This week I’ve seen the Rosenthal study on teacher expectancy crop up twice – it’s been an exciting week you can tell made all the more buzzing by seeing surds* enter my so far surd free life twice as well. Now, the three people that read this waffle on a regular basis (cheers Mum, Pete and the anonymous wanderer from the staffroom) will know that this is something I’m quite into. I’ve written before in my exhausting back catalogue of four posts that I feel that motivation and high expectations can make a massive difference to student self perception and success and that we should all work to try and create a state of high expectation, confidence and challenge in our classrooms and schools.
It struck me though, during a discussion about it being difficult to praise and motivate students in a profession that feels under constant attack and with such incredible goal post changing even the inimitable combination of Bergkamp and Henry would struggle with, that perhaps we don’t have the same expectancy of each other – or rather that it’s in some way distasteful or at its best naive to want to do well as a teacher. With all of the externals that seem to be trying to bring us down we surely don’t need anyone on the inside adding to it?
I’ve had my worries – and a few pops – about the retweeting of congratulatory messages etc and the mutual backslapping that goes on online but this isn’t what I’m referring to. I remember reading in a Media Studies textbook (real teachers look away now) that the adoration of the monarchy in Great Britain was part of the general public’s reticence to move forward into real self government and democracy. It wasn’t so much we liked or valued the institution we just weren’t sure what we’d do with out it. If it was to go we might have to stand up and be counted ourselves and with the status quo removed the destabilising nature of the event would be too much to handle and prevent us from taking the positive actions that might come as result of the new possibilities.
This links for me to the idea of the ‘stroke’ theory of recognition. This theory suggests that when we are in a relationship the exchanges between us (physical, verbal, psychological) are strokes which can be positive or negative but regardless of their nature defines the positions we hold in the relationship. At its most serious it can be seen as the reason why people in abusive relationships remain where they are. It’s horrific and both emotionally and physically dangerous to stay but the parameters are defined the unknown is more terrifying than the abuse that is being faced.
In the classroom we refer to it as the comfort zone more often than not and we encourage students to move out of theirs where possible to become more independent and develop as learners rather than pales to be filled. We also encourage teachers to try new ideas and not to be overly concerned when it all falls apart first time as that’s part of the process – there’s a hump backed bridge and as we try and get ourselves and our students over it it will be scary and cause anxiety but once we get to the other side we can all get stuck in to the fresh green grass.
When I kicked off the blog writing nonsense it was in response to David Didau and his post about Twitter. In our exchanges I suggested that it was all vey well for the likes of David who is big enough to look after himself when he has negative comments thrust his way but what about those new to the forum who were finding their feet and didn’t quite have the self assurance to publish and be damned. Sometimes I feel that the worst of this is seen in our schools and staffrooms and this for me is where the expectancy issue arises.
As SMT I’ve always assumed it goes with the job description for people to want to have a dig. It’s somewhere in everyone’s nature to criticise management in any walk of life or workplace and when you are making decisions that will have a spread of positive and negative implications depending on people’s point of view you’re bound to put noses out of joint from time to time, even when your motivation is (I promise) at the end of the day to try and get what’s best for the students. Why go to work in a school otherwise? But it’s when it seems that people are having a dig at others for just trying to do the best that they can that I get more than a bit frustrated.
While being on the receiving end of a judgement of Requires Improvement is no happy place to be and the language may be unnecessarily punitive in its tone it is for me much better than Satisfactory in terms of teaching. Teachers have said previously that satisfactory means good enough, so if they’re good enough than that’ll do. Would you be happy with someone having a ‘that’ll do’ approach to any aspect of your life? Doctors? Mechanics? Pilots? I wouldn’t even be happy to watch a football team take that attitude into a League Cup game against a lower league side on a crappy Wednesday in Bradford so it’s infuriating to hear it said about education.
Happily this sentiment seems to be a thing of the past. Most people now want to be good or better and while the RI tag might be a useful way to avoid such complacency (laziness?) I am confident that this comes more from professionalism and a commitment to see the students succeed. Why then do those who want to do well, and want to help others do well suffer from the jibes and comments? What drives teachers to look at another teacher who is doing well in their classroom and for their students and rather than want to do as well and be part of the success, instead be part of that sniggering group we tried to eradicate when we wanted to celebrate success amongst students?
For some people I’m sure that what they see in others is something that they wouldn’t be comfortable with, it’s too far from their comfort zone and the strokes are one’s they’re unfamiliar with. These people can have a massively emotional reaction and appear to be very negative in their outlook and response but they’re not. They’re decent people who see these steps as destablising. They like what they’ve got and feel safe with it. On the path to accepting change emotional responses are fairly early steps and followed swiftly with lots of logical arguments but these guys are already on the way. It will take time, support and knowing that there will be challenges on the way but you can take those risks and we’ll be here with you which will help these people to move on. It’ll take time but rushing won’t help. And anyway they may well have another route that can work so why not allow them to explore that and see if there’s stuff there that can help others as well?
For others though, and these are the ones that I can’t understand, it seems it’s just easier to sit back and snipe, to criticise rather than contribute, not to want to be part of the shared success of a school, who would it seems enjoy a colleague feeling intimidated to share practice and want to work with others to help teachers and students do well as it satisfies some bizarre need that I just can’t understand. It’s almost as if people are ashamed to want to do well, or it’s in some way embarrassing to want to be good at your job.
As I’ve mentioned there are some massive egos around (you know, like people writing blogs as if they have something worth groundbreaking to say) and as a teacher on Fast Track I saw plenty of these. I say on Fast Track rather than Fast Track teacher as I’m not sure we should be defined by a programme or route (Teachfirst is perhaps doing its people the same disservice – gulp!) and having come to it in my fourth or fifth year of teaching I may have been more resistant to the hype than others, and there was plenty of it. There were some excellent people there and I rate some of them as some of the best people I’ve met or worked with but also people like the NQT who worked for a Head I know who was adamant he should be joining SMT meetings ‘because he was Fast Track’ despite not managing to do his bus duty.
We all know the adage that ‘self promotion is no recommendation’ but I’m not talking about people who are fueled by ego. These are regular teachers who are doing really well and rather than close the door and add it to their CVs are out there sharing what they’re doing and inviting others to see if there’s anything they might be able to use. If you know it all then fine, how about sharing something yourself? If you don’t then how about listening and at least acknowledging what others are trying to do? It’d be great if you could be part of something but if you can’t then how about taking the advice my dear old mum never gave – If you haven’t got anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all. It’s a probably a pretty sad place to be but at least the rest of us can get on and see if we can’t help other teachers develop what they do and get more satisfaction out of a tough job and some kids get a decent start in a difficult world. And maybe it’s worth reflecting on who might be putting their interests before the interests of the game.
Lots of Love