My left-field lesson - Try turning the tables

Hold a `takeover day' and get students and teachers to swap places

Phil Loftus

In July this year, I instigated a "takeover day" at the school where I am headteacher. One hundred students led by head girl Sophie and head boy Sam took over the running of the institution and the delivery of lessons. The senior leadership team, the teachers and I, meanwhile, all squeezed into school uniform.

So how did I feel as I returned to the classroom in the role of student after a gap of 30 years? Initially awkward, as I was late and everyone was somewhat taken aback by my appearance. However, as soon as we started work as a group on the task that had been set, I began to feel part of a team.

The class was history, delivered by two 15-year-old students. My classmates seemed to accept my arrival without the usual straightening of ties and continued to work around me, using their nicknames, which I had never heard as their headteacher. It felt safe. I was beginning to relax. That was until Callum, one of the student-teachers, realised I was drifting and targeted several questions at our group - specifically, at me.

Sitting in class, and moving between lessons, it struck me how much the adults stood out from the crowd. It confirmed in my mind how significant adults in school are and how, in all sorts of ways, they have to be role models. Many members of staff simply did not notice me and it was a privilege to see such warm, respectful relationships on display without feeling that they might have been put on for my benefit.

So what about the takeover headteachers? How was their day in my chair? It was heartening to see that Sam and Sophie's immediate priority was to be out in the corridors and visiting classes. They led their senior team well, and began to develop some significant ideas for the future about our systems for praising students and recognising them for their talents and contributions. Lunchtime in the staffroom, I am told, was fantastic fun. Meanwhile, I played football outside with some of my new classmates.

With more than 100 students involved, was it worth all the planning and risk-taking? I think the number of students who wanted to take part answers that question. They were delighted to be given the opportunity to shape the learning of others. Staff were genuinely surprised, not only at students' grasp of pedagogy but at their willingness to adapt lessons in real time - something we all recognise as good teaching. The day opened up the possibility of a whole raft of students working as leaders and co- teachers in the future.

What has the process taught us? That our students can be truly brilliant. Those who taught lessons recognised that their achievements came from hard work and from planning engaging and challenging activities. Perhaps students who were taught by younger children changed their expectations of what they could achieve when they saw, for example, a 15-year-old grapple with A-level chemistry - I hope so.

And our staff? I know that many will use this experience as a springboard to involve the students more fully in shaping their own learning. They will also take greater risks with lessons and that will be extremely positive for all concerned.

Phil Loftus is headteacher of Norton College in North Yorkshire, England

10 ways to facilitate student leadership

1. Hand over the reins
Show that leadership can start in the classroom by giving students these prompt cards to help them take charge of plenary activities and assess their own learning.

2. What makes a leader?
Encourage students to identify important skills for leadership with this instructive PowerPoint.

3. Appoint a captain
Any budding Steven Gerrards (pictured, above) in your class? These planning documents will help them to develop leadership skills in a sporting context.

4. Spread the load
This activity involves assigning each student a badge that identifies a specific area of leadership responsibility, which will give everyone a taste of being in charge.

5. Quantify qualities
In this lesson, students use a chart listing different leadership qualities to complete a number of activities, including ranking those characteristics in order of importance.

6. Take the initiative
Follow the top tips in this resource to set up a student voice programme. Find out how to delegate responsibilities and provide opportunities for further development.

7. Start them young
Challenge under-11s to embrace leadership roles in the playground from an early age with this structured scheme of work and supporting resources.

8. Play your part
Encourage your students to assume responsibility and play an active part in lessons by handing out these cards specifying different classroom roles such as questioner, greeter and literacy expert.

9. Professional prefects
This easily adapted advertisement for a prefect in the drama department includes a person specification, details of duties and responsibilities, and a list of the rewards and privileges associated with the role.

10. Team talks
Help children to understand what it means to work in a team. Role cards encourage them to contribute to group work by taking responsibility for one aspect of the task.

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Phil Loftus

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