I’m sure (or rather, I’d hope) that many leaders and policy-makers in education have learned endless amounts during this crisis – hopefully, this learning will lead to meaningful changes in the sector. However, I – as a mere classroom teacher in a tiny school in the countryside – have also learned a lot, and it’s not until I sit down to write this that I realise just how much.
I have learned that, in teaching, relationships are not only paramount, they are arguably the most important factor in ensuring successful learning. I can research and upload as many detailed and researched worksheets and PowerPoints as I like – if there is nobody there to deliver them, they are superfluous. Even video learning and ‘live’ online teaching can’t replicate the level of student-teacher interaction that happens in the classroom: removing that aspect from the teaching process has greatly impacted the success of the learning happening at home.
I have learned that school staff can be more flexible than I ever could have imagined. We have reacted to last minute guidance change; responded appropriately to pressure from the media and parents; created a whole new system of learning online alongside still teaching mixed-age groups of children in school; and all of this whilst battling against a negative public perception of schools and teachers who are apparently sunning themselves at home whilst on full pay.
What does that mean for what we keep and what we change?
Focusing on relationships with children and building positive connections with their parents is key. It’s something we all knew before, but this crisis has certainly highlighted it for me. There is always pressure to dive straight into intense learning from the get-go in September, but I think the focus should instead be on getting to know the children; allowing them to get to know us; working out their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes; analysing dynamics in the classroom and using them to our advantage; communicating with parents not only when something goes wrong but to share positives too. In the first few weeks of term, I believe that taking time to build trust and respect between you and your class is more beneficial in the long run than being able to ‘tick off’ a few National Curriculum objectives.
Since being back at school full-time, I have enjoyed my job more than I ever have before. I miss my class incredibly, but working with smaller groups of children has allowed me to spend so much more time with each of them on a 1:1 basis. Without the shackles of the National Curriculum, I’ve felt so much more freedom within the school day: planning has felt a lot less stressful; there has been no need for formal assessments that are scrutinised; we have spent whole afternoons doing PE, or team building exercises, or building something out of miscellaneous materials, or teaching a last-minute lesson on Windrush because it’s the 72nd anniversary (much of these activities are not in the NC). We have also not been allowed to mark books due to cross-contamination, and it has never been more clear how little impact written feedback has, especially as I’ve had the time to give such detailed and immediate verbal feedback during lessons.
In light of this, I would love to do two things with the curriculum: 1. strip it back, so we teach less but teach it better (with a mixed 5/6 class, I was finding that I had to move onto a new objective almost every 2-3 days to ensure curriculum coverage whilst also plugging gaps from previous years all in time for SATs – this really isn’t conducive to mastery teaching); 2. allow more flexibility for schools to adapt it (to a certain extent) to suit the needs of their context.
What do we do next?
On a much smaller level, we can begin to identify what has worked for schools and individual teachers – such as online CPD – and how we can take it into the future. However, sector-wide change is clearly needed, in terms of evaluating the successes and weakness of the current curriculum, and perhaps the value of national assessments (such as SATs) and how the data is used.
By Sophie Bee