NQT Special: Don’t Change the Light Bulbs

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A new book has brought together a wealth of teaching guidance and tips. Emma Lee-Potter looks at some of the advice for NQTs and speaks to its curator about how new teachers can thrive during their first year.

 

Even though NQTs receive extensive guidance and support as they progress through their first year as fully fledged teachers, taking charge of your own classes, managing heavy workloads and making a good impression on staff, pupils and parents can be a daunting prospect.

But there is plenty of advice to guide you through the year, including an inspiring new book of teaching tips gathered together by Rachel Jones, e-learning co-ordinator at King Edward VI School in Southampton.

Don’t Change the Light Bulbs is a compendium of expertise from 71 teachers, educators and leaders from across the UK.

Ms Jones, who teaches classics and IT, got the idea for the book after winning a place at the Google Teaching Academy last year. During the two-day event she had to develop a pedagogy-based project that would have an impact beyond her own education community, so she decided to produce an e-book about teaching.

She explained: “I know a lot of teachers on Twitter and have met many of them at Pedagoo, Bett and TeachMeets, so I asked them to give me 10 ideas focusing on their particular area of expertise. The book is the result of other people’s lifetimes of learning and that’s what teachers need – not scary textbooks.”

The book covers primary and secondary education, tips for NQTs as well as school leaders, subject-specific advice and guidance on a vast array of topics, including research, questioning strategies, inclusion, working with SEN children in a mainstream setting, using ICT across the curriculum, and Assessment for Learning. 

Ms Jones added: “I hope that teachers will look at the sections on their subjects and on other subjects too. It’s important not to let your thinking be pigeon-holed by the subject you teach or the age of your pupils, because a lot of good practice is cross-phase and cross-curricular.

“To be a really good teacher you want to be good at questioning, feedback and differentiation and these are things to work at whatever your subject.”

The NQT section of the book is written by English teacher Rob Ward, a recent NQT himself. He emphasises the importance of seeking “as much feedback as possible from peers, mentors, other teachers or anyone else who might offer constructive advice”, and getting involved in activities beyond the classroom. Participate in sports day, take part in extra-curricular activities, do a break duty, go on school trips,” he writes. “Pupils and other teachers need to know who you are and this is a quick and painless way of introducing yourself.”

Ms Jones, who has been a teacher for 12 years, is all too aware of the pressures experienced by NQTs. She often mentors PGCE students and believes that trainee teachers and NQTs benefit hugely from learning about other people’s experiences.

“I tell NQTs to celebrate their successes and to move on and learn from things that they could have done better,” she said. “Don’t dwell on things because nobody is the best teacher they’re going to be in their first year. When I look back at my first year I was dreadful. I definitely wasn’t the type of practitioner that I am now.” 

She urges NQTs to make sure they look after themselves properly, get enough rest and maintain a life outside school.

“You won’t be able to perform and do what you need to do unless you look after yourself,” she said. “So you need to turn your phone off, do things that are non-school related and not take on more than you can manage. If you’re not well and you’re struggling then you’re not going to be able to perform and you aren’t going to be able to do your best.

“Having said that, if you feel you are going under then don’t be frightened to ask for help, because good schools will support you and help you. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with feeling that you are struggling because everyone struggles sometimes.”

Like many teachers, Ms Jones writes a teaching blog. Called Create Innovate Explore, it reached the final of the 2013 Edublog awards and has been nominated for the 2015 UK Blog Awards. She has also produced a free guide for NQTs, which can be downloaded from her website. 

She believes that Twitter can be a very useful tool for NQTs – largely because of the way it encourages communication and conversation.

“The days when you used to get on a train and go to London for a CPD course are coming to an end,” she said. “The idea that CPD is done to you is outdated. Development in terms of their practice is something that teachers should do themselves – and Twitter gives them a way of doing that.”

She also thinks that blogging encourages NQTs – and more experienced teachers too for that matter – to reflect on what has worked in the classroom and what has not.

“It’s important to reflect, not simply because your assessment form says you have to, but because it is how you are going to get better,” she said.

“When I started blogging I banged out 500 words about something that hadn’t really worked in one of my lessons. Someone added a comment saying ‘did you think about doing it like this?’ and I thought ‘ah, yes’.

“There are a lot of supportive people out there who want to help NQTs in the development of their practice. I think it’s really important to be connected in teaching. Not everyone agrees with me but I believe we have got an ethical imperative to share what we do and to try and learn from other people. 

“My teaching has certainly got better since I started sharing and talking about what I do – because you are thinking about it more, rather than it just being habitual practice.”

When Ms Jones was collating the book she was determined to feature learners’ voices too. With that in mind, she has included the views of a year 3 pupil (her own son Finley), a year 9 and a year 13 student.

“Student voice is really important to me so I thought it would be farcical to have a book about teaching and learning where there were no learners,” she explained. “I feel very strongly that teaching isn’t a one-way thing. It’s not a question of setting the dial to transmit – we should receive as well.”

The title of the book was inspired by a section on secondary leadership written by a contributor known as ChocoTzar: “You may want to do your best for your colleagues but your job is not to change the lightbulbs, clear up sick, vacuum the carpet or place orders. Delegate. Hold others to account. If they’re meant to have changed the lightbulbs, but haven’t, that’s a strong conversation instead.”

All the royalties from Don’t Change the Light Bulbs are going to the charity Action for Children, which supports the most vulnerable and neglected children in the UK. “The work Action for Children does is so important,” said Ms Jones. “I think teachers are very altruistic and everybody wanted to give the royalties to charity. The book is everybody else’s words really – I only made it happen. We are just happy that we have been able to share our ideas about teaching and do some good in the world as well.” 

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education journalist.

Further information
Don’t Change the Light Bulbs, curated by Rachel Jones, is published by Crown House Publishing, price £25. Rachel Jones’ website and blog can be found at www.createinnovateexplore.com and you can follow her on Twitter @rlj1981


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