Good habits to embed in the new year

The start of the New Year is traditionally a time when many of us take the opportunity to reflect on what has gone on in our lives on a personal level and to make plans for the future with renewed optimism and anticipation.

The same thing could apply to school leaders and staff. What is usually the longest term of the year is behind us, but it can still be all too easy to get swept up in the fast pace of school life, impending deadlines and the push to get pupils at the end of all key stages ready for exams.

Why not take some time at the start of January to reflect on what has gone well so far, and whether there is anything that could be changed to make 2024 an even greater success? The following good habits are positive ones to embed.

A really clear focus on staff well-being.

In working with a large number of schools every year, I am privileged to talk with lots of staff and have been shocked recently by how many skilled and effective teachers, at all stages of their careers, are giving serious thought to leaving the profession. Teaching has always been a challenging, (though usually rewarding) job, but the last few months have been very tough. Schools have been wrestling with over-stretched budgets, as well as the personal cost of living crisis, strikes, and the spotlight in the news about the impact that Ofsted inspections are having on the well-being of staff.

In this national context, teachers are telling me that their biggest frustrations are poor communication, ill-thought out school calendars, lots of form filling and not being made aware of why they are being asked to do things. So, look at how communication systems could be streamlined and clarified. Review the calendar for pinch points: are there assessments to mark, data entry points and parents’ evenings in very close proximity, for example? Reflect on why teachers and leaders are being asked to do things. Are they doing lots of recording because it will enhance and support their work or just to have evidence that they have done it? Can forms for recording be shortened and simplified? Provide formal and informal opportunities for staff to share their thoughts. Listen and respond.

Review the professional development structure to ensure that all staff are getting what they need.

Like pupils, teachers have different needs and starting points, and one of the biggest frustrations for some of them is having to sit through CPD sessions that they do not think are relevant to them.

Obviously, the majority of a school’s CPD will be linked to whole school priorities but consider how it can be adapted so that there is the same objective (effective feedback, for example) but at different levels. Is there something for teachers at all stages of their career? Early careers teachers are well supported but is there something explicitly for them at the end of the two years so that they can continue to hone their classroom practice while looking to the future? Does the school have something specific for aspiring middle leaders, middle leaders, aspiring senior leaders and those new to senior leadership? Does everyone new to the school, regardless of experience, receive an ongoing induction package that supports them into adapting to the school’s systems, processes and culture? If not, think about how one can be created.

Teachers say that quality CPD that is really bespoke to their needs is one of the best indicators of being valued.

Take every opportunity to capture pupils’ voice.

Feedback from the most important stakeholders should be crucial in informing priorities, action planning and CPD yet, too often, it is done infrequently and on too narrow a scale. ‘They only ask the people who will tell them what they want to hear’ is a regular refrain from pupils I speak with as part of school visits. Consequently, perceptions of what adults say that they are offering and pupils say they are receiving are often very different.

Map out over the course of the year how all different groups and ages of pupils have an opportunity to be heard on all aspects of the school’s work. Plan questions carefully and be specific. Asking questions that are too generalised is an easy trap to fall into. If you want to know about the curriculum, ask them precise questions about what they should have learned rather than vague questions about whether they enjoy it and think they’re making progress. Avoid being offended or frustrated by what they say (‘But I’ve taught them that!’). Be open-minded and take action to address whatever you find.

Take every opportunity to develop cultural capital.

The vast majority of schools now have an excellent understanding of the contexts of their pupils and use this to shape the curriculum. The promotion of cultural capital can still seem a challenge though, as there is a tendency to view it as the need for trips and visits and in recent years these have been impacted by both Covid and financial constraints. Look for other opportunities to embed cultural capital into the academic and wider curriculum.

Is there a wide range of in-school clubs and activities and, most importantly, are they attended by a broad spectrum of pupils, including the disadvantaged? If not, what other activities could be offered that might have more appeal and what could be done to remove barriers to attendance?

Remember that so much can be done to promote cultural capital by providing pupils with access to a rich reading programme with carefully chosen texts. Give appropriate voice to pupils (and staff) with different experiences and backgrounds. Check that the music, drama and art curriculums are vibrant and exciting. Look at humanities, languages, science etc. to make sure that links to cultural capital in its widest sense are explicitly identified in planning and teaching.

Look for the positives: reward and celebrate.

It can be so easy to focus on the few things that are not quite right and forget about the many things that go well every day. Schools work hard to use reward as a motivator for pupils, but many staff say that they too would like the occasional ‘thank you’ and simple recognition for when they go above and beyond. Take care to capture pupils’ and staff’s successes and share them with stakeholders and the local community. Be proud of every success.

Happy New Year from B11 and best wishes for a successful 2024.


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