Sunday, 25 June 2017

September INSET: What are we supposed to do when….?

The world is full of ideas and thoughts. We try to coexist in a society of differing ideas. Twitter is a sea of different thoughts and ideas. Some we like. Some we don’t like. For me, it is how you deal with new ideas that shows me your character and personality.

Generally, people don’t like to change. That’s why we have the same breakfast every day and park in the same place at work regularly. We feel safe with patterns of behaviour and repetition. That’s why people love a system in schools. This is what I should do in this situation. Repeat.

The more I work in schools, the more I feel that the success of any teacher, school and department is not random greatness, but systematic routines and refined processes. That’s why I am watching one school with interest. What if the systems in a school were so explicit and refined that there is no deviation from norm? In developing my department, we have looked at developing and refining existing systems. Made some explicit. Made some more streamlined. Made some disappear. The role of a team is to look, revise, change and amend the systems. What is the system for spelling? What is the system for promoting reading?

So when do most schools decide to make those changes in school? The first day back. Yep, across the land there are people deciding on the new initiatives and systems ready for introduction in September. There are new marking systems and codes being typed up. There are posters on the new behaviour policy being printed. In fact, Term 6 is the pinnacle of new initiatives. They are being primed for that INSET day in September. September is the time, for most, to ram the new idea down teacher’s throats.

Personally, September is possibly the worst time to introduce new things – well, apart from new staff and new students. September is the time when teachers are adjusting to the fact they have to work. They have to recall the systems they used last year. You add new ideas and new staff in the mix and you have a conflict of ideas. A conflict of old and new. What September usually ends up being is a confusing situation. Established staff adapt to flip between new systems and old systems. The new staff struggle to define what they should do because the systems are in flux.

You can’t suddenly switch to a new idea. You need to grow it in people’s minds. Prepare people mentally and physically for change. People will accept changes, but they need time to adjust to it. We owe it to our staff to be understanding of how people deal with change. Of course, people will reject ideas if you just switch things quickly. Of course, people will struggle to change when instantly they are expected to ditch one system for a new sparkly system.

Why do teachers see the profession are stressful? Could it be that the changes are made without a thought for the impact on the way teachers think? The recent GCSE in English and Maths highlighted that fact. We didn’t have appropriate time to adjust to the changes. The specs were completed and then then next month we were teaching the course.

Ideas need to grow in a person’s mind. The teacher needs time to adjust and explore the idea. Then the person is ready to follow that idea later.  We did just that this week. We introduced an idea this term in preparation for September. Then, we will just remind people of the idea.

We need to work hard at making teaching less stressful and demanding. Understand that the flow of new ideas in schools can be a huge source of stress.

I love Twitter, but I understand it come be stressful. There are tonnes and tonnes of new ideas out there. It can be a little bit overwhelming. That’s why some people are driven away by it. That is also why people get so angry on here; they feel the need to shout about their idea to be heard. It is also the reason why people can be so unpleasant sometimes; it is because they fear their idea will not be heard.

Twitter is a symposium of ideas. Ideas should be explored, discussed and then a person can make a judgement. Like the structure of a sonnet, there’s an idea and then an alternative view of the point and then one last issue to think about. Idea – but – however. But, more importantly, people need time to adjust to an idea.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Hi Xris!
    I´ve read your last posts with great interest and would now like to ask you another question.
    I agree that consistency and system are important in school as well as in your everyday life and also that you need enough time to adapt to new ideas. You say that "the success of any teacher, school and department is not random greatness, but systematic routines and refined processes."
    But don´t you think there might be the risk of students/teachers getting bored very easily while working? Or is routine the "recipe" for good learning and teaching?
    I´m really interested in your opinion, especially since my seminar at university is about good learning and learning strategies - for english teaching in particular.
    Looking forward to your response!

  2. Dear Xris!
    I´d really appreciate an answer since I´m having my final presentation next week. It would be great if you could take a few minutes to reply, because your blog´s subjects are exactly what we´re discussing in my seminar.

  3. Thanks for the comment. I think there is a misconception that teaching in a systematic way is boring. We crave systems and predictability. Moving house is cited as one of the most stressful things. Why? Because you are changing every possible routine in one go.

    A balance between autonomy and freedom is important for me. Autonomy makes the job easier and the freedom allows you to experiment and explore.

    Plus, let's not sugar coat things - learning and work isn't fun and easy. It is hard and often boring, but it is necessary. Enjoyment of learning has warped people's understanding of teaching. For several years, we have had teaching pushed down the Blue Peter presenter model. Fast paced and colourful.

    The individual, like in society, has become more important than the purpose of things. We teach. Their enjoyment is not a factor in the judgement of success. It is in the proof of the pudding.

    Good luck with the seminar.

    1. Thank you so much for your answer! It gives me a new perspective on the subject.
      Have a good summer!


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