The School Checklist

One of the intentions I came to London with was to use this opportunity to interrogate my values. I was expecting working here to be different and to challenge my assumptions. This post is composed to investigate and interrogate the aspects that are emerging as most meaningful for me when I look at a new school. This could be read as both a checklist for considering a new school, or it could be a checklist for potential change.

1. A Clear and Integrated Vision

A school’s vision is a fundamental. It is the first thing I click on a school website, and I actively look for ways that that vision is threaded through every other part of the school’s online presence. I’ve been part of a team that developed a shared school vision and I’m proud of how it was implemented and began the process of a culture change. The vision must be unique to the community that it serves. It must be present in the language of the leadership team, the staff and the students. I must be accessible to all layers of the school community and should underpin everything a school does.

2. A Teaching Community

I really miss New Zealand. There would be very few schools where teachers are anonymous. Staff will always acknowledge each other in the corridor and probably exchange pleasantries. People know your name, and use it instead of the impersonal “sir” and “miss” even when no students are around. Communication occurs in all directions and the doors in offices are generally open. Problems are solved together, in person, rather than disappearing by passing up. There is a shared understanding that the vision cannot be realised without collaboration.

3. Pedagogy is not fixed

Pedagogy is ever evolving. Some core truths hold firm, but I don’t believe we can ever rest on the myth of a “model lesson”. Derek Wenmoth said in a uLearn breakout session; “If you think you are doing something right, ask someone else”. There should be a space to debate pedagogy, introduce new ideas, explore new thinking. Teacher ‘experts’ should be avoided so as not to promote the myth of a pedagogy hierarchy. I’ve learnt so much from the student teachers I’ve watched teach. Behaviour management should be part of the conversation, but not dominate it. It should be led by concepts like student agency, cultural-responsiveness, inclusion, life-long learning, and – most of all – the school’s vision for learning.

4. The Arts & Creativity Are Valued

Media, film, and drama are integral components of the curriculum and should not be relegated into second tier or vocational streamed subjects. That is not to say they cannot be taught with a vocational focus, but they must be valued by the school as valid and significant parts of the curriculum. This could be indicated by the spaces, the resourcing, the placement in the timetable, the presence in the corridors, the numbers of students and the expectations for results. I absolutely believe that the arts should have an integral role in any person’s education.

5. Personalised Learning

A holistic curriculum framework is a flawed concept. It must exist, but so must an awareness of its limitations. As education increasingly pays attention to the outsiders who aren’t served by the curriculum, the more this is being understood. I believe that learning should be understood as a personalised concept. This is something that holistically encompasses curriculum and pastoral care. Every child presents different needs and it is important to me that the school is demonstrating the value of individuality from the front, and not just dealing with those that don’t fit on the industrial education conveyor belt in a withdrawal space.

6. The Staffroom

I’ve come to appreciate how significant a staffroom is to the culture of a school. An empty staffroom at lunch can say something about staff morale. A staffroom where teachers group to unleash complaints that they habitually repeat almost daily is another clear sign. A staffroom should be a safe space to speak to colleagues and break from the grind of the school day. It needs to be separate from a workplace, and a space for constructive conversations. A staffroom can represent how the school supports staff and approaches well-being.

7. Student Behaviour

This is the hardest one to write because I think it’s the biggest shift to my values. I don’t think I have the resilience or the patience to get the best outcomes for all students. I have learnt so much this year about myself and how I respond to challenging students with almost constant behaviour defiance and zero motivation towards learning. Much of this relies on consistency and perseverance. But I’ve really struggled to have the right mindset everyday. When it goes wrong and I go home at the end of the day I’ve struggled to shrug it off. I so admire teachers that have the skills to do this, and to do it everyday. Those teachers are who these students need.

8. An Inclusive Environment

I identify as a gay man, and in any school I will teach queer students. It’s important to me that I teach in inclusive environments that welcome all gender and sexuality minorities. An inclusive environment is more than a poster on the wall; it is evident in every aspect of the school. Staff and students must be able to express themselves, their beliefs and their values in a safe way. I am still passionate about triggering change and developing inclusion; however, I have no intention of starting in a school that isn’t open to being challenged on inclusion and prepared to do things differently.

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