Let's hold our heads up

6th December 2013 at 00:00

In September, TESS encouraged readers to contribute to an extraordinary snapshot of global education. Teachers around the world submitted images to exemplify "A Teaching Moment in Time" (www.pinterest.comtesResources a-teaching-moment-in-time). Those of us tracking the project via social media saw the rhythms of the school day unfurl across the planet as hundreds of teachers uploaded their respective 11am views.

The images reaffirm a sense that teaching is often the same whether you're in a city or a rural outpost. It's all about relationships: smiling children in the charge of an adult who could have chosen a different career with greater social esteem and pay but would rarely have found it so rewarding. Those images suggest that we are global citizens on a shared mission. It is compelling to peek into other people's schools.

The call of the classroom is instinctive. Even during grim autumn lunchtimes, I enjoy the crackle of life in school and the sense of optimism young people exude. I like their quirky, life-affirming sense of trust.

The photographs remind us that our role as teachers will remain indispensable - at least until we finally get sidelined by some version of Google that can instruct, coach and give feedback to students.

We also know that irrespective of country of origin, babies utter the same first words: some combination of "Mama" or "Dadda". We are truly part of Homo grammaticus, the species that communicates.

Looking at those optimistic images got me wondering whether there were universal motivating words and phrases in education: "well done", "try again", "almost" and "yes - you've achieved it".

But after an acid exchange between some teachers on Twitter, I also wondered whether another universal sentence was being uttered across the world's staffrooms: "it's the management's fault".

Because sometimes, to those of us who choose to become school leaders, it can seem as though we are all caricatured as having fled the responsibilities of the classroom, that we want to lock ourselves behind office doors, pore over spreadsheets and be immune to the tangible realities of our schools. The implication is that if only schools were run without managers then all would be well.

So here's a plea for school leaders. Some of us choose the job not out of ambition or an intoxication with power but the satisfaction of the classroom - of seeing young people learn, get excited or overcome a block. On a good day, this feeling can be even stronger in leadership. Because when it works, you sense that you're helping teachers and other staff to do their jobs better.

Of course there are bad school leaders. And education is too important to ignore their effect. But let's beware the lazy stereotypes. For some of us, squeezed by the mayhem of an increasingly uncertain world, it's the retreat into the classroom a few times a week that reminds us what it's all about: a sanctuary of relative sanity.

That makes the challenges of leadership more worthwhile, more tangible and more credible.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, England.

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