With year-group bubbles likely being the “new normal” for secondary schools, at least in the first term, teachers will have to move around their sites more than they might otherwise have done.
With many secondary schools and sixth-forms planning to “zone” pupils in specific parts of their site, teachers may find themselves having to go to the children to teach, rather than the usual state of affairs in where children would come to them.
So at the start of the school year that is likely to be very different for all teachers no matter what stage they teach in, how can we ensure being a ‘mobile’ teacher causes as little disruption as possible?
1. Minimise the equipment you need to move
The last thing teachers want to be facing is a long walk across the site while dragging textbooks or other heavy equipment with them.
So, we need to be creative in doing without them. If you need to reference an exercise, image or passage in a textbook, can you take a photo or scan an image of it for displaying instead? If pupils need to be annotating or highlighting, can you photocopy the bits needed and just take those?
Photocopying limited amounts of copyrighted material is usually fine for teaching purposes, so there shouldn’t be an issue from that side of things. But if this is absolutely not an option (for budget reasons, for instance), then can you limit the crucial resources to key classes?
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For example, if you need a key stage 4 textbook for GCSE classes, do you need to consider housing them in the Year 11 zone and finding alternatives for Year 10?
If pupils normally leave exercise books behind, can you leave them in the room that you are teaching them in, or somewhere nearby, so you aren’t dragging all your books back and forth everywhere you go?
Alongside this, school leaders will need to be tougher and stricter with the equipment they expect pupils to have.
Making it clear to parents and pupils that all pupils will need to have specialist equipment they need for things like maths, science, technology and other subjects will be really important – teachers can’t be dragging boxes of calculators or headphones around with them, particularly when they will have the added time of having to have them properly cleaned if they are then being used with another year group.
Teachers can help with this by planning ahead and reminding pupils that certain equipment will definitely be required for their next lesson (for example, reminding a maths class that they will definitely need protractors, or an English class that they will need their anthologies for the next few weeks).
It will be an important part of re-establishing routines with pupils that this is made clear and reinforced with the appropriate rewards and sanctions. If pupils need help financially to acquire this equipment, then schools will need to be ready to manage that as well.
2. Plan your starter and set up in advance
If you know you are likely to be later to a lesson because you are moving across the site, can you leave an activity for pupils to be getting on with while they wait for you to arrive?
Perhaps the previous teacher can make sure the activities are handed out before they leave, or perhaps you can nominate a pupil in your class to be responsible for setting up the lessons for that class before you arrive?
This pupil could also be responsible for other things that you might need set up – you could set up a rota so that every pupil has to take their turn or you might have someone particular in the class that would thrive with the responsibility.
At the very least, perhaps the teacher using your room can display something using the projector and freeze it before they sign out and leave.
If you do this, however, be forgiving of people. Sometimes, your fellow teachers will forget to do this – they will have other things on their minds after all!
Try not to get grumpy or upset if your colleague forgets to hand something out, display something, or pass on a message.
3. Get hold of room timetables
In most school information management systems, there is the capability to produce a room timetable for a single room or group of rooms.
If you are teaching in many different rooms, can you get access to this so you can see who else is teaching in that room and when?
This might make it easier to communicate requests like giving out starter activities, as well as letting you know when you might not immediately have to rush out of a classroom if you are not teaching and there is no class coming in.
If you are a school leader, would it be worth asking whomever manages your SIMS to produce these for each “zone” in your school prior to teachers returning (at least electronically) so they can be sent to teachers on their return in September?
4. Plan for pinch points in your day and week
Even with all of this moving around, it is unlikely to be evenly distributed across your timetable. There may be times when you are teaching the same year group twice in a row, or teaching a year group in an adjacent “zone”, where your movement won’t be so bad.
Then there may be times when you are going to be moving a lot between lessons, from one site to another or one side of a building to another.
It is worth going through your timetable (once you get it, if you haven’t already) and identifying those times when you are going to be under the most pressure to get from lesson to lesson, and times where it won’t be so bad. That will allow you to plan accordingly and get yourself prepared for those harder days.
If you know you have one coming, can you spend an extra 20 minutes at the end of one day to distribute the stuff you will need for the next, so you are not hampered trying to cover the distance?
At the very least, can you make sure your other commitments are limited on those days, so you aren’t hosting meetings after school on those days you are likely to find harder? Can you schedule yourself a little treat for when you get home, or the end of the school day, on those tough days?
If you go to the gym or take exercise after school, can you schedule that on the days you won’t find as hard (unless the exercise helps you de-stress!)?
I am not saying people need to start planning their lives around work, but be realistic with yourself about how each day will affect you, and plan accordingly.
5. Think about 'available' time
With having to move around the site, your availability to pupils outside of lessons is not going to be as good as it might have been in the past.
This is particularly true if pupils can’t move out of their zone to find you.
Make sure you start the year by giving all pupils your work email address, and make sure they know how to use the school email system to contact you.
If you can, plan a time where you can be free in each 'zone' if pupils need to come and see you – particularly if you teach Year 12 or Year 13, as they are most likely to need to find you in free time.
If you can plan these times then make sure pupils know when your “office hours” are. It might even be worth printing this up for your pupils so that they have a copy of it; perhaps as a sticker they can stick into a planner?
If you’re a head of department, perhaps members of your team will agree to do their planning in certain “zones” at different times, so that pupils can see someone even if they can’t see their class teacher.
Obviously take care with this – a teacher’s free time is very precious and you can’t have certain people bearing the brunt of any out-of-class pupil contact. However, properly planned, this can be a great support to pupils who may need extra care and attention as they readjust to these new routines.
Of course, even for those that habitually have to teach across multiple rooms, this situation is going to throw up new and unexpected challenges. Flexibility, good humour and team-working will be required to get us through.
Best of luck to everyone, and please feel free to add your own tips in the comments.
Peter Mattock is director of maths and numeracy at Brockington College in Leicestershire. He is on twitter @MrMattock