Yesterday, I attended a conference and the brilliant Geoff Barton was there talking. In his talk, he mentioned about this incessant wave of invention obsession that seems to be spilling into our schools. He described it as being ‘men in pinstriped suits taking students out of lessons to discuss with them how to improve in lessons’. I have to say: I wore a pinstriped suit to that conference. Aside from the pinstriped suit comment, I think he is right. We have an obsession on meetings. We meet for this. We meet for that. We identify students for intervention in a meeting. We discuss the issues with the student in a meeting. We track the progress of the student in a meeting. We review the progress in another meeting. For good luck, we invite parents to a meeting to discuss those meetings.
As I progress in schools, I have noticed the amount of meetings have increased. In the first few years of teaching, I only had one meeting a term and that was generally to see how things were going. Now, I have meeting after meeting. With great power comes lots of meetings. I do sympathise with headteachers. The amount of meetings they must have to deal with daily puts them closer to sainthood.
Of course, meetings are about communicating information. They can be very important, but they can also be very futile. A simple answer to the question what. Or, the solving of a problem. Mostly they simply focus on a lot of whats.
What is the problem in the subject?
What is it you need to do to improve?
What are you going to do?
Those questions can be applied to both a general meeting in education and to a meeting with a student for intervention. Or, the questions are asked of the teacher - wrongly in most cases.
What if we spent more time on acting on things rather than discussing things? This was something Geoff alluded to. Acting rather than meeting. He has a very good point. My frustration with a lot of interventions is that they focus too much on the teacher. What has the teacher got to do to for intervention? I don’t mean to sound silly but isn’t the word teaching just another way of saying constant intervention? Yes, I think there should be a dialogue about what we can do to help improve a student, but the emphasis of intervention tends to focus heavily on how the teacher should modify their behaviour. The modifying of a student’s behaviour almost seems an afterthought.
I understand that a student’s needs are very complex and there are lots of variables to explore, consider and ponder. However, I worry that teachers are working harder for students who are working the same they did before any intervention.
So what am I doing? For each year group I have identified several students to track. Instead of meeting them I am going to do some work. I am going to request the student’s exercise book. I am going to see what story it tells me. I have faith in the teachers in my department; I know that they will have interventions in place. I will analyse the student’s work. As HOD, I want to see what the story is from the exercise books and assessment. Then, I am going to write a comment, describing my observations and what I expect the student to do. I will also put a sticker saying: 'Big Brother is watching you!'. Maybe not that, but something along the same lines. At the end of the term, I will request the books again and I will expect to see changes. There might be a need to meet, but that will be up to me and I will not do it for every student. A meeting is good to tell a student that we care or that we have noticed they are not pulling their weight. But, my starting and ending point will be the work they produce in their exercise books. I will be expecting to see them acting on my direction. I have intervened in a quiet and subtle way, but it is to be hoped that it is more effective than the loud and, clearly, visual for SLT approach of a meeting.
Plus, I will not be taking any students out of lessons.
I now have to organise a meeting to discuss the meeting about what to do with my pinstriped suit.
Thanks for reading,