The seven levels of NQT success

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As this year's NQTs embrace the arrival of the summer, SecEd's CPD expert Margaret Adams offers her advice on reflecting on your first year at the chalkface.

As you approach the end of your NQT year you will be reviewing your performance with senior people in school. You will also be making your own, more private, judgements about how the year has gone.

Your own perception of your success is important. It will shape the way you prepare for your second year in teaching. 

However, when you look back, it is easy to make lop-sided judgements, focusing on what happened this half-term, or this month, or this week rather than reviewing the year as a whole. It is also easy to dwell on the disasters and ignore your triumphs.

To help you gain a more accurate view of your successes try measuring yourself against the seven-point scale in this article. Use the scale to work
out the success you have achieved to date. 

Level 1 – Survival

At this success level you permanently feel that you are cutting your way through a jungle where there are wild animals and dangers at every turn. Now, as your NQT year comes to an end, you find you have just stepped out into the open. You are exhausted, battered and bruised. You have survived the ordeal, but you are not sure how you did it.

Level 2 – Coping

It has been a difficult year. You have not always felt in control of events. However, one way or another, you have found a way to deal with complex situations, and you have scrambled your way through those challenging and unfamiliar tasks. You have got a sense of what you did right in some cases, but you are ready to admit that luck has played its part in your success at times.
However, you have done more than survive. You might still be in the jungle, but you are walking along a path and you are well armed. In other words, you are coping.

Level 3 – Achievement 

During the year you have faced challenges, but you have overcome them. What’s more, you have a sense of achievement and satisfaction because you know you have got the measure of many of the tasks that you have been asked to complete.

You know you have still got a lot to learn, but you are confident that you have already learned a lot. You know, too, how you are going to apply your learning to achieve greater success next year. 

Level 4 – Excellence

Of course, you are not suggesting – even to yourself – that you are an excellent teacher, yet. However, there are some things that you have done well. There are some situations that you know you have managed pretty effectively.

Maybe you found that you have a natural talent for an aspect of your teaching role. Maybe you have done a lot of behind-the-scenes practice and learning in order to build up your skills in an area of professional interest and practice.

In both cases the result is that you do not just do specific tasks well. You do them significantly better than most people do them. In fact, you can allow yourself to say that there are some things at which you excel.

Level 5 – Advising 

When you are good at something, people notice. They watch what you are doing. They copy your approach and they ask you questions.

If you have found that, as the year has progressed, people in school have been seeking you out and asking your advice on aspects of what you do, that is valuable feedback on your performance.

It means that your colleagues have judged you to be good at certain tasks. They think that you know more than they do, and they want your advice. They are choosing informal ways to gain access to your expertise. They are asking you questions. If this is the case for you then you should consider this another level of success to your credit.

Level 6 – Acceptance 

Do you feel as if you are part of your school’s team? Do you believe that, after a year in school, you fit in and belong? A good way of working out the extent to which you have been accepted onto the staff team is to note how often you are given special treatment.

Do your colleagues regularly check that you understand what you have been asked to do or offer you more guidance than they offer to others? Are you supervised, even discreetly, more than other staff members?

The more you are singled out for special treatment, the less you have been accepted as a team member. If you are being treated just like everyone else, and you are given no more and no less support than other teachers, you will know you have arrived. You will know that you have joined the staff team as a full member. You will know that you have been accepted.

Level 7 – Recognition 

Recognition brings together achievement, excellence, acceptance and advice in a public arena. If you are doing well and being publicly commended and recognised for what you are doing, then you have reached that top level, that seventh level of success. If that is where you are, well done.

Setbacks and sprints 

Life would be easy if you could just point to a success level and say that is where you are today. Unfortunately, things are never quite so simple. You do not pass through the various success levels in a linear fashion as your NQT year progresses.

If that were the case you would have passed through level one in your first week of teaching and progressed through level two during your first half-term. By Christmas you would have been starting to feel you were achieving.

In reality you will have made rapid progress through the success levels in some areas of your work. In others, you might still feel that you are coping – just. To work out where you really stand with regard to the levels of NQT success think about your situation in a slightly different way.

At which two success levels do you think you are working most of the time? Are you achieving and excelling on most days? How often are you just coping? Which is the highest success level you reach and where do you end up on a bad day?

As long as you do not have too many days when you believe you are back in the jungle, you can be confident that you have had a good year. Now for the holiday!

  • Margaret Adams is a former teacher and the author of Work-Life Balance: A practical guide for teachers (David Fulton publishers).


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