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Try it little and often...

In the on-going debate over the boundaries of authority in our schools, one significant group is in danger of being overlooked - the teachers, writes Glennis Foote. For many, one of the joys of the profession is the sense that, in their own classrooms, they are "in charge" - this is particularly true of the primary teacher who sees her class as, in an important way, "belonging" to her.

The relationship between a teacher and her class is, in many respects, an emotional one and this is something which I think we, as governors, should have in the forefront of our minds when we enter any classroom.

Of course, a primary teacher often has adults in her classroom - parent helpers, general assistants, learning support staff. But these work alongside her and participate in the work of the children, not observe it.

Classroom observation is redolent of teaching practice and inspection and is generally not an enjoyable experience. And, sadly, I suspect classroom visits by governors are often seen in the same light. How can we stop looking like inspectors?

Some governing bodies seem to subscribe to the theory that "the more we're there, the more they'll get used to us" but I cannot help feeling that this is the wrong approach. First, I am not even sure it's true. It is more likely that teacher resentment will grow rather than diminish if they can never be sure when a governor is going to appear in the room. Nor is it the role of governors to be constantly on the premises.

Our visits must be frequent enough that we are familiar and trusted (by the children no less than by the staff) but we should only appear in a classroom after prior notice and with more than good intentions.

It seems to me that one way of shaking off the "inspector" mantle is to become a participating adult. Those governors who are able to offer regular help with reading or swimming, for example, have at their disposal an excellent way of overcoming the problem. However, not everyone is available during the school day and we should take pains to avoid making governing an activity limited to those whose roles are home-based. We can all ensure that when we are in the classroom we take an active part in what is going on.

A class teacher needs to know that the governor who visits her class will be squatting by the side of a child helping with spellings or maths or cutting out, not standing awkwardly in a corner, sitting at the back making notes or, perhaps worse still, trying to engage the teacher in discussions on educational policy.

We must leave behind our handbags and briefcases, wear comfortable clothes that we don't mind getting dirty and be willing to perch on tiny chairs or kneel on the floor so we can really be involved with the children's work.

After the visit many governing bodies ask for a written report to be delivered. This is a useful exercise because it means that all the governors can have some share in the visit of one of their number to the school.

However, written reports too can reek of "inspection" to a teacher. There are ways we can ensure that they don't. For example, the teaching staff should receive a copy of the report at the same time as the governors. This is not confidential information or something which requires approval by the governing body and does not need to be withheld.

I also believe that we should make these reports as positive and supportive as we are able. This is not the place for expressing concerns or gripes. There are other opportunities for that, if necessary, and governors should know what they are.

A day spent in the school of which you are governor is one of the best ways to remind yourself of why you took the job on in the first place.

Most of us do it, I suspect, because we like children. Teachers do too, and a shared enthusiasm is a good basis for any relationship.

Glennis Foote is a governor in Cambridgeshire.

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