Friday, 26 June 2015

Life through a lens: Tsars and Bars, week 1

Welcome to one of the oddest weeks of my life. Since the announcement that I would be chairing a working group looking at behaviour management, things went a bit Twin Peaks. Media went nuclear. There may remain an underground, pirate radio show I haven’t troubled yet, but I doubt it. The response, I am floored to say, was tremendous, as people wished me well in the endeavour. If I missed saying thank you to you personally, please accept my apologies, but I wore my phone out on the mission.

 

I learned the following this week:

 

  1. I was a nightclub bouncer (not true, but close: a manager)
  2. I’m a Tsar (demonstrably unconsitutional)
  3. I’m going to sort out bad behaviour (not even Santa can move that fast)
  4. I’m not a teacher (really? My classes will be curious to know about this, plus these guys)
  5. Vanessa Feltz has a ‘no-nonsense’ attitude to discipline (doubleplustrue)

 

What a week 

 

Why behaviour is important.

 

Which brings me to the whole point of this. Behaviour management is one of the biggest challenges a teacher can face, because to give it another name, it’s the art of running a room. 25 children will not, unaided, point themselves at the Magna Carta, or Ulysses, or Franklin’s kite, without help. Believing that rooms must be run isn’t predicated on the assumption that children are mischievous; it’s predicated on the fact that human beings like to do as they please. And what children please may not always be to their advantage, which is why children’s birthday parties end up at TGI Fridays and not Holland & Barratt. 

 

I’ve worked with new teachers for years on this. I’ve run behaviour management forums for most of my career, and I’ve heard thousands of problems from year after year of teachers. I’ve visited well over 100 schools in my career, and the challenges are often the same: many staff don’t feel trained to handle behaviour, schools often lack clear and effective systems to manage behaviour, and many senior staff are unsure how to create a system that works for all parties. This is too important to get wrong. For too long.

 

One thing is immediately obvious to anyone teaching a class: when they’re mucking around, they're not learning. And even the tiny percentage of outliers who can focus in chaos, are swamped by the ones who can’t. Every teacher knows that 80% of their time will go to 10% of the neediest pupils. This is a necessary truth, but it’s a hard one for everyone else, who are equally deserving of attention and care. 

 

Everyone wants a magic bullet intervention that costs little, and raises attainment. Well, here it is: make sure very teacher is trained to run a room; make sure every leader and manager is trained to design systems that support behaviours that focus on the common good. Tweak those coordinates early enough in the career of every educator, and watch the lessons land. 

 

The press called me Behaviour Tsar. That bullet was in the chamber long before the announcement called ‘Draw!’ I would mind less, but it blurs what my brief actually is: to lead a group aimed at creating recommendations for the way we train teachers to manage and lead behaviour. Tsar implies power, implies authority, and I have neither. All I have is a decade running rooms as best I can, and the collective wisdom of everyone I’ve had the privilege of working with, which I’ve magpies without mercy. The truth is there are men and women just as good as me, better, in every school in the country. That’s the point! We can do this. We don’t need substantive new powers; what we need is to focus on what we need to do to obtain what our students need. And that’s exactly what we intend to do.

 

I’m building a team of mean and women who possess the critical feature of experience; experience in schools and institutions where children need adults to guide them. I’m assembling these Avengers from every sector: primary and secondary; early years; ITT institutions; training schools; special ed; PRUs. We’ll be looking to distill the collective wisdom and experience (and research) from people and places where ambition and care have led to the relationships and habits that drive the flourishing of children. Where possible, we’ll attempt to discern near-universals truths, best-fits and versatile strategies; simultaneously we’ll pay attention to context- when do some strategies work in some places, with some children? Where? Why? What matters?

 

Teaching saved me. There is nothing, nothing like the transformative power of a profession that aims to the common good rather than one’s own gain. There is nothing like standing in a classroom and being forced to become architect of the next hour or seven. It is the fountain of youth; a daily gauntlet; a cold shower and a lottery ticket. Sometimes it’s a seven gun salute and sometimes it’s a slow clap. But it is always important because children will always be important. And, like a restaurant, your first customer is as important as your last one. 

 

I’m proud to be a teacher, and I’m proud that I still am. Some of the odder media reports (and a lot of excitable people below the line on internet articles) somehow forget that point. Education is often a silent field of partitioners surrounded by and permeated with armchair generals, whose only experience of education is Waterloo Road and Grange Hill. It’s good to be part of an advisory body that bucks that trend. And it’s good to be asked. When was the last time teachers were asked anything? Behaviour isn’t a left/ right issue. Every party- every adult and child- should be concerned that we help children develop habits of civility and learning that last them a lifetime. 

 

So I make no apologies for- for once- celebrating and recognising the vitality of the teacher experience in this project. And I welcome the input of the communities of educators, parents, children in our investigation and report. Politicians, poet laureates, columnists and internet warriors are as entitled to their views. But if you want to know what goes on in a classroom, ask someone who lives there. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.



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