day …
During a departmental meeting this week, as we sat discussing observations, marking, planning and remaining issues with unpacking within the faculty, we started to hear a melody that made us stop in conversation. Unbeknownst to all, the technical support team had started to test the ‘pips/bell’ software. A notable feature, is that this ‘sound’ reaches every echelon throughout the new building. Initially, I thought it was a mobile-ringtone, buzzing a reminder to a member of staff, exclaiming; ‘get me out of here!’
After an initial sense of confusion, we recognised that the sound was coming from the ceiling loudspeaker and that the speaker system was being tested. This raised a few laughs and after an initial ballad, a calming melody was played, followed by a string of ‘school-bell’ sounds to the bedazzlement or disappointment of staff. It was one of those evocative moments you can recall later with colleagues . Staff chanted, “Yeah!, Boo! Ouch! No … Ooh, that one!” and so forth …
There were a mixture of bells. Draconian, pavlovian; even El Divo! Sounds ringing out throughout via our new tannoy system. Resounding in every classroom office, corridor and outdoor space. Don’t panic. Each area can be centrally controlled in volume and sound and there are further plans to tweak the capabilities soon.
Here are the options that were played out:
I soon located the server room where the technicians were configuring the IT system. I discovered the control panel and soon photocopied the manual so that we could adjust the volume, timings and location of sounds. To my delight, I was directed to the headphone jack socket and SD card slot which would allow us the potential, to add our own sounds and audio files! Well, you can imagine my delight! I will not at this point start to describe the hideous tunes I sung to myself and expose my poor taste in music, nor re-live a bygone generation. However, there is capacity for us to add some motivational sound-changes to increase student and staff motivation at key points in the year.
I have heard and read about schools who play musical tunes, such as ABBA and Sister Sledge through the speaker systems. The visual impact, is watching hundreds of students and staff go dancing to lessons! More importantly, we have reduced the number of occasions that any device oozes, piercing sounds throughout the day. I’ve worked in schools with hideous sounds, sirens, klaxons, pips and squeaks ringing out over the school site, 10 times a day for over 30 seconds at a time! What’s worse, is assemblies, meetings and one-to-one discussions have had to stop, until these sounds come to an end! At one ‘outstanding school I have worked in, the siren can be heard in the streets of local residents and throughout the school holidays!
Finally, as part of this process, we have introduced a wellbeing curfew sound at 6pm. This is not to say that we want staff to stay and work until 6 o’clock, nor force them to leave. The point is, is that this final sound of the day – whether this becomes a cow-bell or ‘Do-do-do, come on and do the conga … ” melody, we want to provide this sound for all staff who remain in the building as a note-to-self. ‘Why are you still here? Can this be completed tomorrow/next week?’
This forms part of our greater challenge to address workload and redress work-life balance.
Our brand-new building has exceptional facilities. We will be open until much later on in the evening for the general public to access. This makes it also much easier for staff to work late on into the night, planning and marking in their classrooms should they wish to. After all, not everyone has a quiet space in which to work at home, or many who would want to take work home at all! We all have a choice to make. As a school, we want to play a small part to encourage staff to go home. I appreciate that this forms part of a greater conversation on workload, one that we are all trying to address, which is an issue Iwill discuss at a later date this term. In this future blog, I will write and share our plans to increase impact, whilst reducing workload. This will focus specifically on marking.
In the meantime, one of our smallest changes is a focus on the smaller details of school life, with the bigger picture in mind. If you’ve read this far, we have opted for a 10-second cow bell at the following times:
- 8.45am (5 minute warning bell to period 1)
- 10.45am (end of break)
- 1.15pm (end of lunch 1)
- 1.45pm (end of lunch 2)
- 6pm (wellbeing curfew)
I am proud to work in the last ever BSF school building …