I recently found this article by Michelle Hackman and Eric Morath and although it is from “across the pond” the fact that it is in the Wall Street Journal and reflects trends that are frighteningly current in the UK just adds to the growing concern that the teaching profession and jobs associated with education are in an historically difficult time. This has enormous ramifications that are far reaching for both the education sector itself and society in general.
Somehow stemming this flow of dissatisfaction and low morale has been on the political agenda for years but has been hand in hand with an era of unprecedented reform and change in education which has brought significant benefits to students whilst effecting the confidence and status of teachers. Many of the factors which drive teachers from their profession are systemic and very difficult to change. Workload, discipline, pay are all major national issues and although possible to ameliorate to a certain extent on a micro level are sometimes bigger macro issues and dealt with at governmental and union level.
However, this is not to say that every school can and should make better provision for staff and within their own microcosm of the system raise staff morale, engagement and wellbeing. I would suggest there are 4 elements to this:
I was fortunate enough to start my career in a school on the East London/Essex border which exhibited all four of the above elements and was an amazing place to teach and learn. Although, it seems back in the midst of time the same four elements where in place that made that School an excellent place to work at.
This was the key element here. The Head set high standards in dress and behaviour and made it clear to staff and students that these were the standards he through the governors expected. This message was clearly set out and communicated through staff meetings and then passed on through the House and year system to the form teachers. Because it was effective and consistent the atmosphere in the school was clam and upbeat and everyone knew where the lines of engagement were. Learning was thus central to the teacher/student relationship and peripheral issues disappeared.
The above would have been very difficult to achieve without and engaging and empathetic senior team. It was clear that the Head was the decision-maker, but the senior team were fully behind him and this was felt by the whole school community. Social activities were encouraged for staff, there was a monthly Wine tasting and internal and external sports fixtures as well as more spiritual pursuits as it was a church school. The School had just received an excellent inspection and achieved Grant Maintained status and we all received a £50 bonus and had our Christmas pay brought forward a week which was a special touch. These, and many other gestures were not only excellent management strategies but a genuine belief that you will get the most out of your staff if you engage with them and treat them as fellow professionals. There was never a sense of “them and us”, the senior team always made it a point of honour that they had been and still were teachers and not managers, educators with additional responsibilities.
The message/mission of the school was completely clear and transparent. The school had a large and diverse catchment from suburban Havering and diverse areas such as Dagenham and Becontree. The mission was to provide a high quality, aspirational and academic education for all the girls and to equal if not surpass the “brother” school down the road. Now, this was not out of any egotistical crusade on behalf of the Head but a clarion call to staff and parents that this was a school of choice with high expectations in every aspect of school life. My three years there saw the examination results rise above the local (and very successful) boy’s schools and come to rival the results of the highly selective school down the road. From the support staff to the teachers and students this sense of being part of an organisation which knew where it was going and was succeeding was very positive.
The pastoral support for students and teachers was very strong. It was again caring and empathetic whilst demanding that the individual took responsibility for their actions. I remember that it was with some trepidation that I went to see the Head to say that I was thinking of moving on after three great years. He could not have been more supportive, offering well chosen advice and gratitude for my hard work over my time at the School. I felt like I could apply for and be appointed to any job once I cam out of that office!
The purpose of the above is not just an anecdotal telling of school system that are no longer relevant but to highlight how important those four elements still are to any healthy and successful school. Times have indeed moved on and in many ways the educational landscape has change beyond all recognition, but the essential elements remain the same. With increased workload, less time, more time constraints the personal touch the Head and Leadership at that School might not be always possible but with a system like Every Voice Counts the possibility to implement important elements such as engagement and better communications are there.
The weekly question can be tailored to suit any school or choose from the bank of questions which will be added to as time goes on. This element of Every Voice Counts gives Leadership the opportunity to test how engaged and onboard their staff with the relevant message/mission they are communicating. The social wall gives staff a chance to praise colleagues who might be missed in the “hurly-burly” of the school week and be seen and praised/rewarded by their peers. Finally, the wellbeing section will co-ordinate blogs and advice from informed educational outlets and provide a space for teachers to reflect on the wider educational landscape outside their school.
Hopefully, EVC can help to contribute to each school that utilises it and if it can assist in creating the sort of environment that existed in that very special school in Havering it will be money well spent.