Are you a political animal?

5th December 2003 at 00:00
Teachers with ideas need to be able to influence people. Karen Thornton on a course that shows how

A barrister has been giving innovative teachers lessons in advocacy to help them break down staffroom barriers to implementing new ideas.

Teachers who come up with bright ideas as a result of doing research and other professional development too often lack the political skills to get them implemented beyond their own classrooms, according to academics from St Mary's College, Twickenham, Surrey. The college is now running a masters course to help these creative staff.

School culture can be so hostile to new ideas that enthusiastic teacher-researchers are sometimes seen as threats or "viruses", says Rosie Penny, the college's director of education outreach and continuing professional development.

Its masters research course aims to get teachers thinking about how to build support in school for disseminating and implementing their findings - for example, by sharing work with colleagues and inviting feedback.

The course emphasises skills such as persuasion, negotiation, networking and advocacy - hence the involvement of a barrister.

Dr Penny said teachers need to understand how to play the game of internal politics in schools. "If you are a busy head and one person is very enthusiastic, they can be a pain in the neck," she said. "As a teacher, you can come up with findings which you think are exciting but you have to realise that schools are hard-pressed for time and money. Teachers need political nous to bring about change and secure resources."

Around 80 teachers from four education authorities have been taking part in the project.

At Douay Martyrs, a 1,400-pupil school in Ickingham, near Uxbridge, the programme is co-ordinated by David Lewis, the school's director of training, research and development. Last month he won an award from the International Professional Development Association for his work.

A dozen teachers are doing the masters course, investigating everything from literacy in history to bullying. Julie Noctor, an assistant head, piloted an academic peer-mentoring scheme for pupils which is now being rolled out across the whole school.

Geraldine Davies, head, said: "Lots of people do masters courses but often we don't see the benefit of it (in school). We are saying professional development is something that is absolutely-part-and parcel of what we are doing."

Higher Education Institutions' Accreditation of Professional Development by Rosie Penny, St Mary's College, Surrey

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