Creativity for control freaks

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Pupil feedback

By some quirk of fate, I've ended up living down the road from my first teaching practice school. Not only does my stomach turn somersaults every time I walk by, but my local supermarket is full of grown-up versions of kids who gave me six weeks of nightmares.

Like all teachers, that first practice gave me convictions that have stayed with me ever since. One of these is the value of pupils' comments on how they have been taught. I know Ofsted has recently announced pupil surveying, but I had my first report written by this teaching practice class and have always found it worthwhile.

I remember telling them that it was my last afternoon and I would be going to a new school. After the cheers had died down, I said I wanted their advice on how I could be a better teacher. What did I do well? What did I need to improve on? I told them it would be anonymous and that they could be honest, because they would never see me again. I tried to convince them that I wanted the truth, because I did. One of the few good things about teaching practice is that you do move on, leaving your mistakes behind you.

I didn't want to repeat them somewhere else.

Some comments were genuinely positive, some unfairly negative, but most gave the right mixture of encouragement and advice that made their opinion valuable. "You can be a bit straightforward and not let us talk enough," said one. "You're a great teacher, but try not to have favourites," said another. Comments such as: "Your work was fun, but you didn't always help me when I needed it," made me change the way I organised my classroom from that time on.

Since then, I have asked every class to give me feedback on what it's like to be my pupil. I use their reports as the vehicle for this. I explain the purpose of reports, and I talk about encouraging good habits and discouraging bad ones. I talk about celebrating success and setting targets for improvement and then explain how I also need to do these things. I make it clear that they have a unique perspective on my classroom and it is one I want to tap into. I have never found they have abused the position of trust this puts them in and every year, I get valuable insight into what makes the difference between enjoying the year as my pupil and enduring it.

It doesn't matter how the report is written, whether it's on pieces of paper that are posted in a box, or a document left open on a computer, so they can type in their comments. Once, a pupil gave me a subject-by-subject review that would have put my performance management to shame. Of course, you have to be prepared for rebukes, although I'm sure Adam meant "leaving" when he wrote, "I'm sorry you're living."

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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