Appreciating our assets
Teachers are our schools' most valuable asset and by a long way their most expensive. Their salaries count for between 70 and 80 per cent of delegated budgets. In professional as well as in economic terms it is imperative that we use them effectively and well.
As this latest pack from the LEAP Consortium clearly shows, teacher development pays dividends at every level. The format is familiar but the balance is slightly changed. There is more emphasis now on video over two hours here, in 24 specific episodes and less on text. The text itself is non-directive. "What did you see?" is the question that it most often poses; then, "how does this relate to you, your fellow teachers and your school?" The material can be used in any or all of these three contexts. It is loosely structured into nine areas or themes. Together these span the range of training needs from self-reflection and review to working together on school development plans, covering appraisal and target setting, management of change, managing being managed, and giving and receiving help. They can be used or drawn upon in any order, however, according to school or individual needs. A staff meeting item, a series of short courses, a mentoring programme or a governors' training day could quite easily be accommodated. So could less formal uses: a young teachers' forum, for example, or an inter-school departmental meeting.
Inevitably, some of the video sequences are simulations, and though generally they work well (there is a cameo of a harassed head reciting a catalogue of shortcomings to a splendidly resentful teacher that will strike chords in many staff rooms and not a few head teachers' offices), they are not quite as convincing as the straight- from-the-classroom revelations of real teachers and their helpers. As the text points out, some of the outcomes that are offered (particularly in the episode about reluctant change) rarely happen quite so tidily in real life.
Teachers talking to the camera, though, are sometimes strikingly revealing. Take, for example, the reception class assistant loving the job after working in a store and wanting now to take it further; or the headteacher's secretary reflecting on the school's work on job descriptions has "given us a better understanding of each other's jobs"; or the head of department who is still unsure of the management implications of his post and says (misguidedly, we think) that real management comes later on, in paperwork, at head and deputy level". All of these raise real issues and the unassertive notes help us to locate them. We merely have to watch and listen to recognise our schools and ourselves, and our own development needs.
Set against the cost of a single external in-service training course still more, a consultancy this is remarkably good value. Every school should have one.