I have taught English in secondary schools for twenty years, and I can’t remember any other period of curriculum change as rapid as the one we are currently experiencing. Although many of the changes are to be welcomed, in terms of workload, the demands of teaching new exam specifications cannot be underestimated. Clearly, it is not only those working in my sector and subject specialism who feel this way; according to a recent survey by the NUT, of more than 3,000 teachers aged 35 and under who responded to the union’s survey, only 55 per cent said they planned to stay in the profession for more than five years.
While working in this context, how can we ensure that the morale of our teaching staff remains high? Improving staff morale is a complex undertaking, but the potential consequences of low staff morale in a school environment should not be ignored. In addition to the responsibility workplaces have for staff wellbeing, studies on staff morale, school climate and educational productivity suggest that high levels of morale can have a positive effect on student attitudes and on learning itself. Teacher satisfaction in our work is particularly important in comparison to other professions: we are role models for the students that we teach.
Five years ago, I learnt a great deal from conducting my own piece of research into staff morale in my workplace. At Wyedean, we continue to strive for systemic ways in which we can help our teachers feel more supported. These include returning teachers’ sense of professionalism; we ensure that there is time to hone subject-specific knowledge, and to engage in pedagogical debate. Specifically, this has meant focussing whole-staff teaching and learning briefings on pedagogy rather than on admin and notices. The provision of professional reading during this time is key, and so far, we have used this time to explode popular educational neuro-myths, and to explore the threshold concepts in our subjects. Any opportunity to discuss the concepts our students find difficult with fellow subject-specialists, and consider ways to teach these more effectively is invaluable, particularly in the light of new exam specifications.
Research-based lesson study triads are proving to be a popular form of CPD at our school, and the rigour of this process means we can more easily evaluate the impact of what we do in the classroom. Members of staff choose the focus of their CPD based on their own development needs and interests, including whether they work in subject-specific or cross-curricular groups. In these ways, we are abandoning policies and practices that do not deliver the needs and aspirations of the school, its staff and its learners: we believe senior leaders should add value, not burden, and in creating a school culture that is not one of competition, but of a group culture, built of co-operation and mutual support. Through these initiatives, we are empowered to do what we do best: helping our students to learn.