Dear Fake Headteacher,
Another round of lesson observations and members of staff who have been at your school for several years, have perfected their lessons for you. They have endured many lesson feedback meetings with you and now know exactly how to please you.
However, your philosophy isn’t exclusive to good teaching. It’s not the only way. Just because a teacher doesn’t teach how you expect, it doesn’t mean they are inadequate teachers.
My advice to any colleague who is starting a new school is this:
See the Head on day one. Ask them to tell you what they want to see in your lessons. Ask them, “Do you like plenaries? Whole class inputs? Use of lolly sticks for questioning? Mixed ability groups etc.” Ask them what particular things they like to see in your lesson. What are they fans of? What don’t they like?
Also, speak to the teachers who have been there a while. Ask them the same questions. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with the Head’s ideas. Learn them. Master them. Get good lesson feedback and stay under the radar. Then do what you do naturally? Surely it doesn’t matter how you teach? Yes. It does matter apparently.
My experience in my last four schools has been very different:
- The Head wanted to see whole class inputs for ten minutes and a plenary for ten minutes – every lesson
- The children had to be in ability groups and moved once every half term if needed.
- You were expected to ‘butterfly’ teach and not to sit with a group
- The learning objective had to be shared in the first minute
- Children had to use whiteboards on the carpet to brainstorm ideas
- Mark how you want to – you were trusted – praise a lot
If you did these things you would almost guarantee a good / outstanding lesson. I did. Yeah!
I had cracked what a good lesson was! Well, that’s what I thought! I failed my first observation based on what I had been told in my first school. I was devastated. It turns out the Head at this school preferred:
- No learning objective shared at the start as it told them too much straight away
- No plenaries. Instead, several mini plenaries throughout the lesson
- Sit with one group and concentrate on pushing their learning forward. Absolutely no ‘butterfly teaching’
- Group them by ability and provide evidence that children move groups throughout the week
- Children to sit on chairs at all times – no carpet time as children get too distracted?
- Mark how you want to as long as you use our simple marking code
It took me a while to re-program my style of teaching but I mastered it and eventually I was consistently getting good observations.
School 3: Academy
I arrived as a ‘good’ teacher and knew how to teach to a high standard. I was looking forward to my lesson observations because I knew what to do to impress the Head. I failed my first two lesson observations! It turns out my new Head had very different ideas to my previous two Heads.
- No whole class input because it didn’t cater to all needs
- No introduction – straight into group teaching
- Teacher to stay with one ability group for first 15 minutes, TA to another, one group working independently
- Three different learning objectives for each lesson for each ability group
- No plenaries at all
- No time to praise – just write targets
- Children to stay in seats at all times so observer can track progress of each group (no drama, moving around to different activities etc.)
- After you teach a group, move to the independent group and TA support class
- Use coloured cups so you can see who needs help (green, orange, red)
- Follow the 2 page book scrutiny checklist in order to mark correctly and for books to look uniform across the whole school.
Bloody hell. I hated this. This made no sense to me at all. I argued that most of what they wanted to see was not for the children. I was put on a coaching program for 2 weeks where I watched an average teacher deliver the ‘perfect’ lesson. When I still couldn’t quite master this new style during my next observation, I was threatened with capabilities. I left at Easter. Very stressed and very confused. Still, I found a new job!
By now, I had lost my identify as a teacher along with any confidence I once had. Who knows what I should be doing anymore. I decided to try and implement school 3’s methods because it was obviously the new ‘fad’ and the academy knew their stuff right? Wrong! I again failed my first lesson. The Head was very disappointed that a teacher with my experience taught the way I did.
- Why didn’t you deliver a whole class input with their talk buddies (talk buddies?)
- Why were the children sitting in ability groups? Always mix them up.
- Never give children the same work – put a range of questions on the table for them to choose – avoids copying
- Why didn’t you use named lolly sticks to ask children questions? Some children put their hands up!
- You must use the visualiser every lesson and share the objective with the SEN before the lesson starts.
- Why haven’t you praised the children in books? Just targets?
- You must use your working wall during you lesson.
- I was surprised that the children had written their own learning objective in Year 5 – please type them up along with a success criteria that is longer than the writing the children will do for the lesson!
- Please refer to the 3 page book scrutiny checklist.
I was beginning to see a pattern! It doesn’t matter what I think anymore. I just have to impress the observer. With so much pressure on Heads, I am now micro managed. Most of what I do now is to please someone else. Most of how I teach has no direct correlation to my own teaching philosophy and this is why I write this blog. It doesn’t matter how I want to feedback or mark. I have to do what I am told.
Since I have begrudgingly accepted this is how it is in a lot of schools, I just do what they want to see. I regularly receive good feedback after observations involving many techniques and fads I wouldn’t naturally enforce and my books are mostly ‘good’ (meaning I follow a ridiculous marking policy that is mostly for an observer and not for the children).
As sad as it is, my advice to anyone moving schools is to speak to your Head…
“What do you want to see in my lessons and I will do it.”
“Tell me exactly how you want me to mark books and I will do it.”
Perhaps Fake Headteacher, you could make this very clear to all new teachers? Be honest and tell them what you want to see straight away. It’s a whole lot easier and doesn’t affect teachers’ confidence or want to make them leave teaching.