It is the time of year when conkers enjoy their moment in the sun: those shiny, brightly polished little fruits of the noble horse chestnut tree that one day themselves will grow into mighty trees, which in their turn will produce those wonderful Ascension Day candles in May. May, the season when the fruits of our academic labours are weighed and measured in the annual ritual of SATs, GCSEs and A Levels.
Just as the conkers at this time of year are gleaming and new, so our latest cohort of kids have joined our schools with pristine uniforms proudly worn, new shiny shoes and pencil cases full of freshly sharpened pencils. Like the conkers they too, over time, will develop into mighty, mature adults taking their place in life.
Ringing in my ears is the endorsement that an inspirational Head gave us every year on Training Days to the effect that if we didn’t feel excited on the 1st September, we were in the wrong job. It was said every year bur was no less heartfelt for that. Teaching is a wonderful job, when it is going well. That feeling of having a class eating out of your hand as you peel away the layers of lesson after lesson of exciting new learning is like no other. Being able to open the windows of the mind for young learners is an inestimable privilege.
These are the positives to hold onto as the school year unfolds like the petals on a flower. Not every lesson is like this, not every day turns out as planned. Alongside the golden moments are times of discouragement, disappointment and despair. Teaching is a hugely demanding and exacting job too.
With that in mind, let us set ourselves one simple target this academic year: to look after all teachers and all those who work with kids in the classroom. Let every Head make it a priority to ensure that every colleague knows how much they are valued, acknowledged and appreciated. Let us all establish a culture in our schools which makes sure that every colleague is supported to be the best possible version of themselves that they can be. After all, the kids deserve nothing but the best, and that means every person who works in their school feeling as though they want to go above and beyond.
Sometimes it takes nothing more than for all leaders to listen, to listen properly to those who are in the front line. Empathy costs nothing but its value is huge. Let us make every colleague know how much they are rated by looking deep into their soul and reminding them how good they are, regularly and systematically. The most precious resource in a school is the staff, all of them.
The buck does not stop in the Head’s office: we can all play our part and here are six ideas to make it happen:
1. Every colleague is expected to find an opportunity to make at least one colleague feel good about themselves every week
2. Every colleague should have a “buddy”: not a Line Manager or a Mentor but a buddy, with whom they can share success and frustrations in a totally non-judgemental way
3. Have a Kerrrching Day when every single person who works in the school puts a positive message of congratulation onto the IT system, and next day, when everyone switches on their computer, they see a collage of positive messages about how brilliant their school is.
4. Have a Buck’s Fizz week; like Secret Santa, you are paired secretly with someone else on the staff and in one week it is up to you to find three ways of making them feel good without them realising you are paired with them.
5. Find as many ways as possible of contacting parents with positive messages, especially where kids are more reluctant learners.
6. Dealing with coughs and colds: supporting colleagues when they under the weather. No act of kindness every goes unanswered.
Teaching is the best job in the world: we make people, and we make a difference to young lives. Once you are that adult who has made a difference, maybe with just a look or a word or a smile, you will never unmake that difference. There is nothing more important than looking after those who teach our children.
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