I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about why job satisfaction matters.

We had a visit from the DfE this week. They wanted to discuss workload. It was a challenging and, ultimately, uplifting experience. Richard and Sam from the DfE Delivery Unit were intelligent and reflective. They concluded that there is more than the hours worked metric to consider when thinking about teacher workload; just as important, they concluded, was school culture and, specifically, job satisfaction.
Job satisfaction grows from individuals finding their jobs purposeful and interesting, with those jobs undertaken in a culture of challenge and trust, and resulting in successful outcomes which are recognised. I want to consider one of those six factors in this post – how do you keep the job of teaching interesting?
It’s not just me who thinks keeping the job interesting is important. This week Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD, claimed that we have to make teaching more “interesting” and more “intellectually attractive” if we are going to solve the recruitment crisis. At Huntington, since 2011, we have taught our students for fewer hours than the DfE recommendation of 25 contact hours and, instead, given our staff more time to work together to improve their practice. On occasion we have taken a couple more training days than we should have done. For the past six years our students’ examination results have improved steadily. Fewer contact hours with better trained teachers has resulted in consistently better student outcomes. Who would have thought, eh?
What’s your IQ? A feature of our mature, coherent model of Performance Development (we call it Development, not Management) and our related CPD programme is our Disciplined Inquiry objective. All teachers and Teaching Assistants – some 120+ colleagues – identify a feature of their practice which they would like to develop and then they evaluate that development of their practice against its impact upon their students’ performance. They are expertly trained in the whole process by colleagues from our Research School who introduce colleagues to, amongst other things, Interventions, Treatment Groups, Control Groups and Effect Sizes. They have time to complete their Inquiry – we call it their Inquiry Question, or IQ for short – and at the end of the year they write it up on an A3 proforma. In July we held a bubbly-sponsored twilight session where all 120 IQ A3s were displayed and a half-a-dozen individuals talked to staff about what they had done and what they concluded from their disciplined inquiry.
The IQ Fest ended our academic year on a high. In the last few weeks we have been scrutinising our students’ examination results to try to discern whether our interventions had any impact. I began our first training day of the new year with a presentation to the whole staff on my IQ. It was related to an intervention where I taught a group of 11 students how to approach the writing questions in the new English Language GCSE; I taught them for five hours a fortnight from February instead of them attending MFL lessons. Details of the intervention can be found here, here and here. Ultimately, (and much to my colleagues’ amusement) my intense intervention probably had little impact on the students’ outcomes in the GCSE writing questions. We probably won’t intervene in the same way this year, considering the huge time commitment of the intervention in relation to its minimal impact.
The success is completing the IQ itself not whether the intervention worked. One of the best IQs has been in MFL where the whole department explored, in one form or another, the impact of short, regular translation practice upon students’ writing skills. It prompted the Subject Leader to contact the University of York Languages department who sent a link to a research paper called The Bottleneck of Additional Language Acquisition. The department’s collective IQ has led them to scale-up the successful intervention this forthcoming year.
Teacher learning and job satisfaction. I met with the Subject Leader of MFL this week and, without betraying confidences, she told me that she loves what she is doing at Huntington because it is “intellectually interesting”.  By creating a school which uses an evidence-informed approach – where research findings complement what we already know from experience – we have done two inextricably linked things: improved our students’ outcomes and increased job satisfaction. When Sam and Richard from the DfE left Huntington, they were pondering how they might bottle-up the culture at our school and replicate it across the country. It has taken a decade to grow a school where trust is deep and genuine, where love has overcome fear.

The Research School Network is thriving. If you would like to know more about Research Schools and want to hear some influential speakers discuss how evidence-informed approaches can aid school improvement, then why not attend the forthcoming Evidence In Education: Northern Networks Making It Work conference at the University of York. You can find more details and book a place here.

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. Teaching is an inherently interesting and rewarding activity – principally, I believe, because it taps the need for intraction with others. Subject satisfaction helps a lot too – when we don’t dumb it down. I no longer teach – what killed it for me was a school culture imposed by a management that did totally the opposite of what you describe – and then punished anyone who dared speak up. Absoluteky unforgiveable.

  2. Hi John, Well done you are a dynamic figurehead and do lead an excellent school. Yet and because of this, I would like to challenge you with the following, if what you have learned becomes the norm and at the same time is accepted as a model for long-term development:
    How do you transfer this to others?
    What are the key changes required to break the current status quo?
    What happens when you leave?
    All of which are classic consultancy issues …. but to break and instigate change we need to break this “Quid pro quo” model of development.
    So with this all in mind, if you were going to boil it all down to what makes the difference, what are your top ten must-do sound bites for the next generation? Perhaps a book.

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