Most teachers are brilliant. Mind you, there was the one who didn’t notice that a pupil had crawled inside the Science laboratory fume hood during his Chemistry lesson. Unfortunately for him, and our school, the OFSTED inspector – sat at the back of the class – did.
Unfortunately, our brilliant teachers might not actually be delivering brilliant lessons because there is too much clutter in their way.
Last year, I did a job-share Headteacher role. We had brilliant teachers. However, it soon became apparent that not a single week went by without clutter getting in the way of teaching and learning. Bikeability – brilliant -we won a national award! (Hours and hours out of class for pupils who needed the confidence from daily reinforcement of the skills being taught.) Old folks’ tea – tremendous lessons in life. (More time out of class for pupils who couldn’t tell a fraction from a French Fancy.) Eco club – excellent. (There are bound to be jobs in the emerging post-Brexit Wormery Industry if they fail their English and Maths.) Christmas Fayre – crackers! (That’s December gone.)
Just to be clear, I think the learning from these experiences is invaluable, and the events need not necessarily be clutter. In the best schools, with well-established, confident staff teams, teachers link their planning to the activities, and pupils learn skills through the context of the event. With recruitment and retention at crisis point, however, these schools are few and far between. I’ve seen some amazing writing about cycling and inspiring Maths through enterprise projects at a Christmas Fayre. The lifelong learning through interacting with groups in the community is priceless. One of the reasons for the clutter, though, is that these are the types of event that used to take place after school – in communities: at clubs, organisations, churches, dare I say it – families.
Call me old-fashioned, but my parents stepped up to the plate to teach me how to ride a bike safely; Cubs, Scouts, Church and Youth Club taught me the value of community and we didn’t have any choice other than protect the environment – because we walked, cycled and ran everywhere. (Note – I might be sounding like one but I am not a Daily Mail reader and would refuse to use it even if I were out of toilet roll.)
Our communities do need to step up (but not during Maths).
Other possible sources of clutter are purchased products and schemes. The potential impact of these (with the right people, investment, training and planning) is huge but I work with so many teachers whose thinking is cluttered-up by the expectation to juggle the Power of Reading; Accelerated Reader; No – Nonsense This, That and the Other, as well as try to link their planning to a core text. Cluttered thinking results in cluttered learning.
Might it be that those teachers abroad, who work in the superior systems we are often compared unfavourably to, don’t act as rear-end Charlie in a pupil premium peloton; or traffic police officers; or counsellors; or uniform monitors; or smoking cessation nurses; or CCTV operatives or graffiti crime-scene detectives.
What on Earth are these jokers doing? They’re teaching or planning. If our brilliant teachers could do more of the same, we might have half a chance of keeping good people in the classroom because they would have a daily (uninterrupted) reminder that teaching is the best job in the world.
Too often, clutter is a barrier to progress because it interrupts continuity, prevents daily recycling and reinforcement of skills; result in gaps in learning. If our pupils were in school, in good lessons, every day, I wonder what would happen to “the data”.
Perhaps it’s time to de-clutter.