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Leadership, Thursday Thunks

Help Teachers Keep the Faith #ThursdayThunk

The number of teachers leaving the profession is potentially catastrophic. Just in my own little world I have learnt of four cases this month. If this is extrapolated across the country; we are in deep trouble.  I believe Stephen when he argues that we need to retain our way through the teacher supply crisis (we can’t recruit our way out) and the prime responsibility for this must lie with school leaders at every level.

The following #ThursdayThunk was sent to me by Clive Taylor, Senior School Improvement Adviser, Stockport.  I don’t normally host other people’s work on the blog but Clive got me thinking.  Here’s what he had to say.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

It always seems to me that the best leaders are those who consistently demonstrate the ability to see the world through perspectives that are different to their own. For example, how exactly does it feel to have your lessons disturbed by a particular child?  What about the technical demands of the new assessment system?  And what is the best strategy for dealing with a particularly demanding parent!  Good leaders resist the temptation to assume that other people learn, think and behave in the same way as they do themselves. The also consistently show that they understand how much the job has changed since they set out in the profession.  That isn’t to say that they will always approve of or agree with the way that teachers operate. There will certainly be aspects of the school that depend on consistent approaches to agreed policy, but empathy, enquiry and even humility are far more likely to build confidence than a series of set responses or actions dictated by a fixed mindset.

For many young Primary School teachers emotion is never far from the surface. That first class group can almost become their own family, especially if they don’t have children of their own. And just as with new parents the children bring great joy. But deep emotional involvement also means handling pangs of guilt when you feel you have let them down and deep frustration when they disappoint you. That is a tricky mix for anyone to handle and the younger the teacher, the trickier it can become. There is never ever enough time and there never will be. It is no wonder that the job can takeover to the detriment of personal lives and well-being. If the “job” is not going well it is easy to see the potential for a downward spiral.

Neither are these emotions restricted to younger, less senior members of the profession. The guilt never quite leaves you, because you begin to learn that you will never be able to meet every need no matter how many hours you put in. You may also become aware that your attention to other people’s children is to the detriment of your own family. When this is pointed out by a partner or your own parent, it can be a shattering experience. Teacher guilt, especially in a high accountability system, can easily become destructive in the determination to not be the weakest link; the person who lets everyone else down in that critical “walk-through”, book scrutiny or worst of all inspection.

So how can Headteachers help teachers of all ages and stages to maintain equilibrium and in the process best protect their own?  My own thoughts are listed below, but it’s a decent question to address and you will have much better ideas and approaches that may just work for you and your team.  Great leaders encourage the staff team to understand what follows:

  • Less is more. Everyone accepts that, but how many apply it day in and day out. Do fewer things, but do them better and in depth
  • You won’t always get things right. Move on. Try something different. Apologise sincerely where necessary, but never beat yourself up. We are all wonderful at hindsight
  • Find your own classroom management path to salvation. Discuss, experiment, refine your approaches. But, accept that there is no perfect way. The fact that some colleagues may have found ways that work for them is different to you finding the ways that work for you
  • Manage your expectations. Constantly “striving for excellence” is likely to end in tears for at least some children and some adults.
  • Manage yourself. Fit for purpose is often all that is required. You do not have to be perfect. The harder you try to be perfect, the more you will be frustrated, angry and ultimately disillusioned
  • Look backwards as well as forwards. Just because it’s not how you want it, doesn’t mean you haven’t made any progress
  • Avoid personal crusades about your own preferences. Yes, promote ideas, advocate, fight your corner, but don’t become a zealot about silver bullets either ancient or modern. Remember, there aren’t any
  • Drawing conclusions from other people’s seemingly wonderful personal or professional lives can be very deceptive. Just manage your own in the best way you can
  • Plan great weekends and anticipate brilliant holidays. There is nothing wrong with counting down to breaks when you can have even more time for yourself and your family

To be an effective Headteacher, you must model all the above; all day every day (No-one ever promised you headship was easy; if they did they were wrong – Ed.).   Find someone honest, who will tell you how they think you are doing and act on their advice.  Call it coaching or anything you like.  The terminology is irrelevant.  What matters is how you manage yourself and what your behaviours look like through the eyes of others.  Get that right and we might just generate a culture where we care deeply about our work, but we also create the physical and mental space to lead fulfilled and enjoyable lives.

#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.

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