Yesterday I put out a tweet about why people fall out of love with teaching being nothing to do with the actual teaching part of the job. It seems to have struck a nerve in what became a quite disheartening thread about the reasons people have left teaching. It filled with stories of how they were left empty of joy and love for the profession, not because they haven’t been able to deliver lessons of high quality but because they have felt overwhelmed and overburdened by leadership teams’ requirements. Teachers felt they had all potential for creativity squeezed out of them by high micromanagement levels and controlling of the curriculum.
This micromanagement extended down into the smallest things – what PowerPoint template to use, what colours to have on displays and what content should be on every wall are just a few examples of what I have seen. Still, I am sure there are many, many more. It is hard to imagine trying to teach when so constrained by rules, procedures and protocols. The thing that makes teaching so joyful is that it can, and often should be, completely child-led. You can be reactive to a class’s needs, go away from the set plan to explore things that are of interest and will wow and engage. How many of our best moments in a classroom have been when something unexpected has happened?
Taking the potential for this to happen away by giving templates for everything and everything needing to be the same is removing the heart of teaching. I understand the need for consistency, but I trust teachers to do their job and give them freedom in their work. That doesn’t mean it is a free-for-all. We have a set of expectations that we all set together about what good teaching is. We spent hours discussing them to get them right and so that they were manageable, sustainable and effective. Achieving consistency doesn’t mean removing autonomy; it just means people have freedom within an agreed framework. We’ve made that framework as wide as it can realistically be. Teachers have the opportunity to work in a way that means they can be the best they can be. They have the freedom to choose their path, to try something new. If it’s a car crash of a lesson, does it matter? They can happen when you use all the templates and schemes under the sun. The key is what you learn from it and how you proceed with the next steps.
Does making people follow so closely to specific regimes and tasks make them a better teacher? Here is a list of things that I know are required (and I was, as well) that do not make people better teachers:
- putting planning on a set format
- putting planning in a particular folder
- being observed every six weeks
- using a highlighter
- having tasks set that means they are required to work a 12 hour day
- reporting data every six weeks
I can count on one hand the number of times I had my planning formally written before I taught it. I knew what I wanted to do, what the resources were, and I’d made notes, but it changed and grew over the week. Each week I would retrospectively fill out the planning format and put it in the folder – what a waste of my time. If you want to see what I did, have a look in my books, it’s all there.
The view that giving people trust leads to anarchy is simply untrue in the vast majority of cases. As teachers, we are used to working with children. They may need tighter boundaries and expectations to do their work as they are doing it for the first time or are still learning. A teacher is not in this position. They are trained professionals who do not need micromanaging in the same way that children might. Leaders need to recognise that you cannot treat a staff team as a class full of children. I despair when I see staff treated like little children who can’t be trusted to do a good job and need everything given to them. It only breeds an unhappy staff who are disinterested in what they are doing as they have no freedom and no creativity. It breeds a disillusioned staff team who spends so long doing all the other tasks that they have no time to sit down and think about the best way to approach a lesson for the children in their class. It breeds a team of teachers who will leave the profession.
Teaching is brilliant; that time with the children is wonderful. Why are we not putting all of our time and effort into making sure this time is as productive as possible and the time around it is focussed purely on making it better? A school leader’s job is to remove all possible barriers to this happening, not add more. Teachers are happy to do work they see as valuable and worthwhile, so leadership teams need to discuss workload and tasks with staff teams and listen to the responses. If something needs doing, explain the rationale behind it and come to a consensus. Maybe, just maybe, a staff team might be able to improve on leaders’ suggestions?
If we want to salvage a profession that is haemorrhaging teachers by the fifth year of their careers, then we need to treat them as the professionals and adults they are, not as the naughty children in the corner who can’t be trusted.