What are your education hopes and fears for teachers in 2020?
Dear Santa, I write to you so that you can pass this message on to every school in England to help make education a better place for our teachers and pupils…
1. Reducing teacher workload
For years I’ve been researching the root cause of teacher workload and time and time again, the results suggest ‘school leaders’ are to blame. Note, as I always highlight when I work with schools, anyone with a (TLR) teaching-learning responsibility, particularly those who are responsible for setting deadlines on others, is in the broadest sense, a school leader. Meaning, they are also responsible for the workload imposed on other teachers. A final point: My latest survey suggests that there has been a tipping point: School inspection appears to be driving teacher workload, rather than school leadership. We must always question our choices, habits and perceptions of ‘what works?’ This is one way to guarantee teachers can be trusted. The question is, is it school leaders who don’t trust their teachers or our external audiences?
2. Frequency and compliance
There is a pattern evolving from the schools I visit. Schools working with disadvantaged pupils and/or in particular demographic regions of England, more often than not, seem to apply ‘frequency and compliance‘ methods upon their teachers, particularly in teaching and learning policies. Where this choice bucks the trend is in schools who have been recently labelled as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted. This notion that we can determine a child’s progress from an exercise book is dangerous, unreliable and a poor proxy for learning. On the matter of the ‘purple pen of progress’ or a ‘teacher must mark once, every two weeks’, where is the research to suggest this improves learning?
We must challenge this dialogue.
Who likes a meeting? I’ve asked that question to 20,000 teachers over the last two years and I’ve counted less than 100 ‘hands up’. Keeping teachers busy in meetings was one of the top things listed by teachers (DfE workload surveys 2013 and 2016) that increased their workload. I like meetings when they are well-led, the agenda is shared in advance, the chair keeps to time and everyone has a voice. I also enjoy meetings when they are a professional development opportunity and people in the meeting get a cup of tea and a slice of cake after a full day of teaching! Instead, why not try stand up meetings or walkabout meetings to help improve teachers’ wellbeing and effectiveness?
4. Mental Health conversations
Over the last academic year, I have been asking schools if they have recently discussed teacher mental health. Sadly the number is few and far between. Schools are excellent in managing pupil mental health but are still struggling to manage their own and others’ wellbeing. in the happier and higher performance goals of visit, teacher well-being and mental health conversations are high up on the agenda. When will your school discuss teacher mental health? Schools which are achieving collective teacher efficacy, protect teacher professional development fiercely and regularly access internal action research and external publications, to interrogate, interpret and inform teaching pedagogy. I would argue that these schools, by the very notion that they are protecting teacher professional development, are at the same time, improving teacher wellbeing and mental health. If that’s not your school, why not and how far away are you away from achieving this?
5. Feedback, not marking
Not many teachers will be able to tell you the etymological meaning of the word assessment. What if we banished the word ‘marking’ and replaced it with ‘feedback’? Imagine if we could free up our teachers to get on with their job; spending more of their time planning and supporting pupils? If you’ve not yet read my verbal feedback project/research from seven state schools across England or accessed the supporting resources, then you really are missing something!
6. Cognitive Science
‘Cognitive load theory’ may be the most important thing that teachers need to know, and useful for one pupil, but I would argue that this is difficult for all of us to achieve when considering 30 pupils in front of any teacher. As more and more schools consider the curriculum, (honestly, it’s everywhere and you wonder why some were not doing this before? I wonder what the reason is…) schools may have the best intentions laid out on paper and be able to articulate their decisions, but unless schools equip their teachers to bring the curriculum to life, then all this hard work is a waste of time! It is important for all of us to consider more effective teaching methods to improve pupils’ retention and memory. I often advocate, if teachers do less and think about how best they impart instruction, they can deliver more effectiveness in the classroom. All teachers must focus on the basics and master these to the best of their ability: Mark (assessment), Plan and Teach. If we continue to be frustrated by parents and politicians telling us what to do, then there is no hiding place for any teacher to keep their heads down or their classroom door closed.
7. Professional wisdom matters
I believe the current government model for teacher recruitment does not support experienced teachers. Teaching is a team sport and no teacher can be great, without solving complex classroom problems with their peers – it cannot be done alone. New and inexperienced teachers to the profession, need experienced teachers around them. The problem is, if the government continue to fund new teachers with bursaries and higher salaries/rewards, rather than grant our experienced teachers with better pay and conditions, we will continue to lose experienced teachers to the profession and our younger teachers will continue to be regurgitated within the system, leave prematurely and be unable to solve challenging problems in our schools. You only need to dig into the DfE census data to see that this is the established model, dating back over 20 years… I discovered the etymological meaning of the word ‘phronesis’ from Hywel Roberts. It means professional wisdom.
These are my hopes for the teaching profession throughout 2020. What are yours?
8. Other pressing issues
- The world of politics continues to berate one another, while schools struggle financially.
- I’m pleased to see more schools considering research-informed appraisal. I’ve outlined how schools can achieve this in my book, Just Great Teaching.
- Sadly, six years on, this still needs a mention as there are still some state schools in England that choose to grade their teachers. It’s absolute nonsense! Go find another school in which to work… an organisation which will provide the soil in which you can grow professionally…