Seven ways for teachers to support their colleagues and make a big difference

14th May 2017 at 12:01
Whether we are an newly qualified teacher or an assistant headteacher, what can we do to support each other in school and make life that little bit more pleasant for our friends and colleagues? Here, one experienced classroom practitioner explores seven ideas

1. Share freely

I have heard stories of teachers hoarding their own resources within school. As incredible as it may seem, performance-related pay is now a real concern for teachers and often pits one teacher against another in terms of their students' exam results. And with the current funding squeeze, many have a mindset of: "Why would I give give resources to someone who could be up against me for redundancy in the near future?" But we’ve got to fight this fearful thinking, as difficult as it is. If you want to develop teachers in your department, supporting younger and more experienced colleagues alike, then create a Dropbox account and throw in all of your best resources for your colleagues to use. They will really appreciate this. It will save them time and potentially even money to have some high-quality resources available to them.

2. Be available

I’ve been awful at this throughout my career, but I'm getting better. There have been countless times when I have been stopped by one of the office staff on my way into school who just wanted to talk about their weekend – I failed to engage and ushered myself towards my classroom, with little thought about the other person. Worse still, I appeared too busy for teachers in my department or the wider faculty, who may have needed my help. I probably was too busy, but that’s not the point. If you want to be a supportive colleague, then make time. Make giving time a priority because it’s the right thing to do.

3. Cover, when you can

One thing that always used to wind me up was the amount of non-contact time some teachers had compared to me when I started out. For the first few years I was teaching in Wales, I had an 85 per cent key stage 3 timetable. There were others in school that had 0 per cent. This meant that, come the last eight weeks or so of the year, there were days when I was teaching 6 hours while others were teaching nothing. Of course, you adapt to what you are given. There is also the argument that given the intense efforts of teaching exam groups, those teachers should be granted the time. However, if you want to support some colleagues, seek out the NQT with the full KS3 allocation and offer to take the Year 8 horror group off them for a lesson or maybe to “team teach” something with them. The opportunities are endless. “We are all in this together” has to be real, not just a slogan.

4. Talk up colleagues

The positives will be passed on. So when you have your line-management meetings, praise some colleagues. Pick out some of the great work you know they are doing. “I walked past X’s class earlier and I was so impressed by what I saw – she’s doing some great work.” These messages will be passed on and when they are, it could be a huge boost for a tired and overworked colleague.

5. Tackling poor behaviour

This is a contentious one. There is a thin line between appearing as some kind of behaviour saviour, the “knight in shining armour“ coming to quash bad behaviour instantly and in the process, inadvertently shaming a fellow teacher. To truly support on behaviour, a subtle mix of encouragement, more private interventions with students and perhaps involving wider behaviour support networks can make a big difference.

The first thing to do is remember how you felt when you were in the same position as your colleague, probably during your teacher training, NQT year – or maybe even yesterday. So take it easy on the condescending judgement. Instead, use your empathy to decide the best course of action. That’s probably not to barge in the room, cause an explosion to assert your own authority, then barge out again. Good teaching can lead to (although shouldn’t be a prerequisite for) better behaviour, so sharing resources and ideas on lesson planning can inadvertently support behaviour in another classroom.

If you’re a head of department, setting up a peer-coaching model is a great way of showing rather than telling when it comes to classroom management. Exposing other colleagues to their fellow professionals can help them to unlock the key to a better relationship with troublesome groups. Yes – people need to buy into this. But as long as its presented as simple peer observation and teachers are matched with those of similar experience, then it can only be positive. It’s also about simple use of language. Avoiding that wonderfully cringeworthy phrase “they behave for me” is an imperative. Use your own positive relationships with individual students to discuss their behaviour with them informally without referencing the colleague you’re intending to support. Instead of starting with “why don’t you behave in X’s lessons”, start by discussing what good behaviour looks like to you.

6. Photocopying

This may sound ridiculous, but we all have to get stuff copied a lot. My old boss would regularly say: “I'm going down to resources, do you need anything?” It's a small gesture but when you are rushed off your feet every morning, a godsend.

7. Support your bosses, whenever possible

Every job in school is tough and being a headteacher is probably the toughest. One of my previous heads told me it was also the loneliest. Nine times out of 10, school leaders are trying to negotiate complex and conflicting demands when introducing new policies or programmes. Of course, they will make mistakes like everyone else. I've been in meetings where colleagues have visibly sneered their displeasure at a policy announcement and subsequently made its introduction more difficult than it needed to be. Cue moaning, obstruction and vilification. I'm not saying that every decision made by a senior leader or head needs to be respected – many schools are still hoisting a ridiculous amount of nonsensical pitter-patter on to staff – but what's important is remembering that those introducing controversial policies are usually individuals trying their best in the situation they have. They are trying to do the right thing for staff and pupils alike.

Basically, if there's one thing to take away from this little list, it is that by treating all staff with respect, we in turn support them to improve in their teaching.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets @RogersHistory

For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue

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