Times are difficult for teachers at the moment. The government has frozen the pay of teachers, decimated their pension structure, devalued the worth of GCSEs and demonstrated that it does not trust teachers, school leaders, parents and governors to do the best for their schools and communities.
Education minister Michael Gove thinks that teachers should have the same respect in society that doctors and lawyers have, but his academy programme allows for staff without qualified teacher status to deliver the curriculum.
Elsewhere, we have seen the selling off of 31 school playing fields, the scrapping of the two hour per week of PE curriculum time, and the well documented abandonment of the School Sports Partnerships.
Prime minister David Cameron did himself no favours by claiming that PE teachers are “not playing their part”, while Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said recently that teachers do not know what stress is – both received a furious backlash.
Just how many knocks can the profession take? Combine this with the revised Ofsted framework, new Teacher Standards and the new Appraisal and Capability procedures and what you have got is a profession that is under severe pressure.
Pressure is not necessarily the issue though. Elite athletes will often talk of pressure being a privilege when they compete at the highest level, and teachers should have a similar view.
It is an absolute privilege to be in this profession and to help shape the future of the young people of this country – however it would be nice to get some recognition, occasionally.
So what can school leaders do to help keep morale high during these difficult times? Here are some ideas that can be put to practical use. Many behaviour policies revolve around the “catch them being good” tagline, for using praise effectively when students are doing the right thing – and the same should apply for teachers.
School leaders should take every opportunity to showcase the talents of the staff in their school. There will be fantastic examples of best practice going on in classrooms across every school in the country.
The problem is that many of them stay in those classrooms, going unnoticed and therefore unshared. If teachers are able to share their ideas then this not only raises standards in the classrooms but boosts the morale and self-esteem of these professionals.
It is always reassuring to know that you are doing a good job, and to have line managers or senior leaders praise you and ask you to share your practice is a real motivator.
Department and pastoral meetings are an ideal starting point for sharing good practice. Too often these meetings can be dominated by BMWs (bitchers, moaners, whingers) or “mood-hoovers” and you can end up leaving very depressed, having made no progress. Neither should these meetings be purely information sharing, we have email for this!
Teachers get too little time to collaborate, so their directed time together needs to be productive. By making the first item on every agenda “Sharing Good Practice” and asking each member of staff to spend two minutes giving a micro-presentation on something that has worked well for them in the classroom is an excellent way of developing new ideas.
If departments are too large then a couple of members of staff could present at each meeting, on a rotational basis, or just one presentation that goes into more detail might be more appropriate. What matters is that teachers get their opportunity to share their successes and then an action that follows this is for others in the meeting to try it out and adapt it in their own classrooms.
One of the pivotal components of senior leadership in a school is building the capacity of the best middle leaders and practitioners within the school.
Whole staff meetings, CPD training sessions and twilights are ideal opportunities to empower your most effective staff, who have the capacity to work at a higher level to showcase their talents in front of a larger audience.
This also has monetary benefits too, given that using the expertise within your school to deliver training is much more cost-effective than hiring external providers.
I use Twitter as much as possible to promote the school where I work, the accomplishments of our students and the good practice of the staff. Some of the staff are fellow Tweeters, most are not, but when I see an example of good practice that impresses me, I will Tweet about it.
Using the school’s website is also an excellent way of signposting the skills of the staff. At my school, we have a “Student Showcase” on the website, which displays examples of high quality work, with a different department showcasing work each half-term. The students love seeing their work being celebrated, but this is also a subtle way of saying “look at how fantastic our staff are at facilitating learning”.
One of the most common CPD requests from teachers is to observe outstanding practitioners in action. A lack of time often hampers these requests, which is unfortunate, and wherever possible I would urge school leaders to make time for teachers, particularly NQTs and those new to the profession, to be able to observe others in their school.
Joint observations are also very effective. I am performing joint observations of the outstanding teachers later this term with our NQTs, which will be a great opportunity to not only see examples of excellent practice but also discuss with these new teachers the merits of the lessons we are watching.
Finally, we use iPads to complete our lesson observations, using an observation form built into a spreadsheet based on the new Ofsted criteria. When observing lessons we encourage staff to photograph examples of good practice which then forms a visual account of what the lesson looked like.
We also complete departmental and pastoral reviews using a similar method, photographing the best bits and using them in the final report to showcase good practice.
In busy schools it is very easy to get bogged down in the daily hustle and bustle, and to roll with the latest educational reform, while still trying to do your job to the best of your ability.
So it is crucial for leaders in schools to make time available to observe the best examples of practice, celebrate these, and to say “thank you” to those who are making a difference to the lives of young people.
In the challenging educational environment we are currently working in, it could be argued that it has never been more important for the skills and talents of teachers to be recognised, so go and catch the staff in your school being good! I am sure they will appreciate it!
Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. You can follow him on Twitter @ben_solly while the school can be found at @longfieldmelton.