I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about Putting Staff First.
I have just finished co-authoring with Jonny Uttley, CEO of the Education Alliance Trust a new book called Putting Staff First. It will be published in April.
The thinking behind this new book is best exemplified by an oft-used metaphor…
When cabin pressure falls inside an aeroplane and the oxygen masks drop down, parents are directed to fit their masks before they fit their children’s. It is obvious why. Once hypoxia – a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain – sets in, even the simplest tasks become impossible.
Symptoms of hypoxia vary from person to person but include blurred or tunnel vision, hot and cold flashes, euphoria, numbness, tingling, apprehension, nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and belligerence.
Without an oxygen mask, within a few minutes parents suffering from hypoxia will be incapable of fitting their children’s masks, let alone their own. If parents fit their oxygen masks first, it turns out to be better for their children, who have a competent, healthy adult to support them through what can be a challenging experience.
The parallel with being a teacher is striking. If we do not ensure, first and foremost, that our teachers are happy, healthy, well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, well-trained experts, they cannot be their best for their students. Consequently, a school which does not prioritise professional learning and managing staff workload – which, as a consequence, will help improve staff wellbeing – is disadvantaging its own students.
Whilst it is easy to say that schools would not exist if it were not for the students, the glib converse is that without truly great school staff, the students would not be taught well enough. What we need – as recruiting subject specialist teachers, school leaders and specialist support staff becomes increasingly difficult – is a revolution in how we treat the adults in schools.
“What is the most important school-related factor in pupil learning? The answer is teachers”, say Schwartz et al, and if they are correct, then we have to put our staff before our students because it is the only hope we have of securing what our students need most: top quality teachers (Schwartz et al, 2007).
The longer our schools are populated with hypoxic adults, we imperil all our futures.
And whilst we are determined to put staff first, that does not mean working in a blueprint school is an easy ride; far from it. We expect teachers to work hard and to be the best version of themselves they can possibly be.
If high quality teaching is the only thing that really matters when it comes to improving students’ outcomes, it follows, then, that we expect teachers in blueprint schools to accept the professional obligation to improve their practice; indeed, we consider that to be one of the most important aspects of being a teacher in a blueprint school.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a blueprint as an ‘early plan or design that explains how something might be achieved’. Ten years after the Academies Act disrupted the structures of the English school system irrevocably, we want to look forward ten years hence, to a revitalised school system where our nation’s teachers are thriving and, consequently, so are our students.
Our new book is a 2030 blueprint to revitalise our schools that unashamedly puts staff first.
Schwartz, Robert B., Wurtzel, Judy & Olson, Lynn (2007) “Attracting and retaining teachers”, in the “OECD Observer” N°261, May 2007