Back To School Dos and Don’ts

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Back To School


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Is your school genuinely placing the interests of its teachers as a key priority?

Over the last two years, I have visited approxiamately 135+ schools. This post is written for teachers and school leaders for the year ahead to get a sense of what other schools may or may not be doing.

How do you know if your school is on the right track?

Last month, I surpassed 10 million readers on this website. For years, I have observed the online analytics and patterns of my readers and have discovered what topics and resources teachers typically read and ‘how much time’ they spend absorbing that content. It’s fascinating stuff and I only wish I had used this data better in my own school leadership to engage with the people I was working with.

Equally, I also receive troubling messages via social media, and in terms of the negative aspects of the content received, I want to marry this up with all the schools I have visited and the sixteen thousand teachers I have been working with to help all get a sense of where they sit within the profession.

Don’t Do This

  1. If you are being asked to attend early morning meetings with your line manager to analyse data, and later is not granted an hour off to attend your child’s sports day, it could be time to question your workload and wellbeing.
  2. If you are being asked to cover another member of staff’s role and are not being paid for it, then fool you!
  3. Whole-school Powerpoint templates? The number of teachers who contact me from large multi-academy trusts who say they are forced to follow organised resources feel devalued and deprofessionalised. If you are happy to work without any autonomy or thought regarding your subject curriculum, then a) I suspect the person creating the materials isn’t actually teaching it and b) is checking things off in observations to force you – the qualified teacher – to jump through hopes for the unachievable goal of consistency.
  4. Are you another school that has revamped your curriculum with new buzzwords? If your school wants to have ‘intent’ mapped out, they should have intended to give you time to do this. If your school wants you to ‘implement’ the content, then you’re also going to need a good budget to update your resources. And if ‘impact’ is also a feature in your curriculum plans, then I suspect you will need your school to set aside some CPD time for you to regularly discuss schemes of work and share ideas in order to gauge its impact. I wonder how many schools will continue to place curriculum at the heart of teacher training throughout this academic year?
  5. If your school does not use social media to promote, recruit or celebrate the work you are doing, then it is perhaps time to find someone who does. Many teachers are moving to work in schools simply because of the school’s online profile. When last did someone read what the Google reviews say of your school? Another hallmark of a poor teaching and learning culture is if the school has little or no teachers discussing pedagogy online. It could be banned!
  6. If you think your wellbeing is suffering, it’s probably a good idea to look around you and see if you are working with bullies? Passive-aggressive behaviour, asking “Are you done with this yet?” and treating everything as an emergency, or making a mountain out of a molehill is a sure sign you are working with incompetent leaders.
  7. I meet many teachers who tell me that some of their key problems are not the students but working with other people. In some cases, they do not have the skills to be able to have a ‘difficult conversation’ or opt to keep the peace because they work with a friend and settle for ‘poor teaching’ instead of a difficult friendship. If this is something prevalent in your school, when last did middle leaders receive any training for managing and getting the best out of others?
  8. Marking continues to impact on many teachers across the land, with specified coloured pens and marking frequencies stipulated by those who don’t evaluate ‘Who teaches the most students?’ and ‘How long does it take to follow the school policy?’
  9. Detailed reports appear to be a key problem in international and independent schools, with many, despite huge budgets, not using sophisticated edtech platforms to voice and video-automate reports in order to track online analytics from parents. We should all abolish lengthy and traditional written reports because ‘It’s what we’ve always done’ or fear of breaking away from parental perceptions. The pressure on the independent sector to maintain standards and demonstrate value for money is very real…
  10. Finally, recruitment continues to be a problem because non-disclosure agreements and redundancies are frequent and the workforce is replaced year on year (in excess of fifteen per cent of the total headcount). Bullying is rife at leadership level and word of mouth slowly reaches toxic and anonymous social media content in replace of research-led practice and collegiately.

Do This

  1. Schools that are getting it right, have collapsed their INSET days and are staggering their time throughout the year. This allows regular dialogue and opportunities for sharing and reflection. Exactly what we promote for memory and retrieval practice – why not for teachers?
  2. Meetings have been dramatically reduced to the essential one a week – and never because it’s on the calendar.
  3. Timetables are published well in advance, not the day before term starts. I recently surveyed teachers and 27 per cent of teachers still do not know what their timetable is for the year ahead. Cover supervisors are also employed and teaching staff only cover when there is an emergency.
  4. Union voice is present, active and positively driven and supported with regular communications between school staff and the leadership team. There is also an active group of staff who are ‘tweeters’, attending conferences and are members of the College of Teaching, examination boards and/or research organisations.
  5. School buildings are cared for by everyone. Litter and graffiti are removed within minutes of it appearing…
  6. The school is moving toward research appraisal, where the individual teacher chooses their target, not the line manager.
  7. Grading teachers in a lesson was last mentioned in 2013! Learning walks are also being questioned and coaching logistics are being thought through carefully…
  8. Support staff are respected by pupils and all teaching staff know their names – the CPD leader also knows everyone’s training needs, but this is still (sadly) incredibly rare.
  9. Receptions are welcoming, attentive and rigorous on the front door. Safeguarding procedures are paramount. I’m still bemused by how many schools allow me to walk through the gates and front reception with no checks! The reception team are also professional, positive and productive – with no inappropriate conversations within earshot of visitors.
  10. External teachers are invited to attend school-designed conferences. The school also places teacher-pedagogy as the highest priority, even in the most challenging of contexts. Oh, and the headteacher also attends staff training sessions with governors also present…

I write this to help you evaluate if, what you are doing or being asked to do, is sensible, healthy or downright ridiculous. I hope your school is doing the former? Best wishes for the term ahead…

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