NQT boot camp: five things to remember about setting up a classroom

Students Raising Hands in Classroom

In the first part of her summer advice series for newly qualified teachers, teacher educator Sarah Wright shares her tips for preparing and creating a learning environment.

 

The excitement of finally getting your own classroom can be overwhelming. Whether you have been hoarding supplies all through your PGCE or are about to embark on a summer shopping spree, you will no doubt be keen to make your mark on your new temple of learning.

Here are a few things for you to think about:

  1. Consider the needs of all learners

    When you are setting up your classroom, test out your seating arrangements; can you sit and see the board without craning your neck? Think about your colour scheme. Your hot pink and turquoise combo might have looked brilliant on Pinterest, but will it give some children a headache or be an unwanted distraction? And while you may have banked a million display and “area” ideas during your training, remember you have to put the needs of your children first.

  2. Don’t expect a blank slate

    You might be imagining walking into a crisp and clean classroom, ready to work your magic. I can tell you now that this is not happening. Your room will probably be cluttered with the remnants of the last teacher to inhabit it and their displays will most likely still be up. But be positive about it, embrace the cathartic clear-out and take care of things without any grumbling; you don’t know who your new room belonged to last ? or how many of their friends are still working at the school.

  3. Create curiosity

    Your new children will be keen to get to know you and your personality, so don’t be afraid of sharing it. Whether that’s through an interesting memento on your desk or your favourite book in the reading area, it will help to start conversations and build rapport.

  4. Exercise restraint

    Your laminator is smoking, you have staple-gun blisters… stop. The excitement of setting up your first classroom can put you into a pre-term giddiness of filling every last inch of your space with wiggly-bordered loveliness. But a cluttered space won’t create a good learning environment. Think about having room to learn and to move.

  5. Resist the urge to create the finished article

    Yes, you want to “wow” your new class with their beautiful learning environment, but you have to remember that it it belongs to them as much as to you. Your classroom needs to grow along with your children. Ensure they have the space to put their stamp on it, too.

 

Sarah Wright is a Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Edge Hill University.

This article was originally published on the TES website.

 

Why cutting Parent Governors out of schools matters

Students Raising Hands in Classroom

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy) comments on the Government’s White Paper on Education:

The significance of the many changes announced by the Government recently will be taken up by a number of groups over the next few months.

Clearly the headlines have focused on the way teachers are educated and assessed as full and potentially excellent teachers. I will return to that in future blogs but I want to pick up on the role of parent governors.

The announcement that the requirement or expectation to have parents as members of governing bodies is to be relaxed so that they may cease to be present, reflects one of the many contradictory features of the current Government.

The idea that service users should be involved in decision making is not the preserve of progressive interest groups. It sits quite easily within the framework of seeing service users as consumers. They are one of a number of so called ‘stakeholders’ who have rights to be consulted and to participate in the governance and oversight of professionals or administrators running public services.

There is a litany of failed public services from hospitals to schools to social work departments, where it is claimed lack of suitable arrangements for the governance of those services excluded users from having a voice.

Indeed in the recent budget, the Northern Powerhouse initiative and the associated agreements with local public authorities in the setting up of city regions, include governance as a non-negotiable element. In this case it’s the election of a city mayor as part of the package.

So what do the new developments in education tell us? There is a plausible argument which says it’s difficult to recruit, train and retain parent governors; the role and expectations are complex and require significant commitment; and the growing needs of schools especially financial ones require more professional expertise than is always available. These are familiar arguments but not necessarily new ones.

There are a secondary set of arguments which are not explicitly stated and they include the restructuring of school based education takes it away from local oversight  – the creation of academies or trusts detached schools from a sense of the ‘local’ or the ‘neighbourhood’ and as such parents are actually only have temporary interest in the school.

What is needed are individuals who are there for the long term and who see the needs differently from local parents or local interests. It is the logical perspective if you do not see schools are rooted in specific geographies and communities.

There is an additional pragmatic argument too. Parent governors are likely to be resistant to changes and maybe become oppositional to the current funding decisions. I think we can anticipate changes in governance elsewhere across the public services as the space to be critical is closed down.

Changes in the voluntary sector are good examples of where this is already happening. I think this is the issue. It’s not parent governors in principle, but local voices being excluded and critical or different perspectives being excluded too. That seems to me to be the big story behind the White Paper.

Why collaboration is necessary and learning to work across boundaries should be compulsory

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) makes the case for working across boundaries:

Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas brings together a number of shared themes and ideas. One of them – working across the different professional or discipline boundaries that can inhibit good practice, is reflected in a number of talks and workshops.

On the face of it, the invitation to work collaboratively can appear like talking common sense. Who can possibly be opposed to it?

In her new book, Gillian Tett talks about the ‘silo effect’ and the ways in which organisations can become ineffective and slow to innovate because of the ways in which boundaries between different bits of organisations or universities restrict developments or change. The question or questions are therefore about how to balance the skills and understanding that separate disciplines bring with the need to think about how their potential to limit change needs to be kept under scrutiny.

This raises important questions too about how we organise or structure organisations: do we reflect the needs of professional disciplines (in a university that would be departments), or do we also try to reflect the needs of users (students and external partners or potential collaborators)? If we privilege the needs of professional disciplines (the producers) does that reduce or restrict our potential to change or innovate? How do we organise and structure what we do so that it has that room for manoeuvre? And are all structures ultimately means of holding back innovation? Why does this matter?

Learning from and with both service users and producers, and being open to change, are new relationships based upon innovation more likely to sustain lasting change? And they suggest (but don’t ensure) that we are creating a cultural bias in favour of innovation which is a necessary but not sufficient condition of our times.

The importance of school governance and accountability

Students Raising Hands in Classroom

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) points to the glaring policy and practice contradictions in this recent announcement:

The news that a national academy chain is to drop its school based governing bodies and opt for a combination of centralised decision making, whilst having local school ‘ambassadors’, raises a number of really important questions.

On the one hand the whole underpinning rationale for academies was to break up the role of local education authorities and to make explicit the direct connection between school leaders and their local stakeholders (parents). The LEA was seen as inhibiting innovation and change. At the same time schools (whether as part of local chains or national ones) needed support and guidance across a range of areas (from recruitment and staffing to payroll and planning). But the question remained (and remains) can these practical management and admin functions be separate from being accountable to the different communities of interest which are reflected in schools (from parents to children and young people to local employers to local communities)?

Schools sit within their geographic localities and occupy an important role in community bonding and development. How are they and should they be accountable for this role? And if they are what are the formal mechanisms and processes for ensuring this happens (governance arrangements)? Who should be involved and with what roles and powers?

These are not abstract questions. Recently the Government have started to move away from academy chains which cut across England. The expectation is that chains should be accessible by being able to drive from one school to another during the lunch break. Even with the best will in the world that’s not going to happen in the big urban conurbations of London, Greater Manchester or the West Midlands. And as a policy aspiration seems at odds with city regions and devolution.

There are other questions too – in an increasingly technological and interdependent world we can host innovative teaching materials online in Latin America but have them accessed in Bolton. Global education developments require us to rethink the models of governance and accountability we develop and promote. But we shouldn’t drop or ignore the most profound questions of how to develop good relationships between school communities (in all its richest sense) and school leaders and teachers and the communities they are situated in.

Why all universities should consider a Festival of Ideas

Imagining Header

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) makes the case for expanding Festivals of Ideas in Universities:

This week sees the start of the Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas – Imagining Better. It is like many such initiatives – it draws on an eclectic range of events from public lectures, to films, to drama to art and photographic exhibitions, to workshops and book signings. It’s diverse, it’s stimulating and it reflects an important objective which is to create a space in which ideas, discussion and conversation can flow and in turn stimulate reflection and thought.

They are part (almost) of the furniture across higher education institutions. And whilst they are important (really important) they are, I think, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for all the possibilities outlined above to take place.

An important aspect of the concept (and this is central for me about the Edge Hill Festival) is both that it encourages, supports and makes explicit the idea of multi-disciplinary thinking and work. Whilst there are different bits of the University hosting particular aspects we could delete the organisational home and there would be recurring and overlapping themes. And central to that is the idea of how our learning and thinking is much more flexible and curious than any one subject or department or discipline. I think that’s a huge strength of what we are offering and I hope it becomes part of the taken for granted nature of what makes a good and exciting event.

Secondly, I think these events highlight the centrality of universities acting as civil society institutions in the public space where we need to encourage dialogue and the exchange of ideas.

And finally, the weaknesses in this approach: we need to develop much more examples of learning from and listening to those outside the academy. And perhaps a good sign of that will not be that next year we have a fringe which is even more interesting than the main event but when the fringe is the academy and the main event is a much more creative and different set of voices and experiences from which we deliberately seek to learn with and from.

In the meantime enjoy this year’s programme.

Edge Hill’s Festival of Ideas 2016 is a diverse range of events exploring culture, health and society. The main theme is Imagining Better – envisioning ways for communities, arts and healthcare to develop and flourish, even in times of austerity and inequality.

Click here for a full list of events.

The importance of executive education programmes for public sector managers, and why ‘silo’ thinking should be challenged

john diamond2

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P), reflects on the need for executive education programmes:

A key point I want to make from the outset is a declaration of interest – I am the co-editor of an international journal which is committed to publishing essays and research papers from academics and practitioners engaged in the education of public leaders and managers.

Teaching Public Administration, published by Sage, carries papers overwhelmingly from outside the UK. They highlight the shared and overlapping interests of leaders and managers in the UK, and they confirm (I think) why we need to raise the question of how we support those involved in managing complex organisations across the public sector.

That statement of interest over, I think there are three key points to make: firstly, that there are very evident shared experiences and agendas – managing change in a context of declining resources but rising expectations from users and politicians. It is not a cliché or a sound bite to say ‘you / we need to do more with less’.

Secondly, there are a group of overlapping issues which cut across public / private and not for profit – questions of governance and accountability. It seems to me that whilst we think we understand the accountability question, and I am not sure we do, there is a real issue over governance. Seeking to ensure that leaders and senior executives engage with the governance question is vital if we are to begin to address the questions raised in my first observation. I think that senior leaders need support, from external mentors or critical friends, it doesn’t matter what we call them, but what is needed are individuals who can support them in their critical self-reflection and personal learning so that they are better able (more confident as well as more reflective) in their practice to think and act strategically as well as understand the local or the domestic too.

Finally, good quality executive education is also about learning to make transitions work too. And I think that understanding that is also about connecting the internal world with the external environment and focussing on what the longer term ideas are. And that requires setting those thinking and learning activities in a set of values and principles which can be shared and recognised. I have a particular interest in how we encourage individuals and organisations to work across their institutional boundaries and silos. These are themes I will return to.

As the TV Election dominates, what are the local issues?

The TV election debate is , as to be expected, shaped and defined by the personalities and the ‘incidents’ as interpreted by the media commentators.

And, of course, the political leaders (to a greater or lesser extent) play up to this.

But at a local level there is another election campaign taking place. It seems to me that whilst the national media tries to filter those campaigns through their lens of the actions and comments (and latest gossip) of the national leaders, they rarely stop to listen to the stories in local communities.

One of the recurring themes, if you spend time and listen to local residents or local leaders, is the growing impact of the cuts.

So at the local or city level of Manchester (where I live) you can observe at least two different sets of experiences co-existing.

One set of experiences is that which I heard about foyer weeks ago when I sat and listened to parents talk about the invaluable support they were receiving from a national charity that works with families and children. Parents described how supported they felt and how much more confident they, and their children, were as a result.

Why is this important in what is being described by the Government as part of the Northern Powerhouse?

It’s important because many of the public services the families might have relied on are being cut.

The often invisible infrastructure of support for local communities is being cut and replaced by a parallel set of services and agencies. This parallel set of agencies are made up of faith groups, voluntary organisations and charities.

From food banks to working with children and families, we can observe a retreat from the network of services that represented an investment in the needs of children at an early stage in their lives. The Sure Start programme is disappearing and the centres closed, or handed over to the voluntary sector. The investment in schools, with a different set of professionals working alongside teachers is being cut back. Over the next five years the scale and pace of these reductions will increase.

It is this different and parallel set of stories which the TV dominated coverage misses.

It also represents lots of different political choices at the local or city hall level across the country. And it’s a set of choices that is not being discussed in detail. To be sure, we are now starting to hear a different conversation – austerity or not.

But how quickly did that get drowned out by who said what and when to the French ambassador, and who leaked what? How soon did the coverage move from the big question to the trivial pursuit questions?

What about the issues that don’t figure in the election campaign, but matter ?

The ways in which the formal election campaign and its associated conversations miss out the issues that touch most people, are ones I will come back to over the coming weeks.

It’s important to start though by recognising that the shared conversations between the politicians and the media rule out a whole series of voices and experiences.

The impact of welfare reform, which will be a centre piece of the next five years if the present Tory-led Government retain power, is ruled out of discussion by ministers.

And yet whilst the media may press them on the issue, the headlines focus not on an absence of an answer, but on the skill of avoidance.

All three of the major UK based parties are in favour of education and all three have a shared commitment to maintaining the new status quo on the roles of academies and trusts rather than local schools.

Indeed all three are also in favour of the status quo on how the NHS is organised.

However, they do differ on some things. But it is the shared consensus which is rarely up for discussion. Why? And why aren’t the voices of  those that rely on the services (not those who work in them) heard?

On May 7th local elections will take place too. Here, the absence of a rich and diverse debate is very evident. But does this matter? I think it does. Whoever wins nationally on May 7th will be putting in place spending plans which directly impact on local communities.

It will be City Hall making many of the cuts and therefore we do need to try and make the connections between the local and the national. Accountability only works if those that make decisions are open to challenge and are willing to engage with that challenge.