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.


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