Leading anything takes courage because of the many varied situations it puts you in. You will be dealing with wider issues than before, with a likely wider impact too; that's the whole point of leadership (in my opinion), broadening your impact. You'll be a mediator, a presenter, a point of safety, a critical friend; all of which involve complex emotions. Leaders must take calculated risks, with as much considered as possible. Bravery and innovation are paramount to promoting positive change.
I find emotional intelligence is a dying language these days. In a world fuelled by self-centred excuses stemming from too much enjoyment of playing the victim, often we forget that relationships in life are interlinked and that there are other feelings involved. Part of being visible (above) is to gather the sensitive data to find the most empathetic way to move forward. Having said that, part of being brave is understanding that there will be barriers, but it's the relationship built over time that will help you overcome them. Have a human side that ultimately makes the deciding call, but also calls out the snowflakes when needs be.
These lessons further interlink when you consider that absolute clarity - formed from how much you see and engage with - coupled with bravery and an understanding of likely human reactions, all combine to help create a route towards your vision. Knowing what you have, and knowing where you want to go are 2 completely different entities, but one very much relies on the other. Create a plan that gets you moving, but be realistic about the time scale and patience required. Your own communication skills are tested here. Don't forget to put yourself in other people's shoes, consider your own reaction to what you're asking for. Don't turn it into payback for what you may have gone through.
The journey towards, on onwards, to leadership can be tricky. You'll face undesirable reactions, misplaced fear and simple playground jealousy. Work hard to keep a level head and find strategies to deal with all eventualities. As part of a comprehensive wellbeing-centred approach, seek out supportive friends and colleagues that you trust. You need honest feedback to move forwards, comments from the ground on things you implement or want carried out. Make good judgements, understanding your definition of good may differ. Be prepared to be wrong, be prepared to be argued with. Count on all the lessons you learn to support you in making the best progress for your school.
I'll leave you to peruse the rest of the chapters yourself. Ideal for almost every stage of the journey in teaching, this book will open your eyes to the experiences of others. By this I mean, alongside offering advice, it's also useful for even the peachiest of school leaders to gather a sense of the behaviour of staff in other schools, to forward plan and prevent future difficulties.
Thank you so much to Omar for sending me a copy; I'd highly recommend it.
I'm still on my mission to spread positivity in our profession, and in the last 2 months, I've been sharing a weekly #TeachingHero. They've got great advice on well-being and resilience in our profession. What's more, they're a better read than the life-sucking misery that you'll find in some media outlets these days. I guarantee they'll brighten your day:
This month I've been reading 'The Unofficial Teacher's Manual'. It was sent to me by the lovely author, also a teacher, writing from a wealth of experience. It's hard-hitting, brutally honest and absolutely relatable. I'll be posting a dedicated review very soon!
This month, I'd like to celebrate teamwork! Drop me a message on Facebook or Twitter, with some details of a member of your team, and I'll send them a thank you gift from the both of us!
My response is purely my opinion, and you're welcome to comment below with changes you would make. But this is what I'd advise personally:
A specific 'ice-breaker' isn't going to be necessary, especially as you're the new one, not them. Even when you have a class full-time, my advice would still be to get into the learning as soon as possible, setting the long-term standards, and learn about each other along the way. I'm sure there are many teachers that give out a neatly compartmentalised grid with the children's hopes, food dislikes and favourite subjects scrawled across, but I doubt they do anything of any value with it; I'm pleased you're ambitious, I won't be cooking for you anyway, and you can love or hate every subject, it's still going to be taught to you!
You must keep in mind that, at some point, you're going to be responsible for the progress of these children (whether it's a placement or an employed post), so while you obviously want to get to know everyone, and for them to know you, you must ensure that you keep control of your image. By this, I mean that we are so keen to tell everyone our quirkiest talents, best adventures and funniest stories in an understandable bid to be liked, and all these episodes build the picture someone has of us.
With this in mind, consider the picture you want (and ultimately NEED) the children to have of you. Eventually, you're going to need them to feel safe with you, listen to you, in order to create the best outcomes with regards to learning. My advice would be, everything in moderation:
Being their friend first, and teacher second is never going to work. They're going to fall in love with you regardless. They want someone who is going to work hard for them, and they'll work just as hard for you. Best of luck!
This month saw the launch of my weekly #TeachingHero - a regular interview slot where positive practitioners share their advice and wisdom on teacher retention and strategies to keep you motivated. You can notice them too by clicking here, here and here! Comment below or contact me via any of my media channels to get involved! It's much more productive to take notice of positive role models, than enthusiasm-sucking pessimists.
I've learnt LOADS this month! However, my best lessons have come from 3 sources. The first has been a book I am reading, called the 'The Miracle Morning.' It might be changing my life, and I'll post a review soon! The second source was the DfE Teacher Workload Conference I attended (you can catch up on that here). And the third is the continuing NPQSL qualification I am currently undertaking. There are a few more sessions of the course to go, and it's dawned on me that I should start sharing some reflections on the research I am finding.
I've been learning a lot this month about modern children's lives, which sounds ridiculous as I read it back, but I don't think I realised how far removed I am from what being a child is like nowadays. It's over-stimulating screens and so much choice that they can't settle. At Parent's Evening this month, supportive families were telling me their child can't even sit long enough for a family game, and that makes me sad. So I've decided to run a new club upon our return. I want to instil that 'family around the table' atmosphere, and have spent a small fortune on board games, in the hope we can get our young people's attention to having real connections and relationships. More on that soon.
1. Set the standard.
While this will extend outside of the first week, remember that you never get this first week back. It's important that you rehearse routines, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Get up, show them where you want them to go, and repeat. The likelihood is that they'll be performing many of these routines on a daily basis, and you don't want to keep explaining it.
2. Find the standard.
Yes, you'll have been given some kind of data towards the end of last year about the class being sent your way. But it's important to find out what your starting point is for the year. I've learnt to never assume, and I've discovered the importance of creating common ground, even when it comes to the basics. I think there's great power in being able to refer to 'the lesson you taught them that thing', even if it's supposed to have been done before.
3. Be flexible.
On one hand, there's a safety in over-planning the first few days, it means that there's always something to do. But sticking too rigidly to what you assumed was possible, means you end up with 4 incomplete projects, rather than 2 or 3 suitably crafted products. Be prepared to change what you had envisaged - and don't forget to take time to talk with your students.
4. Be equal.
Not only is this a great time to set standards and routines with your class, it's also a good time to do it with yourself. Decide, when possible, what you'll get done and when. Overtime, you'll learn to prioritise, and it all takes experimentation. Consider at what points in the week you need certain books, and match that with when you're going to mark them. Additionally, think about the order in which you plan your lessons; preparation takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day.
5. Don't hide.
It was a few days into my NQT year, during a lunchtime, when I vividly remember eating at one of the children's desks. Alone. Likely feeling overwhelmed, or too scared of the staffroom. A couple of teachers came looking for me, and told me to stop being so ridiculous. Of course, it's different if I had been using that time productively - but I wasn't. Your colleagues are important, the only ones that really know what your day is like. Take time to talk - doesn't have to be lunchtime - and get to know one another. It's a family.
My research dissertation was around the subject of teacher control; the title was something along the lines of, "To what extent does teacher confidence affect pupil achievement and self-esteem?" - the idea being, if a teacher isn't brave enough to let go, and is constantly providing a rigid example for children to copy, will they ever be able to match up to the standard in a way they could replicate on their own? Or will it be a constantly negative comparison to the version you created, leaving them ill-equipped?
Naturally, the conclusion was as fluffy as, "a mix of strategies is best" - this is the conclusion for everything in education. Often a rigid example (the support) is required near the beginning of learning something, and then you can loosen the strings as their experience broadens. Like learning to ride a bike.
With this in mind, the fourth part of my #LearningFirst workshop was about teaching the children the importance of Responsibility and Choice.
Strategies for improving teaching and learning:
1. Honest Modelling.
Your input should be you exampling what YOU would do, however, I think it's important that you let them know OTHERS may do it differently. Explain that if they're finding it tricky, to stick with the method that you have shown, but if they have a way of doing something themselves, that they can confidently explain, then that's alright! (Use their explanation to clarify any misconceptions too).
2. Provide options.
Imagine how far you would get through life without needing to make a decision. Would you ever achieve anything of any real value if you were constantly told what to do? My Maths is self-differentiated, and I veer away from guided groups in writing. Teach children the importance of making choices, and create a sense of pride in being an independent learner. You will also be able to promote more self and peer assessment through this route as they navigate their own decision making.
3. Foster Creativity.
One of the things that makes marking more bearable is that I have 30-ish pieces of work that all different! Disseminate the information they need and watch what they do with it. My class and I have an agreement, whatever they present to me at the end of the lesson needs to be informative and aesthetically pleasing. Try it, you'll be amazed at what they produce. You'll also be maximising the occasions that they find themselves solving problems.
4. Use responsibility as an assessment tool.
Often, the argument against providing less support is that they 'can't be bothered if you don't help them'. If this is the case, your classroom ethos is wrong, not the fact you haven't given them a structure. My children know that taking the easy way out is not going to get them anywhere - a fact they can apply to life. Granted, they're also aware it's going to be tough at times, but then I echo the thought above - teach them what pride feels like.
Go for a walk around your school and see what other people are doing! If you're new to the school, use it as a chance to gather an idea of what's expected. (If it appears to be one of those ridiculous schools that dictate what colour to back the boards, don't plan on sticking around - if your school improvement plan genuinely believes that having specific shades for your working walls is going to be the kick-starter for drastic progress, you need your head checked). If you're staying on at the same school, it's still a great way to be inspired by colleagues. Tell them too, people like to hear nice things!
2. Go with your gut.
If there is something you've seen online, or an idea you've heard about, now is the time to try it! The worst that could happen is you change it, and that's not a problem. You know how you want to run your classroom, and have likely dreamt up a system or managerial strategy to reach that vision. Give it a go; you never know until you try! If it doesn't work, you know not to do it again.
3. Play teacher.
You've positioned the tables and chairs where you want them, and decided where different resources are going to be kept. Now have a rehearsal. Pull out all the chairs from under the desks (as if they have been filled with little people) - can you still get around the room? Sit in some of the seats - what can you see? What is that child's experience in your classroom going to be like? Yes, the pencil pot does look Instagrammable, but is it reachable?
4. Zone it off.
It needs to be a comfortable working environment for everyone in your care, both children and adults! It's important that you have a clear idea of what is accessible, and by who. Where are the adults going to keep their valuables? Do the children have space for their things? Be practical - your quaint 'Stationery Station' plucked straight out of Pinterest is lovely, but is the physical act of getting every child to leave their seat when they 'want the orange' to most suitable way to organise it?
5. Be flexible.
The only true test of your classroom will be on that very first day, where you'll find you have two options; stick with it or change it. Be prepared to adapt what you've got, because while most strategies are easily implemented by training your children, sometimes the time vs. impact simply isn't worth it. Either way, remember that your classroom is a place to take pride in. For many of us, we spend more conscious hours in it than our own homes, so it needs to be a place that both you and your children will feel encouraged by.
As has become tradition, I'll blog mine once it's ready. You can catch up on the previous years' here and here.