I had hoped to post more frequently, which was a silly expectation given my change of role for the new school year. I have a few minutes now and have a few things to share, which are neither systematic nor necessarily seminal, but here goes…

I was talking with friends last Friday and one asked how the new job was going. I said that I was very busy. This of course is nothing surprising. One point I made though was that being a Head of Department in a school – although not that much different to being a classroom teacher – you would never have the time to do absolutely everything you could towards the job. As such, I said that the twin virtues required were absolute discipline with time management and the ability to ruthlessly prioritise. I said that both of these virtues mature over time with the benefit of experience.

I also said that one of the key aspects of prioritising and managing time was not to purely look after the day-to-day. Needless to say, the day-to-day teaching and management will consume the majority of a middle leaders time. The problem can arise from not making the effort to step back, even briefly, from the day-to-day in order to reflect on how improvements could be made. In the absence of this reflection time, you will always go on managing the day-to-day as you always have. Unless you are doing everything with perfection, then this is not healthy. As Einstein is often quoted to have said – the definition of insanity is to do the same thing all the time but expect different results. Only with reflection and attempted change, which may not always work, can you make improvements.

The analogy I used to illustrate this challenge was the old metaphor of spinning plates. As teachers we spin many plates at once and it takes tremendous skills and energy to keep these all spinning. It is essential though that we occasionally step back from adjusting the plates and sticks, in order to survey all the plates at once. In doing this we can ask whether we are spinning the right plates, in the right way, at the right time. It might be that we can get rid of a few plates, maybe we need to add a new one, or maybe we could improve our method for balancing and spinning those plates. At this point I see the analogy may be a little strained; but as I say, I’m tight on time to come up with better analogies.

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As a new Head of Geography, I am even more aware of and frustrated by the silos in which we seem to insist on operating as teachers. I’m quite fortunate in that the department I now lead is really keen on collaboration and the school supports this approach. That said, there are so many opportunities to share resources for the new GCSE and A-level specifications which we’re facing, in all subjects, as well as new challenges such as life without levels, etc. Yet, many colleagues in other schools are not actively looking to collaborate. For sure there are services such as the TES, ‘Nings’ and Schoology, the latter being a new one on me. I am also sure that there are networks of colleagues out there who are successfully collaborating; examples of these are not widely known however. Furthermore, many approaches to sharing resources seem to be on a commercial basis. I acknowledge that colleagues deserve to benefit, including financially, from their hard work. I also would hope that colleagues would recognise that the benefits of collaboration can be from helping others, saving time by swapping resources and by acting on feedback from others to improve our own teaching. A meaningful shift towards better collaboration requires a major shift in the mindset which teachers currently have and, as importantly, a serious amount of time to allow for greater collaboration.

Just a few things we could do:

  • Work with colleagues, perhaps just in your local area, sharing resources via a cloud. You could split up the spec and take different topics. Or you could just share everything, pick & choose and, more importantly, give feedback to each other so that we can all improve our resources and therefore the learning in our classroom.
  • We’re all going to spend a lot of time coming up with exam-style questions and assessments in the absence of official specific assessment materials. This will be time consuming and will certainly need some ‘peer evaluation’ to ensure they are appropriate to support our students. So even if we don’t share all of our resources, maybe we could share these sample assessments.
  • Share materials we have for intervention – this is one of the key activities which all colleagues in all departments are involved in. Sharing what works well and how we do it may provide inspiration for our departments and students.
  • Work together on ‘assessment without levels’; to share ideas and try to develop a more common framework. This in turn could support wider collaboration with Key Stage 3 resources.
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