Essentially this book is about the final stage of the call to adventure, that which in the form proposed by Christopher Vogler is called ‘Return with the Elixir: the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world’ Although I am no hero each chapter of my book is about something you can do to improve your teaching and ensure that you remain a learner.
Question: How can I be a better teacher? For teachers, no two days are ever the same and no group or individual pupil is guaranteed to learn or behave in the same way from one day to the next. Teaching is a full-on job and often with only time to respond to the challenges and changes.
Answer: To be a better teacher I recognised that teachers need to have time and the opportunity to reflect and that they need to remain learners. It is important to me that the book gives you the tools to manage your time effectively and to successfully meet the day to day challenges as well as encourage you to reflect.
In reflecting on what worked and why in learning and teaching I realised that after all the preparation, planning and resourcing it came down to pupil/teacher relationships. Establishing, building, and maintaining relationships is very important. There are many things that can damage a relationship in an instant but it takes time to repair or build an effective learning relationship.
Question: How do you build effective learning relationships and secondly what factors can support or undermine them? We are now getting to the heart of the question.
Answer: In observing and discussing the relationships pupils build with teachers and their peers it became clear that pupils will invest in establishing a relationship to meet certain needs. The pupil may not make a conscious decision or even be able to articulate why they behave in a certain way towards some people or when in some groups. Pupils may not even recognise the drivers of their behaviour at all. It also became clear that some needs are powerful drivers of pupil behaviour, so powerful even that they will override such factors as social or school expectations, personal safety, parental influence, or any pressure from existing relationships. It was also clear that not all pupil behaviour is predictable and that there are dampening and enhancing factors that can promote or subdue the nature of the behaviour a pupil will exhibit in any given situation.
Chapter 1 explores the challenges you will face as a teacher and includes a series of reflection prompts. Chapter 2 is an in-depth look at the learning relationship between pupil and teacher using an innovative ‘Learning Relationship Responsibility Ratio Graph’. The important role of leadership in nurturing and protecting the relationship between pupil and teacher is recognised and is also analysed.
Question: How can we interpret pupil behaviour to understand pupil needs?
Answer: Seeing behaviour as a symptom of a need rather than as a challenge is the first step in developing our understanding of needs and the impact they have on learning and teaching. What we want as teachers are engaged learners, pupils that are motivated to learn. Chapter 3 looks at what pupils need in order to engage in the process of learning.
Question: Who helped in my call to adventure?
Answer: It’s a long list! From my teaching mentor John, who’s 12 rules appear in chapter 11, to those I have taught and those I have taught with, the many who have challenged my teaching and opened my eyes. Some sources go back further than you may think too, some were suggested by the different online groups and education thought leaders we are familiar with through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, TEDx etc.
The next instalment of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ will describe the chapters that cover four learning needs and how you can plan to meet and manage them.
4) Our 4 learning engagement needs PBCF
This time of year, as one closes and another is on the horizon, we start to look forward as well as back. Part of this process is to reflect and also declare resolutions for the coming year.
Certainly 2020 has made its mark and there may not be a lot to look back on but it has not all been doom and gloom. There have been some spectacular events, achievements, happenings, and many challenges overcome. In the midst of this upheaval to our everyday lives has been learning and teaching. Schools have gone online or been open throughout the pandemic and their much broader role of supporting children and their families has been highlighted in many ways. Teachers and schools have certainly faced significant challenges but in seeking solutions some interesting doors have opened and things in the classroom may never be the same again.
Reflecting and the three R’s
I have a feeling though that one of the key components in learning and teaching will always be front and centre, be it online or face to face, and that is relationships. Building and maintaining learning relationships is for me what teaching is all about. The three R’s if you like – Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.
Resolutions and developing and sharing a learning narrative
My challenge this year has been the forming of a narrative that I can share and that described the importance of building effective learning relationships in learning and teaching. 2020 certainly afforded me the time to do it but it has been great to reflect and write, even if I was unable to present at the wonderful Festival of Education again this year.
My aim was to write something along the lines of a learning journal for teachers with the honest aim of helping those who want to become a better teacher. There is no arrogance in my aim, I certainly don’t hold all the answers, but I do understand how much of what teachers do depends on building effective learning relationships with their pupil or students. I also recognise and understand how the four key elements that help form those relationships (power, belonging, choice and fun) work in the learning environment.
As the year ends I can tell you that the narrative I developed now has a title, several chapters and a publisher and will be available in February next year. In this blog I will be looking back on the process and the challenges in putting the narrative together as well as sharing some of the things from the book. In the new year you will also be able to find support materials from the book on my website (www.ace-d.co.uk) So in 2021 look out for ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ published by Critical Publishing and follow the blog where I will explain how this important text came about and my hopes for it in the world of education.
I want to add to the discussion about teacher wellbeing, to explore the signs and symptoms and then offer some practical advice from my own experience.
How are you doing, deep down?
How are you doing? I don’t mean the casual “How are you?” question that we answer politely with “Fine, and you?” I have written this article to flag up how easy it is to slide into routines and practices that are bad for us as teachers and what we can do about it.
To judge your wellbeing I have a question for you but you need to be brutally honest in your reply.
“How do you feel the night before starting the school week?”
It’s Sunday evening and you begin to mentally go through the week ahead. There are bound to be challenges and outstanding tasks as well as new deadlines to meet, that is ‘normal’ but how do you ‘feel’ about it, deep down. You need to be in touch with those feelings, either the excitement or the nervousness, as you mentally get ready to start teaching on Monday. If there is a feeling of dread, of apprehension or anxiety that too can be ‘normal’ but what we should concern ourselves about is the depths, the extremes of these feelings.
Other ways to assess your well being
There are other signs that things are not as they should be too. First we stop being learners and rely on routine and established behaviours, especially when faced with a challenge. We lose a certain capacity for change or taking on anything new. We find it hard to ‘switch off’ and to leave school behind. Relationships take the strain, and as teachers we rely on good learning relationships with our students, this is a significant symptom.
We develop a security blanket.
Taking things home to do is fine if it is an option and not a necessity. When you leave school you may find yourself carrying along ‘work’ to do at home. When these are loaded into the car and left there until the next day or over the weekend then you need to stop and assess how you are doing. Worse still if you take them into the house and they remain untouched you have a problem for then they represent a spectre of your worries and concerns.
What you have done is create a form of ‘security blanket’, a way of convincing yourself all is okay because you can ‘catch up’ at home and so you pack them up and carry them out with you. Don’t believe me? Try this, try leaving everything at school when you go home and see how it feels. I did and it was a revelation.
Take nothing home and see how it feels.
There I was standing in the carpark feeling as if something is not right. It was odd, I had nothing in my arms, nothing on the back seat and I felt ‘lost’. I had the same feeling all the way home and when I entered the house. My routine had been to say “Hi” and then do a little work before cooking and eating and then finishing things off. It is easy to get into this routine but is not good for us. A little work can become a lot and finishing things off can mean a very late night.
It is about setting boundaries and expectations.
I can remember Kenneth Baker in 1987, the then Secretary of State for Education, setting 1,265 hours as a reasonable expectation although there was the caveat about needing extra time for the marking, report writing, lesson preparation and teaching resources that were needed to “discharge effectively his professional duties” [i] I also remember a deputy head who would ask “Have you earnt your money today?” If the answer was “Yes” then the instruction was to “Get on home and relax”!
Here is my advice
Do as much as you can at school without staying too late. This often means working efficiently and with focus when not in the classroom.
Plan ahead and keep an eye on any event or deadline that requires you to participate.
If you must take things home then set a space aside for doing ‘school work’. Do not let invade your personal space (dining room table, kitchen worktop, or even worse, the bedroom).
Have a rule about taking school work home and stick to it. “Not on Friday” is a good one.
Don’t try to ‘multitask’, i.e. watch TV or socialise whilst working – you end up doing a poor job of both and you do not recharge your batteries.
The night before a school week asks yourself “How do I feel?” and set your mind to address any negative issues. This may, and probably will, involve engaging with others to share your feelings.
You may need to learn to say “NO”
Saying no is not a sign of weakness and neither should it be a last resort. Here is a link to an article all about saying “NO“
Think about finding a coach, like myself, that specialises in working with teachers. Sharing and being challenged is good for us and the impartial nature of the relationship with a coach can have significant benefits.
It’s not easy and it won’t happen overnight
Of course it’s not easy, but being aware of our ‘well being’ is often all it needs to find the focus to do something about it. If you are still struggling then make sure you talk to someone.
[i] The Education (School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order 1987
I like it when a plan comes together, even if it’s not one of mine!
I came to Northampton to take up a post as head of faculty at Trinity school in 1990 when education in the town was split 3 ways, lower, middle and upper. What struck me moving from Lincolnshire was how close the schools were and how much co-operation there was across schools and phases. This was supported by an excellent teacher’s centre, an ICT support centre and LEA advisors. There were black clouds on the horizon though in the way of Ofsted inspections, league tables and the resulting competition and a changing National Curriculum as schools wrestled with the burden of demands it placed on time and resources. Enter the “dark ages”, who would have predicted academy chains, a University of Northampton or a teacher recruitment and retention crisis?
Jump forward nearly 20 years and the University of Northampton is now in the town, education is split 2 ways and there are such things as academies, MAT’s, the EBacc and once again the energy and passion and above all, ownership for education by those who teach in Northampton has emerged. Hurray and well done to those who has the vision and tenacity to make #EducatingNorthants that was both a) an event that was well supported and owned by the teachers and b) a success. I am so glad I was there to see it, it has been some time coming.
I no longer teach, instead I share my 40 years of experience of teaching and learning, leadership and management through my writing, coaching, workshops and consultation. So perhaps I may offer a slightly different perspective on the day to many who were there.
The venue, the UON is new and ‘modern’ in all senses of the educational world and proved to be up to the job of hosting 600 teachers providing entertainment, refreshments and excellent resources. I have to say it lacked a little ‘soul’ though, perhaps it will come in time.
The excellent programme kicked off with a welcome and a chance to hear from the organisers whose vision and determination had brought about the day. The tension and excitement was palatable, it was going to be an exceptional day. Talking to those who I met and became re acquainted with there was anticipation and expectation, something has to come from this day other than a temporary high. I was reassured that although I had not taught for nearly 8 years I still understood the core challenges and that little had really changed in day to day teaching except the landscape in which it played out. Let’s not underestimate the significant impact the landscape and the ‘political engineers’ who have formed it has had on teaching, but I found many examples of those who had begun to take ownership of it and who had ideas on how to master it. Creativity is important to me, I see teaching and learning as a problem-solving activity, and there was much creativity in evidence throughout the day.
I was able to continue my journey as a learner like many who attended this day and felt uplifted as a result. Change may not be here, but the winds are blowing, and they are rising from a breeze to hopefully a storm.
How will we measure the success of the day though and how will we continue the ‘conversation’ as some have put it? Perhaps we should take a spoonful of our own medicine each day and show creativity, a growth mindset, resilience and above all create the learning environment that embraces all those in our care first and satisfies some arbitrary target last.
I will conclude with what I have discovered to be the key to engagement in any activity, process or organisation and which I believe sits behind the success of #EducatingNorthants. The graphic below gives you an overview of the concept and it’s easy to remember just “Please be Child Friendly”, PBCF. You can of course take this as “Please be Colleague Friendly” too.
When people have a voice and representation and can communicate openly with each other it empowers them.
Believing in something that is shared with others and through common language or aims it gives us a sense of belonging.
By being given a choice we can express our needs and learn to understand responsibility and consequence.
Fun translates into energy and passion for the things we believe in, for the things we believe are attainable and of value to us.
PBCF was at the heart of the success at #educatingNorthants and if maintained will be what ultimately transforms teaching and learning in Northamptonshire.
Director at Advocating Creativity in Education
Published 8th April 2019
I have written this article as a way of looking at the teacher retention and recruitment issues we are currently facing in the profession. A key element is doing too much, high levels of stress and burnout.
Teaching involves passion, dedication, endless energy and a strong sense of accountability as well as ‘personal’ responsibility. The rewards are addictive and here in lies the problem, when do you say “No”? It’s not easy to say “No” and so you put up with a little less personal time in order to meet the needs of the children you teach. You do a little extra, buy the odd resource, stay a bit longer because the benefits of doing so outweigh the cost.
Learn to say NO*
There is a case to be made for saying “No”, loudly and with commitment and to suffering the immediate consequences but it comes at a cost too. Are we as teachers ‘masking’ the problem of being underfunded, under resources and over burdened by doing more? Are our efforts to make things work actually responsible for the high level of numbers of teachers leaving the profession, of many being too tired to have a life outside of school?
I know you cannot turn up to lessons with books unmarked, lessons not planned, refuse just one more students in your class and not enough resources to go around but what can we do about getting the work life balance sorted? Sorted in a way that means we have a chance to recharge the batteries, to socialise, to have a life outside school and for us to be learners once again too.
“Am I the best person to be doing this?”
Having worked with teachers who are tired, who have no work life balance and who are struggling to be effective in the classroom I have one question I always ask. It is a question you should always ask yourself before starting something, before taking on something extra, before saying “Yes” instead of “No”. That question is “Am I the best person to be doing this?” and you need to be brutally honest with yourself. It is no good saying “Who else would do it if I did not?”
“The Secret of Time Management”
Of course you need to ‘unpack’ the words “best person” and there is a contextual aspect to the words more than I can go into here. I have written an in depth look at the this question with the catchy title “The Secret of Time Management” and you can find it here. In the article, which is spread over several posts, I look at three elements, 1) the task 2) the person and 3) the resources at hand and work these into what I call the “Not Enough Time” or NET equation. I believe you will find it helpful if you can find the time to read it!
We end up saying “Goodbye” instead of “No”
We know the plus side of going the extra mile, of giving a little more but here is another side I want to draw your attention to too. Things are unlikely to get better if we keep perpetuating the current approach of giving more and more. In many ways teachers, by not saying “No”, are ‘masking’ the serious issues that are affecting our education system. It is difficult to get a true picture of the resources that are needed or the systems that are fundamentally flawed in education if we mask them. What we do see is people who do not say “No” eventually saying “Goodbye” to teaching. I would suggest that until we understand the NET equation and we accept saying “No” is a good thing the teaching profession will continue to risk recruitment and retention of those who want so much to teach. Teaching will become, if it has not already done so, a ‘toxic’ environment.
One final observation regarding time. When we are refreshed and focused we achieve more in a shorter amount of time, we are more effective. It’s worth thinking about this next time you are asked to do something! Perhaps you should reply “What do you want me to stop doing in order to do what you are now asking me to do?”
*How to say “No” nicely – A link to another article looking at ways to help address the workload issue in teaching.