Now that it is October you have likely started getting emails from every man and his dog about booking events, excursions and professional learning sessions for 2021. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of a proposed visit from Marvin the Martian (clearly not his real name) who will take your students on an amazing journey of discovery through the solar system. The thing is that Marvin may well have an entertaining ‘experience’ for your students, but does saying yes to this get you and your school closer to your goals?
Schools are busy places. They just are. There is not such thing as a ‘quiet term’. When we say ‘yes’ to Marvin and other events we are saying ‘no’ to something else. Very often the thing we say ‘no’ to is maintaining our learning routines (and all teachers know that the day of an ‘incursion’ is usually a write off, especially for younger children). We say no to time spent on rehearsal and retrieval. We say no to supporting the cognitive load of our students and teachers. We say no to predictability and order.
Now I am not advocating for never saying yes, but I am asking that before you book anything in for 2021 you ask yourself the question, “How does saying yes to this support our school and student outcomes?” If the answer is, ‘It doesn’t really but it would be a fun thing for the children’, you may need to rethink your priorities. Many of these decisions will depend on context. When I was a Teaching Principal in very remote school a visit from ANYONE was welcome. So when the chance to book a visiting author and illustrator came up, it was a big yes from me. However, I insisted that this was a workshop where children were actively involved rather than a ‘show’ or a ‘talk’. I also made sure that this visit was an opportunity to build on in terms of our learning program.
The same applies for health-related programs and the request for ‘an hour of the staff’s time’. While I support children learning about oral health, a random chat with a travelling ‘educator’ followed by colouring in does not rank very highly when I ask what value the activity has in improving student outcomes. The request to present at the staff meeting or professional learning session is also going to be denied. Our teachers and assistants have far more targeted things to focus on, such as learning how to support student cognitive load to maximise reading growth and building vocabulary across the curriculum.
As a school leader, if you want your teachers and assistants to implement a change agenda, one of the ways you can support them is by keeping ‘random’ off the agenda. Make it clear that your school is committed to the kind of change that will improve student outcomes for the rest of their lives and then back that up by saying, ‘no’.
Change is hard and takes an enormous amount of mental and physical energy. Continuous school improvement is hard. It requires a singular focus on what is most important. Personal and professional development is hard. Teaching and operating in a way that is not yet automatic or embedded is effortful. When we place distractions in a school’s path, no matter how well intentioned this is, we make it harder for good people to do what is already a hard job.
So please, when you think about 2021, ONLY say yes to things that are important and will move your school a step closer to achieving your goals.
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