Back To School Again

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As a member of staff, what would you say is the number one priority when returning to school?

Teachers are currently heading back to school this week for the start of another academic year. I’ve never been one to keep up with any new-term resolutions; I’m a traditionalist at best and quite possibly, institutionalised! I like my routines and this is why after 6 weeks away, I was itching to get back to work. However, despite my online denial, of course I set myself personal goals and objectives for the year ahead. I feel motivated and excited to see staff and students once again. But, I am cautious.

This is a blog for all teachers and support staff heading back to school.

I am cautious for one reason. By default, schools are ever-changing. Every year, schools receive a new intake of students. The intake will vary slightly, but year on year, there may be many significant changes/trends over time. Therefore, as the needs of the students evolve, so must the schools that we work in. As teachers we must also continue to change and by nature, we do. Our genetic code is set to work hard and get the best out of others and ourselves. Yet, what works last year, or last term, may not necessarily work again the following year. We have to continue to develop, refine and improve our teaching methods. This does not necessarily mean trying out anything new, but certainly we need to become more and more sophisticated with our techniques as the school intake evolves and the needs of the students become more and more complex.

This becomes increasingly difficult as the government and watchdogs move the goalposts in order to ‘raise standards’ or drive an agenda. But what I’d like to propose, is rather than changing or introducing anything new, what we need to do is refine and consolidate what we already know.

Consolidate:

consolidate
verb: consolidate; 3rd person present: consolidates; past tense: consolidated.
  1. make (something) physically stronger or more solid.
    “the first phase of the project is to consolidate the outside walls”
    • strengthen (one’s position or power).
      “the company consolidated its position in the international market”
  2. combine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole.
    “all manufacturing activities have been consolidated in new premises”
Origin
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Reinvent the wheel?

We do not need to reinvent the wheel, yet many leadership teams (and government) try to do so, simply to ‘make their mark.’ With many new leaders starting out in school, they will endeavour to reduce, re-use, renew, refine and recycle systems that may have existed prior to their arrival. Sadly, this may be without any thoughtful reflection on the needs of the staff and students, or with consultation. I know, as I have done it myself as an inexperienced senior leader, because it ‘may’ have worked well in another school! However, this does not mean that the same methods may work well elsewhere. Therefore, as school leaders we must be mindful of new starts in school and the impact of ‘our ideas’ on staff at the start of the academic year.
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Dogmatic approaches do not drive up standards alone; we know that for schools to adapt and improve to meet the needs of the students, schools need a happy and committed workforce. By nature, teachers enjoy freedom and creativity in the classroom in order to feel empowered. This is difficult when working with 1200+ students and over 200+ staff when standards need to be maintained and cohesion towards achieving a vision is desired. It is therefore vital to listen to staff, students and act on feedback over a sustained period of time. After all, nobody appreciates a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach, yet sadly this leadership style still exists in some schools …
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To encourage productivity in the classroom, should we trust and consolidate more? Of course we should.
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Should an increased workload be acceptable at the start of every academic year?

No.

Should staff expect reform and introductions to new policies and procedures?

Absolutely I’d say! What better time to kick-start and refine best practice …

But this should never come at the expense for introducing anything new just for the sake of it. New systems should be considered, consulted and calculated to ensure all staff and students are informed about what is happening; why and how something is to be implemented.

What we need to do, is consolidate.

How often have you sat in a school hall in September and heard ‘this is new’ and ‘we will do it this way’ only to find out a few months later that the consistency and the effort invested has broken down? The concept soon falls flat on its face and leaders look to abandon, re-launch or re-invent! This is natural, but not always acceptable. We should always be looking to refine and improve interventions, support and challenge in schools, but how? Shouldn’t we consider what we have been doing in the past and refine rather than renew or abandon?

We should consolidate.

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Image: Shutterstock

Going Google!

At Quintin Kynaston we have introduced one significant change across the school this week. We are going Google! We have taken this decision after much consolidation over the past 12 months. A sluggish ICT network, dragged further down by countless attachments, emails and megabytes resulted in our IT server, network and switches under-performing. This led to a dramatic decrease in (internet speed) productivity and frustration across the board. Over the past 12 months, it became a daily occurrence for my PCs to ‘freeze’ whilst the cache re-booted its memory to catch up with the programs, software and information I was trying to (click) do. In many cases, I’d simply give up or leave the PC alone in the classroom or office and return 10 minutes later!

It was a headache for everyone …

After consultation, staff were keen to move away from two systems driving one method of communication; Microsoft and Google networks operating side by side. So, during the summer we took an incredible jump to move our website to a new domain; reconfigure staff email addresses and create a Google single sign-on webpage that would enable teachers and support staff to work much more productively during the day!

Through leaving Microsoft and moving over to Google, staff and student logins are requested (once) at the start of the day and everyone in the community is now able to access multiple software platforms and programmes. The change of working habits has been steep and caused some minor (working habit) anxiety, but nothing of significance. The impact is clear to see after 3 days. It has already been noticeable with staff. It was only yesterday I created a Google Powerpoint to prepare for our first CPD session of the year; to see 4 other members of staff log into the same web space and collaborate and help create and publish a presentation to share with all staff the very next day. It was exciting and empowering!

We are consolidating working habits.

Workload:

The reader may ask, how is this consolidation? Well for starters, although we have changed the ‘way we are working’, we have removed the burden of software ‘slowing down classroom practice.’ With the introduction of Google documents across the network, staff are sharing resources and ideas much more rapidly and collaboratively in teams across the community. Productivity has increased and frustration has started to diminish.

In conjunction with this number one change to school practice, we have reduced our school priorities from seven (7) to just four (4) and have removed several demands placed upon middle leaders to document decisions and impact of interventions. One example is examination analysis after every data-entry point. To improve staff wellbeing even further, I have added this to my own job responsibilities to give this important aspect of staff welfare an even higher priority. We will be hosting a staff team building twilight (I promise no role-plays!) before the end of the month and middle leaders are thankful that all agreed demands and deadlines are now published in one place and managed by myself. This ensures that no one else in the institution can demand any kind of work, reply or other work from middle leaders without ‘the work’ being pre-planned, calendared or requested via me and published on a shared Google portal. Middle leaders have been grateful that this is being considered weekly on their behalf.

We are consolidating workload practice.

September:

September is the time of the year when most teachers set personal and professional goals. This is not just a matter of professional appraisal targets, but more along the lines of personal habits and working ambitions. Returning from an extended holiday means it is time again to take out your shoes from under the bed/wardrobe and consider giving them a polish before the start of the term. We consider the occasional purchase to spruce up our pencil cases, or dig out a new outfit to match our (disappearing) summer moods to make an impression with colleagues on day one. Regardless of what we do to prepare for the first week back, we consolidate the summer period gone-by and make preparations for the onslaught ahead.

The beginning to the academic year is a peculiar one for some. Spare a sympathetic thought for the few colleagues who may be excited, or even nervous starting off in a new school, whilst many others consider putting the long summer holidays behind them and finally accepting a change of tempo as the new term kicks in … Soon enough, deadlines will loom; the promise of marking increases and the tightly packed timetable is already making teachers sweat! That first pay-cheque may be weeks away, so most of use will spend the time working late at school or curled up in front of the television to avoid spending extra pennies elsewhere. We consolidate our finances …

We should be mindful of a long break away from routine, with new colleagues and new school leaders keen to settle in and establish relationships with colleagues and students. Set against the pressure of accountability and government reform, the desire of every school is to improve and refine in a period where energy levels are (initially) high and the mood is good. But for how long?

Whatever the case for you, I ask the reader this: what have you done to consolidate your working habits this academic year? How can you consolidate past working habits in order to produce long-term gains for all?

TT.

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@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...

One thought on “Back To School Again

  • 4th September 2015 at 3:45 pm
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    I note you said changes were made over the summer. I trust that right after final grades were submitted in the spring, each teacher was urged to reflect on the year, then discussion options in small groups (grade level, subject, department), and finally as a building PLC. That helps make budget allocations, policy & pedagogy revisions, IT revisions as you did, and PD plans among other things. Most importantly, to me at least, it engages everyone and builds trust and relationships.

    Totally agree there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel or change for the sake of change. But new opportunities do arise regularly and everything can be improved. We collectively owe our students a careful consideration of them, adapting those that make sense – starting at the END of the school year, NOT a few days before the new school year.

    Reply

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