As we approach the final stretch of 2021/22, there is time to look at and reflect on the year to this point, but also time to look at what can still be achieved in the remainder of the academic year. We will all be doing this over the next few weeks: whether a senior leader, middle leader, teacher or student, this is a vital time in the year when last alterations (and a last push for many students) can be made to make sure the year ends successfully.
This is never truer than for student teachers, who have completed a significant portion of training, but still have time left to refine and develop to finish the year as positively as possible.
Recently, I was asked to give an address to a group of trainee teachers and give them some advice that I felt would serve them well. This made me reflect on the challenges and successes I have experienced since qualifying, and some of the lessons I have learned. Initially, I found this to be a difficult experience: distilling years of experience into 3-5 simple points (without wanting to miss out any of the nuggets I’d had passed on by the leaders and managers I’ve been lucky enough to work with) is not easy.
…but here goes.
1. Find your people
Whether networking, finding a supportive group or identifying colleagues and peers who can help you to develop, finding the ‘right’ people is as vital in teaching as it is in any other profession. At times, also, identifying those who you don’t align with is also as important. Knowing who will help you to thrive, and finding positive influences (in colleagues, peers and leadership), will help you throughout your career. You’ll find these people in staffrooms, in other colleges and in the range of training you’ll complete. Speaking of which…
2. CPD is the key to everything
CPD is absolutely vital, no matter which stage of your career you find yourself at. Whether just starting out as an ECT (NQT) or RQT, or 30 years in, CPD will always play a pivotal role in helping to shape and develop your effectiveness, curiosity and motivation as a teacher. It’s also important to remember that CPD comes in all shapes in sizes: a qualification or training programme; a book or relevant literature; a webinar or blog; a chat with a colleague or even a relevant article in a newspaper. CPD is anything which supports your development.
3. Be accountable for inputs and outcomes will take care of themselves
Too often it can be the case that outcomes, achievement, progress and success rates are the main priority and focus within education. Though, undoubtedly, these are key to supporting student success, it’s also important to remember that we don’t have as much control over these outcomes as we’d like. As any teacher and leader will tell you, there is no guarantee of success. To give students the best possible opportunities to achieve and thrive, it’s important to make sure that teacher inputs are supported. This can be giving high-quality feedback; offering intervention and additional tutoring; effective differentiation or any number of factors which will support students. In essence, make sure you ‘control the controllables’.
4. Try your best and do what you’re asked to do
At times, you may feel as though you are being asked to complete the impossible. There will be challenges, and mountains to be climbed, but always remember that all you can do is your best and try and do the things that you’ve been asked to do. If you’re doing these things, all that remains is to engage in meaningful CPD to make sure your best continues to get better. From a leadership and management perspective, good leaders will only ever ask this of you and will appreciate your dedication to delivering it.
5. Be yourself
There is always a temptation to mimic the teachers we look up to (whether from our own time in schools, colleges or university), but being yourself is the key to being a good teacher. One of the intangible elements of being a good teacher is authenticity, and this can’t be achieved by pretending to be someone else. For a start, students will see straight through this, and it will be difficult to build trust and solid relationships with students, never mind the fact that teachers need to find their own style and personality within a classroom without the distraction of trying to be someone else.
With so many avenues for coaching, mentoring and CPD, it can be tough to remember that ‘keeping it simple’ can be as effective as anything else we do. Hopefully, simple advice such as the above can act as a reminder that it’s sometimes it’s just as important to stop and reflect on the simple advice we are given.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.