Shuffling teachers' classes for a day can bring a big pay-off for everyone concerned, writes Luke Darlington
Teachers need to be given the chance to appreciate their colleagues' work.
It helps them to share good practice and binds them together as a team. One small way to achieve this is to hold staff meetings in a different classroom each week, but have you ever considered changing teachers around for the day, starting with registration?
It develops professional understanding to teach a totally different age group in another classroom. Staffroom hearsay becomes reality. Infant teachers might meet junior pupils they taught two or three years before and see the progress they've made, while key stage 2 teachers have a preview of those coming their way and an opportunity to encounter the demands of early-years' management.
This is a form of in-service training which breaks the routine, challenges the mind, refreshes it and promotes formal and informal discussion.
Impressions before and after can thereby be acknowledged, myths dismissed, ideas exchanged. A teacher of KS1 pupils, for example, may have underestimated the marking load and maturity of those in KS2, or a KS2 teacher the speed at which infants complete work and the help many need with fine motor skills.
If the special educational needs specialist does not teach full-time, involve him or her. Classroom assistants can join in too, except in Reception, where the youngest might feel more comfortable having someone they know in the room. Treat it as part of the induction process for any newly appointed staff.
Organisation is not difficult, but plan ahead carefully and don't spring the idea on people at short notice. In the initial stages it should not be hard to win over the senior management team, but school governors should be briefed, especially those who may have to answer questions in the playground.
Then, having gained support, give more detail during a staff meeting. Have an idea of how the day will be arranged and who will do what, but be wise to the implications. It will help generate enthusiasm if those taking part feel valued. It may be tricky to resolve who teaches which class, especially with infant teachers moving to junior classrooms where they could encounter children they taught last year, or a teacher who has recently changed classes anyway.
In small schools such situations are inevitable, but a minimum two-year age jump is better. Invite questions, such as what happens to unmarked books at the end of the day. With ample warning, teachers can arrange to share lesson plans, discuss pupils' particular needs, talk about procedures for radio or television programmes, apparatus, PE or outdoor games, and observe each other in the classroom.
Parents should be informed. A newsletter can be sent two or three weeks in advance, and the children told at the same time, giving all concerned a chance to chat and anticipate.
Afterwards, there should be prompt follow-up at a staff meeting. After thanking those involved for their co-operation, invite them to summarise their day and to highlight what they have learned, with positive ideas for improvement next time.
Gains for the children include an introduction to other teaching styles and being reunited with previous teachers they admired. I would recommend it is practised annually, and that governors receive feedback later. The next logical step is to exchange a teacher with another school in the same area cluster for the day. This too has excellent potential.
The response from some busy heads might be: "We have enough to do already."
To that I would reply: "If you can still find a day for that tired old favourite 'dress up as your favourite character from a book,'" (sometimes a useful distraction, but of limited value) "then why not complement your long-playing record with a compact disc of better quality and arguably greater worth?"
Clearly, this venture should not occur too early in the school year while pupils are getting to know their regular teachers and vice versa. But you should be able to find a date that doesn't interfere with other activities, provided that constraints posed by Sats. for example, can be overcome.
Give the CD a whirl. There's nothing to lose and all to gain.
Luke Darlington is a retired headteacher