Kat Howard

Anchoring: Teacher Time and Lockdown


I wrote a blog earlier this week around the concerns I had around how we are utilising staff time within the profession: you can read it here. As promised, here are my slightly perkier words as a follow-up, on how we can make the best use of staff time, and what we do need to be mindful of when directing time at such an uncertain stage.

Reasonable and Realistic

The tasks that we ask of from staff must work within the remit of the time that they have available. Whether that is alongside caring for children, volunteering as part of the NHS response campaign, caring for relatives who may be ill, or simply, as we all are, working within an entirely different environment that may or may not be more productive than school. Colleagues will be on the cusp of milestones- moving house, getting married, having children- and all of these elements with inevitably, and justifiably have an impact upon the way in which they work. The limits and lengths of time are different and variable, as is the ability to focus; they will change from colleague to colleague, and week to week. In a time where we are all hyper-aware of our mood, or health, our professional sense of self drifts as we re-establish a level of comfort in such times.

The work set, in whatever design that may take, it is almost irrelevant as to the design, because it must be presented in accompaniment to the precursor of, ‘when you can,’ and not ‘as soon as you can.’ When requesting that staff work, we have a duty to ensure that the work is a reasonable request and with the flexibility to be paused, thought over, looked at and worked without expectation. If we operate at even 50% of our usual productivity, then that is an accomplishment. If a leadership team is asking for more than this, their perception of home working needs to be revisited.

Useful for now, or soon

Colleagues should be presented with work or suggestions for CPD that aim to develop a sense of accomplishment for those completing it. Schools thrive or a sense of readily available feedback and a sense of collaboration, and even with the best will in the world to work as a collegiate, we lack the nuance of that as we settle in to the new demands and mechanisms of remote working. This situation alters working relationships, interpretation and perception, and above all, the sense of purpose and reward without classes of students or colleagues to discuss ideas or strategy with is somewhat lacking. To temper this, undertaking work that provides manageable milestones, or a connection with implementation further down the line- and not dramatically further, I would add- will help with that. Whilst we cannot replace the satisfaction that teaching brings, we do have the autonomy to ensure that the work we look to complete brings about at least a semblance of that satisfaction.

In a similar vein, the CPD assigned to staff should look to align with their immediate developmental needs, or the developmental needs of the school. There is such an abundance of free CPD available at the moment, that there is a danger of staff completing too much, or additionally, completing CPD that won’t then be enacted when back into school. I’m a huge advocate for CPD for teachers, and the current provision out there is incredible, but I am mindful to try to limit my completion of CPD that I can consider, explore and apply to my setting, both now in the context of our current situation, or within the next year once we return to schools. Equally, I am keeping a record of what I complete- for myself, no one else- because I want to revisit ideas, or consider how I have been able to use what I have learned.

With full credit to Louise Lewis

After speaking about taking a ‘value vs time’ approach at the TeamEnglish National Conference in 2018, and prior to that some time ago at one of the very first teachmeets I ever did, I truly believe that CPD is only productive if it is useful, and promotes questions or enquiry that can then be implemented and trialled within my own context. Otherwise, it simply becomes yet another dusty book on the shelf, but even worse, after a while, I’m unable to retrieve it.

Conducive to aid learning over time

Whilst it might seem a little obvious, I must stress that any tasks set that don’t value the teacher as an academic intellectual are like throwing working hours down the drain financially. If we set colleagues with work, it should, in some way, assist in improving learning outcomes. Kulvarn Atwal touched upon this with his recent presentation as part of the #CPDConnectUp series, but anything other than tasks that contribute to the betterment of education for our student body are not only dissatisfying, but not financially viable. Requesting that teachers respond to emails within the same working day, input data, assess children’s online learning after three weeks of lockdown: none of these value or develop the teacher. If we thought that teacher purpose was essential in normal circumstances, it could not be more important right now. If teachers are engaging with research, reading to enrich their subject knowledge, reviewing the curriculum or undertaking relevant training, then we are continuing to hold them in the highest of regard, as we should be.

Developing teachers as experts

This leads me onto where teachers can spend their time productively as ambassadors of their subject. We can look to audit our own subject knowledge, identify areas that we would like to up-skill ourselves and reach for the masses of free information out there to ensure that we continue to improve. If we are to extract anything that even comes close to resembling a silver lining from this situation (I refuse to use the word unprecedented– and no, that didn’t count), it is that we can evaluate where our current gaps are, and set about, in a manageable way, how to close them in preparation for our return to school. In the words of Dylan Wiliam in his recent ResearchEdDurringtonLoom session, and uttered many times before that, “I think the only way that we can improve teacher quality is to create a culture of continuous improvement,’ and now is the time to adopt such an approach for our school priorities.

Consider platforms for returning to school

Finally, possibly one I have yet to mulled over for how this will look, I think creating space to share how we have used our time is key, and to reach full circle, it is about how this is communicated rather than what is communicated. Will we invite staff to share their readings, findings, knowledge in a non-judgmental, no-obligation way that feels communal and collaborative? Are we able to ensure that the conversations that are essential to our professional growth not only take place with teachers from other schools via remote learning platforms, but actually, with the teachers that we work with every day, who we are able to discuss what’s learned in the context with which we are both so familiar? Can we make the time to share our experience both now, and in six months when we are hopefully back within the busy bustle of our classrooms, so that this time is well spent? The richest form of CPD is that that is held up for the scrutiny of others, to question, challenge, refine and consequently, help us to improve. How we set about the task of ensuring is down to us. that we do so, is ever, down to us.

If you would like to know my thoughts regarding workload, staff systems that value teacher time and what the future of CPD within the profession could look like, I’ve written a little bit about it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stop-Talking-About-Wellbeing-Howard/dp/1912906481