'Why do teachers use classroom techniques they don’t believe in just because they are ordered to?'

16th May 2016 at 15:02
picture of Michael Tidd
Instead of going through the motions, staff must stand up for what they believe in, says a deputy headteacher

Each August, as the late summer bank holiday passes, I find myself faced with recurring dreams in which I struggle to maintain control of a classroom. 

As I’ve explained to my classes in the past, being one person in charge of 30 is actually quite a vulnerable position. Should all my pupils – or even a sizeable group of them – decide to collaborate to undermine the teacher, then my visions of children standing on tables, recreating scenes from Grange Hill could easily materialise.

Of course, this has never happened to me. It’s never likely to. Presumably there’s some conditioning behind it. I’m no psychologist.

If we must…

But the more I hear and read about what goes on in schools, the more I wonder why staff meetings don’t descend into the sort of chaos that my August dreams conjure up. It seems that often the whole staff body might share the same reservations about the latest wheeze dreamed up by their senior leadership team, yet continue to plough ahead with the tasks they are given.

Mark everything in three different colours, you say? Well it sounds like a lot of effort for very little return, but if we must…

Provide five levels of differentiation in every lesson’s tasks? Well, surely that’s a lot of time that could be better spent supporting the children who most need it to achieve the main goal, but if you insist…

Make all children copy down the learning objective for every lesson from the board? Well, many of them can barely read it, let alone understand what they’re writing, but if you think it will help…

Rebellion in the ranks

Such practices are widespread and almost equally widely bemoaned. So why do they still exist? Why aren’t teachers up and down the land insisting that they be stopped? Why isn’t there more rebellion?

I’m not suggesting that teachers start clambering on tables and throwing fork-skewered sausages across the room in staff meetings, but surely there has to be a sensible middle ground? It can’t be right that thousands of teachers are going through the motions every day using practices that they don’t think are worthwhile just because they were told to.

Schools are, after all, buildings filled with professionals. Teachers are well trained and expert at what they do. Our approaches ought to benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, yet too often the crowd appears to acquiesce to the whims of school leaders. Before we know it, what starts off as a crazy idea in one or two schools becomes the new wisdom. 

Bad practice can spread just as quickly as good practice, and our only filter is the army of teachers across the country who have to implement each of these ideas. Maybe next time someone stands at the front of a staff meeting with another hare-brained scheme, we’d do well to offer just a little more resistance than before.

Michael Tidd is deputy head of Edgewood Primary in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. He writes weekly for TES and tweets at @MichaelT1979

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