As I returned to school and walked back into my office earlier this week, starting to prepare for the new school year, commencing in September, I began to contemplate the new year and all the opportunities it may bring. However, I also thought carefully about the fundamental basics that I mustn’t lose sight of to ensure a smooth and effective start to the new academic year, in the hope of hitting the ground running with students and colleagues. So here are my nine things to consider, aptly using September as an acronym and I hope they are particularly useful to new teachers entering the profession:
Know your students! In any phase of education it’s inevitable that you will have a new group(s) of students in the new academic year. Take the time to get to know them, not only academically/pedagogically but as ‘human beings’ too. Create seating plans, print a class photo list, study data/progress indicators, browse previous work they have produced and consult any internal information your school has, particularly pupil premium intervention and strategies (where available) all to help build the ‘big picture’ of their learning journey. Spend quality time to introduce yourself and provide ‘ice breaker’ activities, you can read more about cooperative approaches to learning here.
Be empathetic, increase prosocial behaviours not only with your students but colleagues too. I have a mantra; no matter how bad of a day you’re having, it’s nobody elses fault. Make time for students, show them you are listening and that you care, this also applies to colleagues as well. Without wanting to be downbeat, bear in mind that during term time you may see your students and fellow members of your department or faculty as much or even more than your own children/family.
Plan learning for progress over time, building upon students’ prior knowledge and learning experiences. The ‘flight path’ approach provides a good foundation to plan on. Remember, you do not need to produce a lesson plan for every time you teach. Know your students and prepare for them, don’t be afraid to deviate from your original intentions and manage misconceptions as they arise, this is often when the most profound learning occurs. However, when you feel the need to formalise your planning, I would recommend using the 5 minute plan series by Ross McGill (@teachertoolkit), which provides a logical and practical approach.
I prefer the term dialogue but as ‘D’ doesn’t appear in September, talk will suffice. Talk to colleagues, collaborate and share, although often alone with students when teaching, we don’t have to be alone when planning and sharing ideas. I recently blogged about reflection, and key to this is looking to colleagues for support and inspiration; The Art of Reflection. Furthermore, talking is crucial for staff morale, not only from a transparent, communication perspective, but that of wellbeing – how often do staff meet informally for open discussion over a cup of tea in a supportive, non-judgemental learning environment?
Embrace opportunities and challenges, don’t shy away from them. This will be different for every single one of us, but I guarantee during this next year you will be offered an exciting opportunity, hopefully in a professional development capacity, where you can develop your skill set and contribute to whole-school improvement.
Adopt a realistic, common sense approach to marking, all too often I see colleagues ‘flogging’ themselves to mark that class set of books, only to find that students haven’t taken on board nor acted upon feedback. Remember – not every piece of work has to be marked, and most certainly doesn’t need you to write an essay on it! In fact, less is more, only mark work that is going to aid progress, last year I wrote a blog about our approach to marking: Marking – Effective, Developmental & Time-Saving and you may also wish to read Book Looks – Inclusive, Developmental & Reflective discussing and sharing a diagnostic approach to marking and feedback.
Work-life balance, this is something I have grappled with over the last few years and has recently become high-profile in the media, recognised by the Education Secretary who raised the issue, by superficially blaming the email culture in schools. It’s much deeper than that and I insist that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach to this, you have to explore your own strategies based upon personal circumstance, but I do strongly believe that through effective school leaders, education can support the work-life balance in some capacity, click here for just a couple of ideas.
Enjoy your teaching, enjoy all aspects of your working life, it will be much richer and rewarding in every sense, after all, we always strive to create engaging learning experiences for our students to enjoy, so we need to extend this mantra to ourselves and our profession as a whole.
Take risks and don’t always play it safe, push the boundaries in your teaching… and yes, you will fail and make mistakes from time to time. This is inevitable, but learn from them – think about ‘Embrace’ above and promote a collaborative approach with colleagues, grow an ‘open door’ culture and create an ethos of risk taking with mutual support. Check out Sharing Is Caring to read more.
Please share your suggestions too, I’d love to hear them, after all, we’re all in the same position of preparation and contemplation, so anything we can share and collaborate with the better! Have a great start to your new academic year.Follow @gary_s_king