Getting out of the classroom to attend network and support meetings is invaluable, but how do you make it fit with your workload and budget? One Director of English shares her very novel solution to the problem.
If I tell you that I once taught a class of 250 students I hope you’ll read on to find out why.
I was a busy and determined Head of Faculty with a limited budget for training and our school, Okehampton College in rural Devon, had a limited amount of money for cover costs. So I was really excited when we found some free hub events, and they were local too. But one problem remained – getting cover for the classes. Even if we’d had the budget, where do you find 10 cover teachers in rural Devon? I wanted my whole team to attend, but how?
I’ll share one important lesson I’ve learnt in education and leadership: there is always a way. Always.
So... my solution? I chose to follow the leadership of my CEO Daryll Chapman, who always thought about how to achieve a goal rather than thinking of the obstacles. I considered the issue creatively and essentially ‘took one for the team.’
I decided to teach all 250 students in our school theatre.
I’ll admit that, as I looked out at the sea of faces before me, I did think ‘what am I doing?! But the students generally responded really well. Some did struggle to thoroughly engage in response to a lecture style presentation – but we dealt with this. I focused upon teaching shaped writing, which definitely has a huge impact on GCSE outcomes. The strategies I taught students were then seen in lessons by teachers and the students commented positively on them too.
So the class of 250 pupils benefitted. However, so did the department.
While I was in the school theatre with all their students, the staff were meeting new teachers from across Devon, sharing their experiences and struggles and providing guidance and support to each other. They came back with great resources and some excellent insight about how pupils could respond to the task of planning a deliberate and considered piece of work. They’d been able to network and see a wider view. It worked so well that we did the same again the next term. While I was teaching 250 pupils how to explore ideas in essays, my department attended hub events.
I’m now coordinating the AQA hubs for my Multi Academy Trust at West Exe School in Exeter as part of my new role as Director of English and I intend to attend every one. Why? It’s always about learning. I learn something new at every event and it gives me great insight into what the exam board is thinking and how they see the specifications.
Our local Hub Adviser is incredibly experienced and passionate about English education. As a result of the last hub meeting focusing upon cultural capital and context, I have set up a cultural capital hub event so we can write schemes of work together…an organic aspect of the hub.
A business leader, Mark Miller, advises that this mind of set of ‘always finding a way’ is taught in highly successful businesses as it allows leaders to see challenge and obstructions as mere obstacles to overcome through creativity and outcome orientated thinking, saying “if you believe there’s no other way to accomplish your objective, you’ll never find one.”
If you’re a new Head of Department or Head of Faculty, I’d really encourage you to consider where you can build this creativity and outcome orientated belief into your strategic thinking.
So, next time you think, “that can’t be done”, perhaps consider instead how it could be done.
Vicky Thornton is Director of English at the Ted Wragg Multi Academy Trust, AQA Hub co-ordinator and Dartmoor Teaching School Alliance English Network Lead. Hear Vicky’s full story about teaching the class of 250.