Who's watching who?

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Mike Harrison gives some pointers on how to juggle the competing responsibilities. The increasing complexity of the primary curriculum and society's growing expectations make it difficult for the unaided class teacher to keep up to date. Within traditional subject areas there has been an explosion of knowledge, and there are huge expectations in new fields such as science, technology, design, problem solving and health education - not to mention computers. Furthermore, we now expect all children to succeed at these studies, not just the fortunate few.

Curriculum coordinators have a significant opportunity to improve children's learning. The challenge of working with colleagues to produce an effective programme in any subject area will contribute to personal development and enhance the image of the profession.

Even newly-qualified teachers have something to offer. Today's initial training in, say, the use of computers, possibly amounts to more than that received by the rest of the staff put together. Their work in science or reading methods could be far more up-to-date and they may have spent time recently in up to four different schools.

That is not to deny the difficulty of the subject coordinator's job. But it is not an impossible one and here are some ideas that may help: Consider the fixed elements:

One way for the curriculum coordinator to start to make sense of the job is to look for those elements which are fixed and then consider what choices are available. Part of what is fixed is your teacher colleagues; the presence or absence of an ideal team of people and personalities. You have to work with them and appreciate that, however enthusiastic you might be, coordination, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Another fixture is the quality of leadership - that provided by the head is probably the single most important factor in the effectiveness of the school. But remember your headteacher has chosen you to coordinate your subject and may have a great deal of hope pinned on your contribution. He or she deserves your support and in return you will deserve his or hers.

Seek time and support:

To make any system work, there must be explicit managerial responsibility and support for the coordinators. Heads have to monitor coordinators' work and offer guidance. Curriculum coordinators need time if they are to: consult fully and produce good results; work alongside teachers in their classrooms to change practice; and see teaching and learning in parts of the school with which he or she is unfamiliar.

You may find headteachers agreeing with these sentiments but unable to provide non-contact time to allow you to do your work. In this case you will need to consider how much personal space you need to devote to this role and how much to your task of providing for the children in your class. Otherwise you will not be able to sensibly plan your coordination activity.

Go with the flow:

It is important to understand and work with the culture of your school. Cultures are born and grow. The crucial factor is the people working in and around the school. You are one of these people, and the strength of your influence will depend on the way you approach the task, even if your school situation is not ideal.

Build your communication skills:

Coordinators need to develop the skills to lead. They need to learn how to persuade, cajole and affect staff attitudes toward the need for change, the focus of that change and the change process itself.

The methods used to get the message across may be just as important as the message itself. The most common method, meetings, is not always a success because the prime consideration - what you want to happen at the meeting - is not always addressed. The meeting may be called to communicate information, discuss issues or make decisions. Coordinators will be more effective if they understand the difference between these purposes and what can go wrong.

Do your homework:

Information can be given out in written form with a brief explanation. Wasting everyone's time for an hour to compensate for your lack of foresight does not go down well with busy teachers.

If you want teachers to discuss issues, they need to be prepared beforehand with relevant information. You cannot create an atmosphere in which staff share ideas and perceptions if you do not establish broadly-accepted starting points.

If the aim of the meeting is to reach a decision on a key topic it is vital that everyone is made aware of this and time has been allowed beforehand to read and absorb written material. Decide in advance whether you intend to take a vote if necessary or whether discussion will continue until a consensus is reached.

Start by observing:

How much work is going on in your subject already? Look at displays around the school. Has maths been developed to mean more than sums in books? Is a variety of sports and games played? Does children's artwork feature in assemblies? Do teachers talk about progression in technology during breaks?

Listen to whether or how colleagues talk about your subject. Examine any school documentation or recent inspection reports. Have there been previous initiatives in the school? Read the latest advice from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and subject guidelines for Office for Standards in Education inspectors. Make contact with advisers and local colleges and note any course that might help you or a colleague.

Keep a record of your activity: Start a portfolio where you keep your notes, relevant documents and a diary. This will help you to show development and progress over time and demonstrate your success.

Talk to the head:

Discover the head's thoughts and commitment to this area; determine its priority within the school development plan; establish a professional dialogue with the head; register your interest and commitment and formulate a rationale and targets for your work.

Ask to control a small budget to support your area:

You will then be able to buy and use resources without continual recourse to your head. Find a method of gaining agreement among the staff for the use of this money in your area. Hand in a report of this to the head even if he or she doesn't ask for (or want) it.

Support your colleagues:

Arrange to go into other teachers' classrooms to work with them, if possible. You will need to provide them with reasons for your presence. Are you to be there as a critical friend? To focus on an area the teacher has identified? To discover the quality of the work in your area? Or to gain an idea of progression in children's skills across the school?

The willingness of your colleagues to accept your advice partly depends on their perception of your ability in the classroom, your experience, ability to organise resources, knowledge of the subject and interpersonal skills.

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, teachers have made many changes. Unfortunately this has led to the idea that making change is always personally stressful, regularly leads to a blind alley and always results in wasted effort. Despite everything, most teachers will accept change, especially if they believe it will benefit the children rather than merely enhance the reputation of the proponent. They want to teach as effectively as possible and to see their work built upon in future classes.

If we accept that outside pressure has lowered teachers' horizons, it follows that those who will be the most successful in the next few years will be the leaders who can raise the sights of those with whom they work. The attitude towards change appears to be the most influential factor in its successful implementation.

* Mike Harrison is director of the Centre for Primary Education at the University of Manchester and an OFSTED inspector. This article is based on the first chapter of Developing a Leadership Role in Key Stage 2 Curriculum (Falmer Press 1995. Pounds 13.95) THE OFFICIAL VIEW

"Teachers who aresubject managers for the whole school can be expected to:

* develop a clear view of the nature of their subject and its contribution to thewider curriculum;

* provide advice and documentation to help teachers teach thesubject and interrelate its constituent elements;

* play a major part in organising the teaching and the resources of the subjects so that statutory requirements are covered."


Primary Matters 1994

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