When will teachers learn?

Teaching is a physically and emotionally challenging job. Getting 30 –40 young adults to engage, think, work together and make progress in as little as 40 minutes before moving onto the next lesson, means that you have to be resilient, get your job satisfaction from working with and inspiring young people, and be able to use your own strengths and skills to get results. Sharing the joy of learning is all about drawing on your own life experiences and learning from new challenges and experiences. But when and how do teachers get a chance to learn?

Many years of constant change, new national curriculae, inspection, centralised decision-making, bench-marking and new initiatives have stifled creativity and instilled a fear of failure. Teaching is not the revered profession it once was and teachers can feel hard done by, not trusted to use their professional judgment and become risk-averse. For some teachers, the stress from the demands of the job and the regulatory, bureaucratic environment, is such that their initial enthusiasm and energy gets ground down, their performance and motivation goes downhill and their career may even end on a sour note.

Mary, the head-teacher of an achieving comprehensive school, accepts that there is a need for standards, accountability and rigour, but thinks there should be more flexibility in the national framework and regulatory system. Improving teaching performance must include providing security and opportunities for learning and growth, not just finding fault and instilling fear through inspection and performance statistics. Recent policy changes may  have ‘swung the pendulum’ back towards learning and the classroom, but what can school leaders can do to nurture and develop their teachers to be resilient, positive, learning role models?

  • Constantly promote the purpose, core values and focus on the children
  • Find ways of investing in teachers: make them feel valued
  • Accept, encourage and reward different styles and innovation
  • Give praise, positive messages, say thank you
  • Shared celebration of achievements
  • Create space and time in the school day to reflect and recharge
  • Promote a culture of peer review, sharing ideas and giving constructive feedback
  • Allow and learn from mistakes

“I would rather that a teacher tried something new which didn’t work than ‘stuck to the script’ every time.” Mary, head-teacher

But, one of the consequences of public spending cuts is the lack of ongoing professional development and training opportunities for teachers over and above mandatory courses, which are primarily focussed on curriculum and legislative changes. Being observed and judged in the classroom is not something that teachers find comfortable and these skills require training and experience. Investing in education must surely mean investing in the continuous renewal of energy, knowledge and skills of the teachers.

Teaching is personal and teachers give of themselves everyday. In return, Mary would like to see mentoring and/or coaching being more widely adopted, to support personal development and emotional strength, to help build confidence and resilience, and to ensure that teachers continue to learn and develop themselves as well as the next generation.

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves” Galileo Galilei

One in a series of Case Studies with the Mindful Leadership Foundation which explore why some people in public service become miserable doing what they love: and how leaders of the social and caring professions can prevent burnout and nurture resilient and compassionate teams. If any of this is familiar to you, please share your story and your ideas.


Songs of Innocence and lost faith

I’m not entirely sure why I’m so affronted by apple’s decision to ‘give’ me a copy of U2’s album! I got their early stuff – remember “War” and “Boy” anyone? But their appeal faded over the years in direct proportion to the size of their venues and egos and I don’t want their new album in my personally crafted music playlists. But why should I care? I don’t have to listen to it!

I should point out that I am an ‘apple target market’ – yeh, desk-top, laptop, tablet, phone, and probably watch soon. And I love their uncompromising approach to design, functionality, quality and marketing. Well, up to now…. I think they’ve got this wrong.

Did apple ask any customers if they wanted U2 imposed on them? Why didn’t they offer the choice to download it for free?

Choice matters to people. Maybe a lifelong career in public service, railing against “we know best” policies and culture has made me ultra-sensitive. Just because something is free – given by our wonderful welfare state or by the ‘beneficent’ apple, doesn’t mean that the recipient should be grateful, it it’s not what they want, or need.

So come on apple! Us public sector types are always being lectured about needing to be more customer-focused, more personalised, less ‘one-size-fits-all’. Maybe it’s just a tad gratifying to see a major world player fall into the same trap 🙂

Great Expectations

Housing Officers have always been at the forefront of tackling diverse and difficult problems, working with deprived communities. Recently safe-guarding, anti-social behaviour management, and welfare reform have increased the challenges, whilst reinforcing the importance of the ‘social’ aspect of social housing.


Philip runs a Housing Association in the North-East of England and has seen how the role of the Housing Officer has changed over the years. National housing policy changes provide further impetus to develop the holistic, person-centred role of the Housing Officer.
The promised ‘lighter touch’ regulation and less emphasis on centralised targets and inspection will help to reduce some of the fear, bureaucracy and standardisation which have recently stifled creativity and ownership.


Philip has led his organisation through a major leadership development programme recently and believes this has paid great dividends in developing a positive and performing culture. The leaders in the organisation are the role models and what they say and do every day sets the tone: their written, verbal and non-verbal messages need to reinforce the vision and values of the organisation. They are encouraged to recruit new housing staff with the right competences – particularly communication, empathy, resilience and organisation, and follow through with a comprehensive induction.
Creating a positive,achieving culture must start from the top, and at the beginning.


But it doesn’t stop there. There are job challenges and external pressures that need to be constantly managed to counter the negative effects of too much bureaucracy, a public sector tendency towards command and control, and an emphasis on prescriptive standards and processes rather than purpose and outcomes. In this environment, staff can feel hard done by and undervalued, become disillusioned, lose motivation and get ‘written off’.


Philip thinks his housing staff are of high-calibre and that their motivation, performance and job satisfaction can be maintained by paying attention to a few key leadership responsibilities:

Leadership Rules

  • Communication of a shared vision throughout the organisation, so that everyone knows what they are doing and why
  • Strong focus on purpose and ensuring that ‘form follows function’ (and not the other way around)
  • Delegation and trust to make decisions
  • Give people the tools they need to do their job
  • Positive and constant feedback about progress and achievements, focussing on outcomes for the customers
  • Being proud of what we do and sharing our successes with our colleagues, partners and communities
  • Visibility and presence – staff out and about in their communities, and leaders out and about with their staff
  • Commitment to learning and self-development
  • Valuing and respecting each other
  • Encouraging creativity and trying new ideas – allowing failure without blame.


This case study is one in a series with the Mindful Leadership Foundation, which explores why some people in the social and caring professions become miserable doing what they love, and how their leaders can prevent burnout, and nurture resilient and compassionate teams. If any of these is familiar to you, please share your story and your ideas.