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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: in-service

It used to drive me nuts, now it just makes me smile. I'll be listening to some in-service training on how children learn, and at some point the speaker will talk about attention spans.

"Remember, a pupil's attention span is only their chronological age in minutes." They then lead a 90-minute "sit there and listen" session that would challenge a nonagenarian.

When the responsibility is mine, I find it pays dividends to practise with adults what I propose to do with pupils. With in-service, you rarely have the best slot to deliver your material; more likely, it's the death slot at the end of the day. The "quick notice" that someone wanted to give was anything but quick. When I know this is the situation, instead of thinking of the adults, I try to think what I would do if I had to teach my class an important lesson on a Friday afternoon.

First, I would try to get the mood right. Staff rooms are often messy or untidy places with all sorts of clutter. Tidy it away, add a few pot plants, put on some gentle music, and get some biscuits or bowls of sweets scattered around. Staff will notice the difference and you will notice the difference in them.

Second, I would make sure I had a clear idea of what needed to happen.

Distil it into a learning intention; share it with the staff at the beginning. They will thank you for your clarity and if you stick to the timings, they will trust you to finish on time and not be so fidgety.

Third, I would consider different learning styles and try to cater for them. I make sure I am not talking for more than five minutes at a time without giving them time to talk with each other. I make whiteboards and pens available for them. I try to move around, even if it is simply to stick a Post-it somewhere.

I attended workforce re-modelling training recently, and these principles were beautifully exemplified by the trainer. He made the room comfortable; he used visualisation techniques and mood music, getting us up to dance at one point; he got us talking but insisted on our absolute attention for the short bursts when he needed it.

It was the most enjoyable in-service I have attended in a long time. The staff room is no different to the classroom. If you want them to learn as well as your class, just treat them like big kids.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester.


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