Are you hard enough?

30th March 2012 at 01:00

Principals, directors, heads of curriculum: your classroom needs you. Not for another impenetrable review or regal walk-through, but to roll up your sleeves and remember the reason why we are all in this line of work. What I'm trying to say is, I think you should all teach a class.

What's that, Mr Director? Your schedule is already awash with teaching commitments?

No, it's not. I'm afraid staff development doesn't count. Stepping into a continuing professional development session with people whose promotions, mortgage repayments and beer funds you are essentially in control of is not quite the same task. They will nod, meet your gaze and listen intently to whatever you say, albeit from behind cold, dead eyes.

When selecting the class, choose wisely, for the right group will bring you great knowledge. I suggest you use the weapon of surprise and step up to cover a class at short notice. This will enable you to spend time with real-life students, not the buffed, polished and primed Stepford students that may be wafted at you for occasional interaction. To be clear, this isn't a trap to expose your teaching skills, just a suggestion that you connect with students in an authentic setting.

When selecting the teacher, choose wisely, for the wrong one may spontaneously combust. Not all teachers are emotionally equipped for a visit from the gaffer. Never choose a staff member who looks like they're having an involuntary knee spasm when you enter a room - it's a reflex-action curtsey. Instead, seek out a teacher who is at their desk an hour before their start time and is often one of the last to leave the building. The one who respects you, but has too much self-respect to pander.

I realise that, for a number of you, I'm preaching to the choir. Some institutions do have a policy of regularly placing their leadership teams at the front of a class. At Lewisham College in London, all 32 senior managers pledge to spend time teaching. The feedback from learners is very positive and teaching staff appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with managers. Even the principal, Maxine Room, has been involved in teaching level 2 beauty students. This sort of initiative allows all staff to recognise that, when tricky decisions are made, they are from a position of relevant, current experience.

The distance from the boardroom to a class full of students may be a few small steps down the corridor, but for the people who most feel the impact of your authority, it's a giant leap. So come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.

Sarah Simons teaches functional skills English in an inner-city FE college.

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