Why Can’t My School Just Trust Us to Do Our Job?

Author: Barnaby Grimble

Category Teacher Toolkit, Student Data

Micromanagement is the bane of teachers up and down the country. A recent article by The Secret Teacher hit the nail on the head, saying that as a result teachers feel “robbed of any autonomy” and that it “chips away at a teacher’s self-esteem, confidence and expertise”.

As a teacher, you know what approach to teaching suits you and your students best. You know how to get the best results. You just want to take a risk sometimes, and try something creative to bring a new spark to your classroom. But this is hard to do if you feel like your school isn’t trusting you to do a vocation you’re committed to. So, how do you change the dynamic?

The Secret Teacher called for more trust, ending their article with: “Isn’t it time school leaders put experienced, effective teachers back in the driving seat?” In my experience, asking for trust isn’t enough; the onus is on you as the teachers and middle leaders to prove to senior leaders you can be trusted. So, how can you go about doing this?

When I was a middle leader, it wasn’t just about trust in me as a teacher, but also ensuring that I was getting the best from the teachers in my teams. I felt at my strongest as a leader when teachers in my team were able to be free of narrowing, unnecessary constraints demanded from whole school strategies. To give more flexibility within the department I needed the trust of the leadership team, but that trust wasn’t given automatically. I couldn’t wait until I had several years of good results, especially as our leadership team and line managers changed every year. This would also be the case if I’d moved to a new school. Yet I still had to make sure that trust was built on evidence.

How I built trust as a teacher

Having good data is not essential to building trust, but knowing where you’re at, and how you are going to improve is. To help get the pressure off my back I always made sure I had analysed my department’s data at each Assessment Point to know exactly where we were at. I would have at my fingertips the whole cohort percentages, how it compared to the same point in the previous year, and which classes needed the most focus. I would cross-reference this to the lesson observations, learning walks, and book looks to see if there were specific reasons why some classes and / or groups of students were outperforming others, and why some were underperforming. This way when I went into our RAP (Raising Achievement Plan) meetings, I would know better than anyone else around the table about what our next steps should be and what we wanted to achieve. It handed me back a measure of control; I could highlight the positives and give them good news to pass up the chain or to visitors. By doing this, my line managers felt confident that they could prioritise their time to support other departments that weren’t so confident.

Every term, one of our faculty meetings would have time dedicated to identifying the three or four key underachieving students in each class. We would challenge ourselves to give them a little more attention. We’d note down the students and a short sentence of actions for that student. The rest of the faculty meeting would be used to make phone calls to those parents and give a little update and a positive message. The teachers would then make sure the identified students were given extra support in lessons and personally reminded of revision sessions or extra support available. Each term we would return to the lists, review the progress, and choose our new focus four. But none of this could be done without reliable and clear data.

I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t take me a lot of time to do the analysis, but I didn’t mind as I’ve always loved to play around with numbers. I also had two crucial rules with data and assessment: firstly, only spend the time if the resulting data was going to be used by teachers in the classroom and had a direct impact on the students and secondly, it had to be done as soon after the assessment as possible. By the time the school level analysis was ready, our department was already acting on the data. We could show what teachers were doing with the students underachieving the most. As a result, our line managers gave us more trust and flexibility to do what we felt was best with less micromanagement. The trouble with doing the data analysis is that it took what teachers and leaders never have enough of: time.

Helping my fellow teachers now

In developing Pupil Progress, a key driver for us is to help teachers across the country free themselves and their teams from micromanagement. By designing an exam-board specific assessment platform that instantly analyses teacher’s assessment data, we knew we could help give them time back. Time to focus on what they need most, whether that’s planning, or just having a chance to get home that little bit earlier to feel fresh and relaxed for the next day.

By providing an analysis platform to present the evidence needed to show line managers, we are able to help teachers and middle leaders prove that they have their finger on the pulse. This puts control back in the hands of teachers, as they show that they can be trusted. Trusted to identify the areas for improvement, trusted to come up with actions that suit their department, and trusted to be the teachers and leaders they want to be. And maybe, just maybe, we can help free some of those teachers from the micromanagement that throttles the freedom of creativity and enjoyment of a wonderful vocation.