GOODBYE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT, AND GOOD RIDDANCE

Three years ago when I started working at my current school I was looking forward to stepping down from the ‘management plate’. I had had pretty much had my fill of working in the higher middle management echelons after working as Head of Key Stage 5 in my previous position. It hadn’t been all bad, I found that I was fairly effective at dealing with university applications and recruitment fairs as well as organising pastoral activities for tutors. And there were parts I thoroughly enjoyed and gained great satisfaction from, such as working with students to help them consider their options post school. But the shine had worn off quickly when I found myself repeatedly butting heads with a colleague working at a similar level to me over administrative tasks, she was constantly trying to pass additional work my way when this should have been shared evenly. Although the issues were minor in the grand scheme of things, it was like a drip-drip effect, somewhat like low-level disruption and it gradually wore me down.

Part of the appeal of the school I applied for three years ago (that is, my current school) was that I would return to being ‘just a teacher again’. I had been burnt in my previous position and aside from a desire to lick my wounds for a period of time, I was lacking confidence in my own ability. I was ready to focus on teaching again after putting this largely on the backburner for a little over a year. I had still been teaching whilst holding the Head of Key Stage 5 position, but in reality, the demands of the management role superseded my teaching and it had suffered as a result.

After a few days into my new role three years ago I was approached about taking on some additional responsibility as a Head of Department. Shocked and surprised didn’t even cut it. Gobsmacked more like. I had only been there a matter of days and was still feeling some of the effects of jetlag, and so I knew that I wasn’t thinking straight when the headteacher asked to speak to me in his office.

It transpired that a colleague was stepping down due to illness; it would only be for a year he said, there’d be plenty of support he said, and don’t worry he added. A people pleaser through and through and having my ego stroked (including the prospect of an additional monthly financial incentive) cemented my acceptance of the role with little real thought at the time of what the role would entail. I even glibly ignored the fact that the headteacher had said during this meeting that one of the reasons they were considering me was because I had no ‘ties’, i.e., no kids and having my then partner based in another country meant that I had no distractions. I would focus on the job at hand. Why the hell I didn’t walk out the door at that point I have no idea, but then that could have been the people pleaser in me. But then, he was right, I was in that position. However, knowing the headteacher as I know him now, I am well aware that the issue of ‘ties’ would never have been raised with a male colleague in a similar position.

Three years on and I am still in the role of Head of Department, although I will be stepping down once more when I leave in a few weeks time. To say that I am excited would be an understatement, I am ecstatic. And to illustrate how happy I am about relinquishing the role, when I was being interviewed for my new position the headteacher asked me for my feelings on this, i.e., would I be comfortable in going back to being ‘just a teacher?’

My response?

A huge smile lit up my face.

TAKING A CHANCE: INTERNATIONAL TEACHING

As part of a new series of posts looking at teaching in an international context, including some of its most wonderful aspects as well as some of the things that I wished that I had known in advance, I thought that I would begin by writing a post about some of my reasons for leaving the UK to teach abroad in the first place.

Ten years ago this June, I participated in a graduation ceremony confirming the completion of my teacher training. I was finally leaving what had felt like a relatively safe and fulfilling bubble of academia and heading out into the big, wide world of full-time employment.

And now looking back over my career to date, I realise that I have not only jumped over what feels like a hurdle (or should that be a shitload of hurdles) of getting to the infamous five-year mark of employment in teaching, where it is estimated that approximately 50% of new teachers will have left the profession, but I have also added five more.

But the fact is that for at least for me, if I had remained in the UK to teach, I don’t believe that I would still be teaching at least in a secondary school context.

There was most definitely not one single factor that led to my decision to leave the UK, but five years ago I was presented with a choice: stay or go (as in move abroad to live and work). The latter primarily instigated by my then partner who had already moved to Spain for a teaching role. The romantic in me would say that I moved for love, although I have subsequently realised love is not necessarily the best reason to move jobs let alone countries.

Prior to the move abroad, I had been working at a city secondary school, which reported generally strong examination results and had good connections to parents and the local community. All of which were part of the lure for me apply for the job in the first place. My immediate team were also incredibly supportive, something that I had been craving having left my previous position partly due to an absence of this at the departmental level. However, after less than a year of working at what was my second teaching position in the UK, I realised that I didn’t quite ‘fit’ within the school itself. My previous school had been considerably smaller in size and therefore on a day-to-day basis I would regularly see familiar faces, those of students and staff alike, and it felt like a warm and close-knit community. But in my second position, I often felt lost and there were times when I didn’t know who to turn to for advice. Plus, I realised that I simply wanted to work in a school with a smaller student intake.

Finding a school that ‘fits’ is much like a romantic relationship, you can go in thinking of what you desire in a partner; such as a steady job, good hair, own teeth, wants marriage and so on, but you end up falling in love with someone who doesn’t fit any of that criteria. And the same can be said for a school, sometimes the things that you think you want, just don’t work in reality.

Another significant factor that could be said to have influenced my decision to leave the school itself was related to the behaviour of the students. There were times when I found it really tough, to the point where I absolutely dreaded going into work. For some lessons, it felt more like crowd control than anything else, as I couldn’t say any real learning took place for some of the students. I issued warnings, handed out detentions, contacted home, and fortunately the team I worked with were always willing to have some of most badly behaved sat in the back of their class with some work to do. There were, of course, times when I would skip stages of the ‘behaviour management process’ when I was tired and/or stressed, but I followed school policy mostly to the letter.

Things came to a head with one particular class towards the end of the academic year that contained a number of ‘characters’, to put it politely. I taught them for a double (two hours) on Monday after lunch and they were all over the place in terms of academic ability. There were two students in particular who appeared to go out of their way to disturb the class and learning in any way that they could each week. And, after months of using various strategies to manage their behaviour, I cracked.

I had contacted a member of the management team to remove one of the students, who, in this specific lesson was the catalyst for most of the disruption. He had continually refused to follow my instruction of waiting outside for a ‘time out’. But whilst the member of management delivered a grave speech to the entire group about the importance of the learning that should have been taking place, I began to cry. I didn’t break down completely but it was certainly enough for the front few rows to notice the tears.

It perhaps should be left to a future post to provide my own opinion about the effectiveness of certain behaviour management strategies for some students and even my own failings in this regard, but as you can imagine I was embarrassed by the incident and also by what appeared to me was that I simply wasn’t up to the job, at least in that school. In effect, I had lost all confidence in my ability to teach. It was only upon moving on that I realised that I wasn’t completely rubbish at teaching and in a different environment I could thrive.

So when I was presented with an opportunity to leave and move to my first international teaching position in Spain, I jumped at the chance. My partner was already working at the school and so he provided a backdoor opportunity to meet and receive an interview with one of the headteachers, a convenient break certainly.

In the next instalment… Sun, Sangria and Salary Woes

FINDING INSPIRATION IN SHAKESPEARE

A little over a year ago I participated in some teacher training that provided me with an existential experience. A dramatic statement I know, but it was and still is perhaps the best and most useful training I have ever had in my teaching career to date.

The training was focused on developing effective leadership skills, but its audience was to the teacher and not specifically aimed at the higher echelons of management. We are, as teachers, leaders of a sort in our classrooms and the organiser wanted us to reflect on our own leadership skills and to see how we could link some of the work of Shakespeare to our role.

I was dubious at first and naively, I thought to myself, what could Shakespeare teach us about how to improve our leadership skills in the classroom? For example, one of the set texts for my GCSE English Literature exam was Macbeth and we all probably know what happened to him.

Well, it turned out (surprise, surprise) it could teach us quite a lot.

At the beginning of the day and for those who didn’t know a huge amount about the story of Henry V, including myself, we were given a synopsis of Shakespeare’s play including a few (amazing!) direct readings, most notably the St. Crispin’s Day speech where Henry motivates his soldiers on the morning of the Battle of Agincourt. The rousing speech along with Henry’s evident clear direction of goals is believed to have helped the English defeat the French despite being vastly outnumbered. But the purpose of the training wasn’t to provide a history lesson, although that was an added bonus, it was to illustrate how some of the themes Shakespeare used in his depiction of the story of Henry V could be utilised inside and outside the classroom, in particular, the importance of how effective leaders inspire the troops.

The troops in my case are students and one of the key message that was emphasised from the very beginning was that despite what the government, the media and some members of school management may say, the kids are not the most important part of a school. It’s the teachers. If teachers are largely happy, confident and feel supported in their role, then this will translate into their job of actually teaching, ultimately leading to hopefully happy, confident students who feel supported in their own learning.

And it was also at this point that I felt something unfurl within me, as though a part of me was stretching and waking up from slumber. It struck me that I knew I couldn’t stay much longer at my current school and it even raised larger questions about whether I wanted to remain in teaching. The realisation shook me to my core and at various points throughout the day, I was holding back tears as for the first time, in what felt like a long time, I felt as though I was being listened to but without having to say anything at all.

The organiser made the point a few times throughout the day about the importance of a supportive work culture that begins from the top (the organiser illustrated this point using Henry’s St Crispin’s Day speech which he read in its entirety without prompts) and it was during this time that I noticed a few disgruntled faces amongst the management team. I believe that the shit hit the fan for some as this guy was inspiring us. He was waking most, if not nearly all of us up from a compliant and passive slumber.

I couldn’t describe the school as having a supportive culture. There are shades of it for sure, but unfortunately blame and fear ring closer to the truth. I certainly don’t want to paint all of the school management as completely unsupportive but I learnt quickly that to speak up about something was akin to branding yourself on the forehead. And those who stood out generally didn’t last long.

This was what I have always found a bit odd and disconcerting about some of the schools that I have worked in and I am sure that I am not alone in thinking this, we like to encourage our students in the hope that they will be inspired to study and think about the content they learn,  admittedly some of this motivation may come in the form of sweets or other extrinsic reward to simply get a piece of work finished, but teacher motivation is something that is rarely given as much consideration. It is assumed that working with students is reward enough. But sometimes it is quite nice to be simply told, ‘Well done, you’re doing a great job’, something that rarely happens in my school from upper management.

It obviously hasn’t been as straightforward as experiencing this realisation and then leaving. The training was over a year ago and if simply due to contract requirements I have been required to provide nearly a year’s formal notice of resignation. But I am now in my last term working at my current school and it feels incredibly strange to think that I won’t return there come the end of summer. I have learnt a great deal over the past three years and this realisation is one of the bigger things, work culture matters and a school that doesn’t value its staff will eventually lose them.

TAKING THE TIME TO LISTEN

It is Friday afternoon and lessons for the week have just finished; students are heading home along with some of my colleagues. I don’t like to hang around too late on a Friday either, but I have set of test papers to mark that I would prefer to do from the relative comforts of a quiet classroom rather than in the real comforts of home. Besides, I have already allocated some of my Sunday to prepping for the following week, the test papers would just add to that load.

Then my door opens.

It is a colleague whose classroom is adjacent to mine coming in for a chat. But when I say ‘chat’ as that would presume that that there were two people involved in the conversation, it’s more like being spoken at about his day.

I put my pen and the exam paper down and listen to his frustrations; the students who haven’t quite registered that their final exams are in a few months time, the ones who have failed to hand in homework, and the ones who promised that they would turn up for the revision classes but didn’t. I listen and attempt to offer support and advice where I can, we are colleagues and part of the same team. I am also the Head of Department.

After he has left, I settle back into marking the papers. It’s a significant pile and I really don’t want to have to take them all home this weekend. Last weekend was spent proof-reading student subject reports for the department, I could barely see straight after I had finished.

Then my door opens.

It’s another member of the team, she’s relatively new and still working her way around the school and its quirks. I try to give her as much time as I can as I have heard on the teacher grapevine that she has already thrown around some flippant remarks about leaving before the end of the academic year due to the ‘unreasonable workload’. Much like a few minutes before, I am blasted with information and updates on her day. I sit and listen patiently with a set smile on my face, but in the back of my mind I am thinking about those unmarked test papers, about the data that it will then probably take another 30 minutes or so to input onto the school system, the emails I need to reply to, and the fact that I haven’t had chance all day to go the office to photocopy my resources for Monday.

After she leaves something strikes me as I am trying to get my head back into marking mode, I very rarely get asked about how I am by members of the team. Perhaps they think that I am fine because of the persona that I carry off (very successfully, if I say so myself) day to day. None of them is aware of the challenges I sometimes have just to get up in a morning and get to work, but then, why should they need to know? Or perhaps the reason I don’t get asked is because I am a member of management and there is a ‘them and us’ mindset to it. Sometimes people just need to vent and I do feel that part of my role is to cushion some of the blows or at least act as a sponge.

In this time-pressed profession, I would love to sit down and have more conversations with my team and other colleagues, perhaps about things going outside of the classroom and outside of the school. But I don’t see that happening in the near future, particularly as exam season approaches.

I admit my management style may have contributed towards this situation. Despite the seemingly constant curriculum changes and ever evolving school diktats, I try to manage with a democratic approach inasmuch as I can; concerns are discussed openly in meetings and if an issue affects someone directly, I will do my best to help. They are an amazingly hard-working bunch whose support I value every single day.

But it would be nice sometimes for one of them to ask how I am and pause for an answer.

A ‘CAREER GIRL?’

Each week at work like the rest of the teaching faculty, I am required to do two playground duties, one of which takes place in the morning before lessons begin. It’s a fairly uneventful and unexciting responsibility (unlike some of my experiences when I was working in the UK), where I wander around for twenty minutes, chat to students, give them a teacher glare if they are even thinking about doing something off the school-rules-book and perhaps catch up with a few colleagues.

The vast majority of the time nothing actually happens. That was until this Wednesday when a colleague who works in the higher echelons of the school hierarchy stopped to say hello. Although in fact, his greeting consisted of “Have you got a job yet?”

This is a fairly standard question I get asked nowadays, after all, I handed in my notice to my current employers some months ago. In the time since I have had one interview (although I have only applied for two jobs due to my location restrictions) and was unsuccessful in that case. I usually reply with a smile and “Nope, nothing at the moment” or something to a similar effect. But this time, whether it was frustration, defensiveness, general annoyance, the fact that it was a Wednesday or all of the above, I changed tact. Instead, I replied with “Does that have to be the first question I get asked?”

So that prompted a surprised reaction for both of us, he hadn’t been expected that response, even his facial expressions and body language spoke volumes as he arched his back and glanced around. And I was surprised at myself for saying what I have been thinking for some time actually out loud.

“I am worried about you,” he said leaning in. “A career girl like you, not having another job yet. I thought you’d have one by now.”

I didn’t want to share with him that I am seriously considering taking a break from teaching, I don’t believe that it is any of his business. Plus at this point, I was annoyed by his line of questioning and the patronising manner in which he approached the subject.

It’s interesting because as I read back over what I have written so far, there is a part of me that is muttering away: Stop being so defensive! He was only asking out of concern, why make a mountain out of a molehill? I will concede that perhaps the reason for his initial query was out of genuine interest and concern, but I am curious, would a man be told that they are a ‘career boy’ for the same reasons I was? I find it unlikely.

For whatever the justifications for his concern and his perceived label of me, I have unearthed a few positives from the encounter. Firstly, when I next get asked: “Have you got a job yet?” I will try and steer the conversation in a different direction, one hopefully that doesn’t entail an analysis of my career to date. Secondly and more significantly, I have also reassessed a number of things, particularly in relation to how I label myself.

Am I a ‘career girl/woman/person?’

I wouldn’t define myself in this way as there is an implication that I originally set out in teaching to achieve what I have (particularly in terms of having a management position), or that I indeed want to continue climbing the career ladder if I were to stay teaching. In actual fact, the latter does not fill me with much motivation in the slightest! So I guess I’d like to thank my colleague for helping reaffirm this for me.

THE FUTURE PLACE OF EDUCATION

Six years ago I taught in a school that was undergoing a steady transformation, not in an ideological or pedagogical sense, but rather in its physical appearance (although you could argue that in some symbolic ways the areas are linked). The original buildings dated from the 1960s and by 2010 they were in dire need of an update for a student population of over 2000 and by general modern education standards. Aside from the general tired feeling associated with most of the rooms; many had leaky roofs, windows that you couldn’t shut, broken furniture that never seemed to get replaced despite requests, and these were the rooms that weren’t overly that bad…

… because then there were the temporary classrooms/portacabins.

Whilst the rest of the school was receiving a deep clean and facelift, the portacabins were deemed ‘fit for purpose’ by the school’s management and so were not going to be disposed of until the main building work had been completed. And around a third of my teaching took place in these.

The portacabins were simply depressing. I hated having to teach in them and I am sure that the students picked up on this despite my forced smile to the contrary. During the winter wetter months, sidelining the fact that the steps leading up to the cabins would often freeze over and therefore be a health hazard in themselves, the rooms were bitterly cold. The heating units regularly broke, resulting in both myself, colleagues and students having to wear coats in lessons (a big no-no in terms of the school uniform policy), and in some cases, I would also teach wearing gloves (an even bigger no-no). Conversely, during the warmer months, the classrooms heated up like greenhouses even with the windows and doors wide open. And you can probably imagine what a sweltering room smells like with the added potency or should I say the pungency of a bunch of teenagers!

Unfortunately, the state of crappy classrooms is nothing new. My own experiences were almost a mirror image of those I describe above but took place 20 years earlier. So I read with interest and dismay last week in the British press about the state of many school buildings that are “crumbling into disrepair” whilst money is being diverted into other projects such as the free school program. Money that is being invested into shiny new buildings or to convert brownfield sites to accommodate students, whilst existing local authorities and schools struggle to plug those leaky roofs and move students out of temporary classrooms.

I know my own experiences are only anecdotal and a building does not necessarily make an education, but it can help. It can encourage students to feel positive about their learning if the environment has some semblance of being cared for and valued, and it can allow teachers to focus on actually teaching, instead of adjusting the thermostat or their coat every few minutes.

References

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

When I was at school and university, I was asked on a number of occasions by careers guidance counsellors: “What do you want to be when you’re older?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years time?”

Whilst some of my peers were able to provide a concrete plan of their values, goals and dreams, I often found myself unable to answer. Well, provide an answer that the counsellor at the time wanted to hear.

I didn’t know.

The result of this uncertainty and confusion about my life led me to generally provide a monosyllabic response, to which I would be handed a heavy tome containing details of possible careers to review in my own time. This was before the days of internet searches for information. Even my UCAS application was in paper form.

I wasn’t trying to be impertinent with what were well-meaning counsellors, but I genuinely had no clue what I wanted to do. Even my subject choices at A-Level and for my undergraduate degree were things I didn’t give enough thought to. In hindsight, I can see that particularly for my degree, I was more concerned with what others thought was best for me or what I thought others would think was best for me, rather than considering if it would be something I would enjoy or matched what I valued at the time. Wonderful friends and the other opportunities of studying for my degree aside, I still to this day regret my degree choice.

As I got older, the pressure of having a clear plan became ever more significant. When I was nearing graduation I knew that I would need something to do, something to be aiming for. My parents, although amazing, weren’t simply going to fund me whilst I still evaluated my future.

So I turned to teaching.

I am wincing slightly as I write that, as though teaching is a safe and easy option as it most certainly isn’t! However, having family members who were teachers and growing up in an environment that placed a high level of importance on the value of education, I wondered if it could be a career option for me.

So I set myself the goal of becoming a teacher. And a year or so later, I graduated and was preparing for my first teaching position.

Of course I have made it sound terribly simplistic and I am clearly choosing to ignore and/or repress some of the challenges that I experienced on the way (like the student in one placement school who would constantly comment on my figure or the teacher who wouldn’t support me when I complained about said student for instance). I wanted to give up, many times and despite my feelings about my role and the education system now, I am glad that I persevered. I have largely loved teaching the subjects that I teach, enjoyed the camaraderie of the teaching staff and I have worked with some truly remarkable young people who I will never forget.

To that end, having received some positive feedback from the school where I interviewed a few weeks ago it made me realise that whatever happens next in my career or even in five years, whether I remain in education or not, I will always have a bucketload of experience and stories to share. 

SO I DIDN’T GET THE JOB, WHAT NEXT?

Following my last post about an unsuccessful application and subsequent interview at an international school, it got me thinking about my next steps. Well, I have to really… a job isn’t going to find me and beat me round the head until I accept after all.

And what I found myself really focusing upon was, what next? Where do I go from here? So I felt that the next logical step was to break my thinking down:

  • ASK FOR FEEDBACK

As soon as I had overcome some of the feelings of rejection, I emailed the school and asked for some feedback. I am still waiting for a response but I would like to know, and subsequently examine, their impressions of both my application and how I interviewed. Warts and all. Whether I stay in teaching or not, this information will be valuable for my own professional development in any field. In a broader sense, it also demonstrates that a candidate wasn’t necessarily just applying for a job on a whim, they genuinely want to understand the application process.

  • ASSESS MY REASONS FOR APPLYING FOR THE JOB IN THE FIRST PLACE

This was one of the first questions that I was asked in the interview, ‘Why do you want to work at this school?’ And in all honestly, I was completely thrown by it. Nerves had kicked in and my mind went blank, why did I want to work at the school? At the time, I recall rambling something about the school’s ethos but can remember little else. I was, and still am a little embarrassed by my response, it was weak. And in actual fact, I had had a week to prepare for the interview and I know that I hadn’t wasted my time. I prepped the shit out of it! I analysed the school website to see what courses were offered aside from what I was applying for, researched the school motto, and the school’s aims to gauge a ‘feeling’ of the place and tried to establish if the school was somewhere where I wanted to work.

Looking back now, I realise that although it made sense to apply for the position (as it fitted my teaching skills and experience) when it came down to it, I have realised that my heart wasn’t entirely in it. Nerves aside, the fact that I couldn’t articulate the reasons why I wanted the job hindered my interview and perhaps allowed the interviewers to see the real me. Having been on the other side of the interview process myself for the past few years, you can spot when someone is not being entirely honest with you or with themselves.

  • GET NETWORKING AND LOOK FOR OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

One of the next steps I took was to reconnect with the group I worked with when I completed the careers course late last year. It does appears a little superficial to have not made contact with the group for some months and then only to reach out when I have been unsuccessful. And perhaps that’s where I have been going ‘wrong’ in some ways, that I haven’t made more of an effort during the better times, such as getting an interview offer in the first place. I certainly found myself genuinely surprised at how long it had been since I last made contact, but what struck me was how wonderfully supportive the group are. There are a few hundred people now, all in differing stages of shifting in their careers – whether it’s moving on to something entirely different or within the same field, everyone has their own story to share. And it’s these stories that help you to keep on moving, to force yourself to put one foot after the other and not to give up with whatever the aim.

For me, it is about getting back on the saddle and moving on. I have caught myself feeling terribly weary and worrying about what the future will hold. I don’t have a crystal ball and strangely, I don’t want one. Where would the excitement be in that?!

NEXT STEPS…

There is a funny kind of irony in that my last post was about accepting rejection and I have experienced a big fat dollop of it this week.

Shortly after Christmas, I applied for a teaching position in another international school. On paper (or the website) the school looked ideal; amazing location both in terms of its place in the world (Hong Kong – where my partner is also based) and literally in terms of bricks and mortar, built into the hills of Hong Kong island overlooking the sea. The school achieves fantastic results and the building facilities looked incredible. I felt as though my application was strong and having spoken to management at my current school, who would ultimately be writing my references, they felt that I stood a good chance.

However, I did experience some serious doubts. Putting yourself through any application and interview process is scary as hell, you are pretty much laying a part of yourself bare for others to stare at and scrutinise. What has compounded matters also is that part of me has reached ‘panic stage’ in terms of my next career steps. Three years ago I was secure in the knowledge that I already had a (teaching) job lined up for the next academic year, which is where I am currently working. Three years later and another three months on… I have nothing.

So following a few tense weeks from submitting my application I was invited for a final interview with three members of the management team including the headteacher. After a shaky start where I was asked some questions related to my reasons for considering Hong Kong and the school itself (I was incredibly but understandably nervous, so I rambled), I got into my stride and felt a little more comfortable with the process. Questions ranged from how I would encourage independent and critical thinking from students, what additional activities and support could I offer to the school and also how I deal with stress. There is another funny kind of irony here when as part of the psychology course that I deliver involves teaching students about the physiological function of stress and how to combat it, yet I struggle with handling stress myself…

The interview lasted around 40 minutes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was over. So much so that with the adrenaline that was coursing through my body I had to go out for a walk to help myself calm down.

Two days passed before I heard back. Two. Long. Days.

The email was complimentary but to the point: There was a strong list of candidates… the choice wasn’t easy… but there were others who provided a closer fit…

I did become a little upset at reading it and I was disheartened at the rather generic response, but really who am I to complain? There could have been a number of candidates interviewed for a variety of positions and I am sure that the administrative team simply weren’t able to send out personalised responses to all of those who were unsuccessful.

So I guess it’s onwards and upwards… and back to the drawing board in terms of next the next steps in my career.

READY FOR INSPECTION?

For the first half of next week, it is inspection time at the school where I work. It has been six months in the making; lessons and accompanying resources are planned (for the most part), data has been analysed to death, middle management (like myself) have been ‘coached’ to understand how example questions could be asked, assemblies have been given to the entire student body to remind them of their role and responsibilities as school ambassadors, and there have been overnight appearances of new health and safety symbols, including new fire hydrants.

With the way that this week has gone, I thought that I would need to spend some or at least a portion of today doing some more bits. However, it has worked out that I am for the most part organised and there really isn’t much more I could do (without re-planning everything and that isn’t going to happen).

During the hustle of the past few months, and in particular the few short weeks since returning to work following the Christmas break, I haven’t paused for long to take a breath. But something happened yesterday afternoon that has stuck with me.

I was sat in my classroom checking through some of the finer details for some lesson materials when my immediate boss walked in, to check how I was feeling and if I was ready for the following week. I was, just about. He laughed and said that he was confident in my work and had no concerns. A relatively quick conversation ensued where he shared some of the details for the following week and I asked him how he was. Similar to me it transpired, a little anxious but he had also reached a point where he couldn’t do much more without going crazy. He left and I got back to my work, but something was different. A bubble of something, a feeling that I hadn’t experienced in some time had formed inside of me, I felt appreciated. And I took that away with me when I left for the day.

During the late 1940s, B. F. Skinner developed the work of behavioural psychologists arguing that existing models were too simplistic in explaining human behaviour. He developed what became known as operant conditioning and he believed that observable consequences can have an impact on behaviour. Simply put, some sort of positive reinforcement such as the example with my boss complimenting my work, provided me with a reward, an intrinsic one, but a reward nonetheless. The sense of appreciation that I felt motivated me and I left work with a smile on my face and I genuinely feel a little more positive about the upcoming inspection.

Skinner also believed negative reinforcement can also impact on behaviour and this works by the removal of a negative reinforcer. For example, I have a phobia of spiders, not so much the tiny money spiders, but anything remotely bigger than this. Even thinking about them now is causing me some mild anxiety… so rather than focus on this, I will get to my point! If I find myself in the presence of a spider then I do my darndest to either remove myself or more likely remove the offending spider… yep, I kill them if I have to. Now, diminishing spider populations aside as a result of my violent behaviour, the removal of the negative reinforcer (the spider) removes the unpleasant experience for me and therefore I feel better.

Finally, Skinner argued that human behaviour can be influenced by punishment. I imagine that we are all familiar with this, certainly in the context of education. If we do something bad, we may receive an admonishment from a teacher and perhaps in more ‘serious’ cases some other form of punishment, so that we are less likely to repeat the behaviour. Skinner concluded that it is possible to gradually change behaviour through a delicate balance of reward and punishment, as this amusing clip from The Big Bang Theory shows.

However, Skinner also conducted his research on non-human animals (rats and pigeons), including delivering electric shocks to encourage certain types of behaviour. Suffice to say, humans might respond a little differently under similar circumstances.

But I guess where I am going with this post is that that simple and relatively quick conversation with my superior made me feel valued. That the hard graft that I have been putting in along with my colleagues was worth it. I just wish that it didn’t take an inspection for the management to finally recognise some of this.