Let’s start by making a plea to education managers and school leaders: please ensure that any tasks you set for your teams are meaningful and productive.
If colleagues feel they are being asked to do things just for the sake of it, feel they are being asked to things just because they are getting paid, then leaders are not taking the opportunities this new changed working situation offers. Now, more than ever, is the time to maintain – or build – a more positive work culture and work environment.
Teachers and school leaders find themselves in uncharted territory with the coronavirus pandemic, where the usual in-school structures and processes don’t sit well with working remotely. There have been examples – particularly before the Easter break – of headteachers "monitoring" their teachers' work at home. There were many examples of teachers having to report in and in some cases submit lessons or forward plans that no class is ever going to receive. This is meaningless and soul-destroying.
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Rather than have lesson banks and forward plans clogging up hard drives across the country, it could be a good time for professional learning activities to assist the teacher in building and honing their skills and abilities. Or teachers could just be using the time to recharge their batteries and get ready for what the new term brings.
When schools do reopen – whenever that is – the pressure will be immense, with the timetabling, the budgeting, the resource building, the transition work, the additional nurture and enhanced provision needed by children and young people.
The impact of lockdown on children and young people’s mental health is likely to be a growing issue. And the role of the teacher when schools do return will be a key one for society. It's to be hoped that family experiences during lockdown will have indeed enhanced the reputation of the teaching profession, and convinced any doubters that teaching is as much a vocation as a job.
It is legitimate that teachers should provide learning opportunities during lockdown. However, while the number of children and young people logging on to teacher-led lessons is increasing, it is still very low, so there is teacher time that can be used for other meaningful activity. Many teachers, of course, also have their own families to nurture.
There are so many other professional activities that could be enjoyed. Teachers should be offered free online CPD on delivering online learning. Other opportunities should include additional study, research, practitioner enquiry and the other aspirations we welcomed in Scotland with the Donaldson Report, but which many teachers don’t find time for in the hurly-burly of normal term-time workloads.
Recent research by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) found that children and young people highlighting these characteristics in good teachers:
Nurturing: Teachers should create a happy, friendly and encouraging atmosphere in the classroom by being kind, offering support and using praise.
Rights-respecting relationships: Teachers should respect the rights and individuality of all pupils.
Professional skills and knowledge: Teachers need to have the knowledge and passion essential to teaching, but also the skills to deliver this in an engaging and balanced way.
Positivity/energy: Teachers need to show their love of teaching and an enthusiasm for the role, by being engaging, interesting, creative and inspiring in the classroom.
School leaders and education managers could take a leaf out of this research and apply such qualities when dealing with teachers, too: nurture them, respect them, show positivity and empower them to be the best they can. Don’t ask for checklists or monitor work. Check in often on how they are, rather than checking up what they’re doing.
This is how to build a positive work culture and work environment for the unusual demands of the present – and the future far beyond it.
Isabelle Boyd is an education consultant who formerly worked as a secondary headteacher and local authority assistant chief executive in Scotland. She tweets @isaboyd