Last week I wrote a post about the need to be candles in the darkness. My point was that these times are dark, both in the wider world and in education. Funding cuts are biting, micromanagement is rife and teachers are fleeing the profession. I asked that each of us try to be candles in the dark. Points of hope in these difficult times. It would be nice to believe that the Department for Education will come to their senses and decide to value schools and teachers more highly. It would be wonderful if all our school leaders were wise and noble knights leading from a Roundtable of equals. But until that comes to pass I think that we all have the responsibility to shine what light we can. Over the last week I have been trying to think about how we can achieve this; how do we fight back against the night? How can we be candles in the darkness?
If we are going to make a difference to others then we need to look after ourselves first. The #Teacher5aDay campaign has been wonderful at sharing ideas of how teachers can carve out time for the important things in life and encouraging teachers to share their positive experiences. I think there is a danger that a martyrdom culture takes hold in staffrooms where teachers are encouraged to boast about their long hours in a game of one-upmanship. It normalises working all weekend, of working until midnight each day. We need to be braver and have a clear idea of what a manageable and reasonable workload entails. If people need to work all hours we should recognise that something has gone wrong and offer them sympathy and support. We should not feel the need to mimic them.
One candle lights another
I have always been struck by how freely teachers give their time to each other. We share the resources we create, lesson plans, ideas and strategies and all for free. I have known teachers who will always offer to do someone else’s break duty if they see someone struggling; teachers who are always a positive influence that lift up those around them with a kind word and lively energy. Even those who sell their services are happy to offer support and advice for free when asked.
It is this spirit of cooperation that gives me hope for the future of teaching. New technology like Dropbox, Google Drive and Schoology make it easier than ever before to share. We can take charge of our own professional development though twitter, TeachMeets and conferences. We can spread excellent ideas in seconds.
The challenge is getting the sharing culture out of the twitter bubble and in to the staffroom. I think we can do this by organising our own in-school mini-meets, CPD Bookclubs and school blogs. Our school has added collaboration time on to everyone’s timetable and set up a blog to help make all of this possible.
Be a beacon
You don’t have to spend very long on twitter to hear horror stories from schools around the country. Crazy marking policies, punitive lesson observations, bullying SLT. But of course it doesn’t have to be this way. The great Vic Goddard has the mantra “The Headteacher sets the weather” and I think this can be true of leaders of all levels. There is much that can be done to make our schools (and departments within schools) beacons of light.
One thing I would love to see leaders do is think in terms of time budgets. Most headteacher point out that they don’t think their staff can work any harder, so it seems logical that if they want to add something in they need to also take something out. They want teachers to complete a new form of data analysis? Fine. But get rid of the need to run your own detentions. They want teachers to contact parents who couldn’t make it to parents evening? OK. But get rid of that staff meeting.
We need to make sure that we hire excellent people and then trust them to do their jobs. Quality assurance like learning walks, book scrutiny and data analysis should be about finding out what is working – have our ideas been embedded? Have they been successful? They are ways of monitoring ourselves as leaders; not of monitoring others.
Perhaps we can’t turn this country into a beacon of light in these dark times. But perhaps you have the power to transform your school into a wonderful place to work and to learn. If your school is a place of darkness then perhaps you have the power to transform your Department in to one of light and positivity that shows the way to others. If your department is lost to gloom and fear then perhaps you can make your classroom a glowing ember of hope ready to light a raging fire at the right time.
Each of us is in a privileged position to change the lives of a generation in our communities. We have the responsibility to do what we can to make the future a brighter place than the present.