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We are not the problem, we are the solution

The title of this post comes from a tweet Alma Harris sent in response to Sir Michael Wilshaw's latest pronouncement on education in England. He was speaking about the difficulty we are facing in recruiting into teaching, and, when we have recruited new young teachers, how we then struggle to retain them beyond the early years of their careers. Sir Michael's view is that this is a headteacher and leadership problem in our schools. When is it not? He is of the view that schools and their leaders fail to properly support young teachers at the outset of their careers and this is why we have such serious teacher shortage problems. What astounds Alma, myself, and others I suspect, is the complete lack of any self-awareness within Mr Wilshaw, or the organisation he leads, that they too might bear a heavy responsibility for some of the difficulties we face in recruiting and retaining young teachers. He fails to recognise how every headline grabbing attack on the profession also undermines it and makes it an even less attractive proposition for young undergraduates.

But it is more than this particular issue that is upsetting. This is just another example of the attitude of many to the hardworking teachers and school leaders in our systems, where they are seen as a problem and not recognised as the solution for any particular failings in the system. No school or system is perfect. No teacher or school leader is perfect. No head of Ofsted is perfect. We can all get better at what we do, and if we do we will produce better outcomes for all of our learners. That is why we are in this profession and is what we are striving to do every day. I retain confidence in all our teachers and school leaders to make positive impacts in children's lives on a daily basis. 

Just as in a school, the culture, ethos and climate within which we operate is crucial. This needs to be open, collaborative, supportive and built on trust to achieve the best results. When staff feel browbeaten and as if nothing is ever good enough, you stifle initiative, innovation and collaboration as people begin to go through the motions and keep their heads down. The joy goes out of them and their teaching, and this has negative impacts for all learners. What is true for individual schools is also true for the system as a whole. So, as a profession if we feel we are everyone's football,  it is unlikely we are going to achieve all we can for our learners, schools and the system in which we serve. Yes we will still strive to do our individual best, but how much more could we achieve with a supportive culture, instead of what we achieve despite the prevailing blame culture in which we exist and work?

I have news for Mr Wilshaw and those who think like he does, there are not floods of recruits and prospective headteachers waiting out there to take our place once he and his like have got rid of us, or driven us out of the job we love. He recognises some of this himself, as his recent pronouncements show, but he still seems unable to join the dots.  Perhaps he could listen to Dylan Wilian when he says 'we need to love the ones we're with.' By this he means we have to work with the people we have and our commitment should be to support them to develop and grow their understanding and their practice. Governments, organisation's like Ofsted, and commentators, can all contribute to establishing this positive and nurturing culture for our teachers and our schools, instead of working towards destroying it. Perhaps they could learn more from countries like Finland, than just slavishly copying activities found there, if they paid more attention to the prevailing cultures there. In Finland teachers are held in high esteem by all in society, teaching is recognised as a high skilled profession, teachers and schools are trusted and supported to achieve their best, inspection is not an issue and high levels of accountability are not drivers for the system. Politicians and system leaders see their role as to support the schools and their leaders.

So, Mr Wilshaw, politicians of all persuasion and all you media commentators out there, I would like to appeal to you to try to change your mindsets so that you recognise the greatness and the potential that lies within all our schools and our classrooms. Support and work with us to unleash that latent potential for the benefit of all our learners. I am not just talking about resources and money I would like you to support us by what you say, just as much as by what you do. We all have the same aims, but it is only those of us directly working in schools who can deliver these. You can support us to get better and develop or you can get out of the way and let us get on with what we are trying to do. Just as we know that learners can achieve more through the engagement and support of their parents, so it is with us. We could achieve so much more with the right support and encouragement. Just as a parent or teacher can't force their children and learners to put in the extra effort and work necessary through threats and punishment, so it is with professional, thoughtful teachers and school leaders. Either you support us or you need to get out of the way and let us get on with what we are trying to do. You decide. While you are making up your mind we will keep on delivering and trying to get better.


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