I don’t do computers!
I’m sure many of you will have encountered a colleague, who proudly claims to anyone who will listen, “I don’t do computers!” as if this is a perfectly acceptable attitude to have as a primary teacher. If this sentiment came from a pupil, as opposed to a colleague, we probably wouldn’t be particularly accepting of it. So why should it be any different when being expressed by an adult? Other than showing a fixed mindset, rather than one of growth that we are expected to encourage and nurture, it demonstrates an inability and a lack of interest in learning or developing a skill that doesn’t come easily or instantly. As primary teachers, we can’t simply pick and choose the elements of the subjects that we teach. It would be unacceptable to claim not to be able to teach coordinates to pupils as we “don’t get maths,” and it is no more acceptable to make such claims about computing.
Getting staff on board with your ideas and your computing curriculum will be essential to its success and the success of your learners, however with the attitudes you may face from your colleagues, this uphill battle may well be harder than you might initially have expected when you first took on the role.
Phil Bagge’s blog post, ‘Eight steps to promote problem solving and resilience and combat learnt helplessness in computing’ recognises that it is not only pupils but teachers who exhibit 'learnt helplessness', pointing out that although it is a hassle to tackle the issue with staff, nothing will change if you don’t. This issue of ‘learnt helplessness’ certainly seems to be one prevalent in teachers of computing who have no interest in the subject and no desire to become more skilled.
Who teaches computing in my school?
There are 3 scenarios that are most likely to be the case in a primary school:
1. You are the only person who teaches computing across the school.
2. There are others teaching but they do not see it as an area of expertise; they don’t like teaching it, and in addition to having no interest in the subject, they don’t want to invest time in learning about it.
3. There are others teaching the subject, who have experience of delivering it or at least enthusiasm towards it and are willing to invest time improving their skills.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these scenarios:
1. The lone computing teacher:
You may find that as the computing coordinator, you are also in the position where you teach all of the computing across the school. This probably depends on the size of your school, your role within it and whether you made any ‘deals’ with other teachers, e.g. you teach their computing in exchange for them teaching your music.
If you are in this situation, this is one where whilst the workload may seem excessive initially as you develop units of work for all year groups, the fact you will not have to deal with others is likely to make your life easier in the long-run!
- It will be less pressurised as only you will need to understand what is being taught and how it needs to be delivered;
- You will have complete control over the curriculum;
- You won’t need to spend time in extra subject meetings, liaising with other staff teaching the subject;
- You won’t have to deal with difficult and negative attitudes from other staff members.
- A lot of time will be required initially as you plan your curriculum;
- You will miss out on the benefits of sharing and developing ideas with other staff, as this responsibility will be entirely yours;
- All responsibility for the curriculum will be yours; you will be unable to delegate to other staff.
2. Staff teaching computing who wish they didn’t:
These will be the type of teacher, where if you were to walk into their lesson, you would more than likely find that they are using their scheduled computing time not as directed in your carefully planned schemes of work. Instead, you would find pupils typing up some work from another subject or creating yet another Powerpoint presentation about something they have learnt in geography or history, which involves copying and pasting huge swathes of text from Wikipedia that they don’t understand; nor do they even know what they have ‘written’ about.
There is no doubt that this scenario is one that is likely to cause you the most stress and potentially the greatest additional workload. It is most probable that you will have little or no help and support in the development of the curriculum. Staff may not look ahead at the scheme of work to see what they are expected to teach and may take little pride in teaching it to a good standard. You may be expected to talk them through each lesson, whilst providing them with any necessary resources, so ensure that this is done on your terms through pre-arranged meetings held well in advance of when the topic is expected to be taught. Don’t be accepting of staff who seem to suddenly realise they are meant to be teaching a lesson in the next hour and want you to hold their hand through it, merely because they haven’t invested the time or care to work it out for themselves beforehand.
Remember that these staff are likely to exhibit a negative attitude towards computing and the fact they have to teach it, and may even take it out on you! Whilst this will be difficult to deal with, it is probably caused by their lack of confidence with the subject. This is an area you are in a position to support them with, despite how draining it may be!
- You have the opportunity to help these staff change their attitude and to develop new skills, which will be useful to both your professional development and theirs.
- Some staff may not follow the curriculum;
- The stress created by dealing with negative attitudes from people who simply aren’t interested or motivated and have no desire to develop their skills;
- More time will be needed to liaise with staff to discuss the units and how they should be delivered;
- Additional training needs may cut into the budget, if provided by outside agencies;
- Additional training needs may cut into the time you have available if you are expected to provide this.
3. Staff teaching computing who have either experience, enthusiasm or both:
This will probably be the ideal situation in a primary school setting, as you will be able to draw upon the ideas and experience of other members of staff in order to develop new schemes of work. This collaborative method of working will most likely result in constantly evolving units, which will be enjoyed by both the teacher and the pupil. Ideally, you will be able to delegate the creation of new units of work to other staff, or you may be able to collectively draw upon ideas from a range of staff to create new units collaboratively.
Either way, staff who feel more involved in the ownership of what they are expected to teach are more likely to bring a sense of enthusiasm to their delivery of lessons.
- A collaborative way of developing the curriculum;
- Resources for lessons can be created by a range of staff, rather than this responsibility being left to the coordinator;
- Staff feel a sense of ownership over what they are teaching;
- Staff are motivated by the subject and want to deliver it to a high standard.
- More time will need to be spent in meetings, liaising with staff about the delivery of lessons.
Gaining motivation of all staff
So how can you ensure that your hours of hard work and preparation don’t go to waste? There is no easy answer to this but if all staff are on board with the aims of the curriculum, feel that they understand what they are expected to teach and recognise that they can approach you should they need additional support, the delivery of the curriculum across the entire school is more likely to be a success. Providing staff with a sense of ownership over what they are teaching, rather than leaving them with the feeling that this is being entirely dictated to them could be an effective strategy.
Here are some additional strategies you could implement:
- Suggest that staff subscribe as members of TES and CAS to access the help available on discussion boards;
- Provide resources well ahead of time with clear planning and printed for them if possible;
- Email planning and resources to those teaching it ahead of time;
- Arrange regular meetings to answer any queries and make any suggestions about the delivery of each unit of work;
- If your school has a VLE, add your resources and planning here so that all staff and pupils can access the lessons directly from this source;
- Try to remain positive and provide solutions to any negativity, which should help to diffuse it;
- Encourage staff to take more responsibility for their subject knowledge and investigate the topics themselves by interacting on Twitter;
- Direct staff towards other online sources to help develop their own skills and subject matter (you may want to refer to my previous blog post, ‘Part 2: Increasing confidence in subject knowledge’ for ideas about how staff could do this).
After having read this, hopefully you are feeling that you are beginning your new role as a computing coordinator with an increased sense of confidence and with some effective strategies that you will be able to utilise to provide you with a smooth start. Whilst coordinating computing could potentially be an extremely challenging role, particularly when other less-enthusiastic people are involved, you should find that in the long-term, it is one that is both extremely enjoyable and rewarding.
Siobhán Morgan is a Year 6 teacher at a Somerset middle school, where she is head of computing. She also leads computing across the West Somerset Academies Trust, from Foundation Stage to Key Stage 3.