Saturday, 27 February 2016

We need to talk about: Culture - Part 2

This is the second part of a double post on culture. The focus of this post is on how schools can create a positive culture to improve staff well being and student outcomes. 

Why culture? Culture matters because it exists in every school, whether it is consciously acknowledged or not. (Bulach, Lunenberg and Potter, 2008) Culture is essential to great schools, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: "that which is essential is invisible to the eye". There is no better way of capturing the importance of school culture.

To pick up from my previous post, found here, the starting point for the promotion and realisation of culture is through the development and sharing of a vision. Jerald (2006) argues that culture is created by vision. The logic follows that vision determines actions determines culture.

There is huge abundance of literature that cites the impacts of a positive culture. It has been shown a strong school culture can a) influence the motivation to learn (Eccles et al., 1993) and b) reduce the impacts of socioeconomic background on educational success (Astor, Benbenisty and Estrada, 2009). Furthermore, studies have shown the impact of a positive school culture extends beyond academic outcomes and enhances students well-being. (Haahr, Nielsen, Hansen, & Jakobsen, 2005; OECD, 2009)

The real challenge when it comes to culture is the question of how to make it positive and sustain it. What follows is a brief overview of my thoughts on the means to creating a great school culture:

1. Secure buy in to the vision

The previous post discussed the importance of creating and sharing a vision. To create an effective culture, all levels of the school community should feel a part of this culture and should feel ownership of this. 
To ensure this - the vision should be promoted and shared. Everyone should be singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were. 
The way in which this buy-in is secured varies, institutions can actively seek the views of members or it can be secured by allowing colleagues to inform their practice with the vision. The key to this, whichever approach is taken, is clarity. Your vision must be understood and shared by all stakeholders - students, teachers, parents. If you have buy in, it reduces conflict and upset and allows the real focus to be about the business of educating young people.
The best way to secure buy in? Sweat the small stuff - Be humble and follow your own expectations. Model the behaviors you would expect to see, a lot is learnt from actions.

2. Ensure shared understandings

Building on point 1, an effective culture must have shared norms. A shared set of languages and routines adopted across the institution. All teachers should be clear on expectations of student behavior, and enforce the same consequence in defiance of these expectations. Only by reinforcing expectations constantly and cleary can buy in be secured. By removing inconsistency and indecision, it frees teachers, and students, to fulfill their role fully - teaching and learning, without fear or misunderstanding. 
A shared understanding of quality cannot be ignored. The external measures by which schools are held to account, most notably student results and Ofsted reports, are an indicator of a schools quality. If teachers and leaders do not share the same vision of quality (from a teaching and learning perspective) you can be almost certain there will be an unbalance in the aforementioned external measures. Only through a shared definition of quality can we ensure that students are always receiving a high quality learning experience and that all teachers are able to develop and reflect on their practice.

3. Develop tolerance and acceptance

Great school cultures are those in which difference is accepted and celebrated. Schools are often so multicultural and diverse that we take this as a given and do nothing to encourage students to actively engage with this. We need to be brave in challenging difficult views and instead expose our students to as many different cultural experiences as possible - it is our duty as educators to create the safe spaces in which students examine, question, affirm and integrate cultural difference into their wider world view.

The development of a positive culture that can allow staff to feel valued and deliver their best work is a challenge, especially in the seemingly ever-changing English education system, but it is a challenge to meet head on. 

The best, and happiest, institutions are those with great cultures. They are defined by their willingness to face down challenge and use it to inform their work - staff and students are valued and empowered. As the expressions goes: "None of us is smarter than all of us." Collaboration and shared understandings are at the heart of great cultures.


-       Astor, R. A., Benbenisty, R., & Estrada, J. N. (2009). School violence and theoretically atypical schools: The principal’s centrality in orchestrating safe schools. American Educational Research Journal, 46, 423–461
-       Bulach, C., Lunenburg, F. C., & Potter, L. (2008). Creating a culture for high-performing schools: A comprehensive approach to school reform. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
-       Eccles, J. S., Wigfield, A., Midgley, C., Reuman, D., MacIver, D., & Feldlaufer, H. (1993). Negative effects of traditional middle schools on students’ motivation. Elementary School Journal, 93, 553–574
-       Haahr, J. H., Nielsen, T. K., Hansen, M. E., & Jakobsen, S. T. (2005). Explaining student performance. Evidence from the international PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS surveys.
-       Jerald, C.D. (December, 2006). Issue Brief. School Culture: "The Hidden Curriculum." Washington, DC: The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. 

-       OECD. (2009). Creating effective teaching and learning environment: First results of Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

Monday, 22 February 2016

We need to talk about: Culture - Part 1

This is the first part of a double blog post on culture - the second intends to consider how we can create positive cultures in school.

Having browsed through various educational news articles over the past few weeks, I am struck by the number of stories detailing the teacher numbers crisis we currently face, illustrated most recently (and most significantly) in the NAO Report on teaching recruitment. It is important to note, however, it's not just about recruitment - it's about retention too!

These news stories always get me wondering, just why are teachers leaving (or just plain not joining) the profession in such numbers? I see this attributed to large scale structural issues of workload and Ofsted pressure, and believe me, I sympathize with these issues. However, I feel that many of these issues can be countered at the school level.

School cultures are like icebergs - lots beneath the surface!
Photo: Icebergs by Angsar Walk 

So, what's the cause?

I believe, for many teachers, what it comes down to is the culture of their school. I believe culture has a huge say in how teachers feel about their role and the work they are doing. It is easy to read an article about the increasing disillusionment of the teaching profession and use this as a prism through which to analyse on'es own experiences and reach the same conclusions the author discusses: workload, Oftsed, new accountability measures, Performance Related Pay. 

Whilst I appreciate these are very real concerns, I think the real issue is right in front of us: look to what's happening in your own school.

I accept that what happens in your school may well be a magnification of these national issues, but be critical, what is it, in your own school, that you really dislike? However you choose to answer this question (let me know!), I believe, that issue comes back to the culture of the school in which you work.

What is school culture? 

"School culture is the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the 'persona' of the school." (Peterson, 2002) At its heart, school culture deals with the things that happen in our schools everyday. Culture is that intangible 'thing' you feel when you walk into a school or a classroom. It is that 'thing' which tells you whether you are going into a school where staff and students are happy, or not so happy...

We are regularly reminded of our duty as educators to create a culture of high expectations for our students. A culture where success is normalized and celebrated, where the achievements of our students are shared, where every student can succeed and barriers to learning are removed. 

I am fortunate to have worked with some amazing practitioners, and am fortunate to work with some amazing practitioners now.. The kind of practitioners where this culture is the norm. These practices are happening in classrooms everyday.


What I see much less often, is the implementation of this culture school-wide. For many teachers, schools have started to become a repressive environment underpinned by aggressive government rhetoric, individualism, hostility and fear. This dangerous neglect of culture, by school leaders and government alike, is, I believe, a major contributory factor to the disillusionment currently felt by many teachers.

I'm sure many teachers are feeling deeply unhappy with their work because the school culture is one where they are not feeling valued and supported. When these basic support mechanisms go out the window, teachers start to resent the more time consuming elements of the job.

A negative school culture infiltrates every element of the work educators do - it impacts on student behaviour, attendance, the attitude of students to learning, the motivation of staff, the outcomes of our students - so we need to be aware both of culture and how we can change it. 

It's all about vision

I see lots of school talk about 'their values'. These are often a selection of inspirational words amalgamated to form a vision. 

Resilience. Collaboration. Achieve. Believe. Succeed. Responsibility. Tolerance. Honesty. Integrity. Fairness. Learning.

(A quick search for school values enlightened me with some of the gems above.) Such words are lovely and look great on the side of the school building but, if the moment you step into the classroom, they are forgotten, then what's the point? The most successful schools, the ones with the most successful and positive cultures, are those where these values are understood and articulated by every member of the school. The most effective way of delivering and embedding these values is to have a vision. 

I have been encouraged, since my earliest days in the classroom, to have a vision. To have something which I am striving to achieve. The key with a vision is thinking about how you get there, what is the route to success. It is here that many fall down, if we are unable to clearly articulate what success looks like for our vision, we cannot expect people to buy into it.

Let's study an example: Headteacher X has said that her vision for her school is:

"To be outstanding in every category of an Ofsted judgement within 5 years."

Certainly an ambitious vision. My immediate question would be: How? How will you achieve this? What are the steps to success here?

This is what differentiates great school cultures from bad ones. I don't doubt all schools have a headteacher, SLT, board of governors and body of staff who want success for their students. I do, however, have doubts about how many can get there. Have a vision, absolutely have a vision, BUT make sure you know what success looks like and how you can get there.

Take Headteacher X - to achieve her vision, she must empower her staff, and students to succeed. This comes down to getting the basics right. Establishing and maintaining routines at every level of the school. It comes down to having high expectations and not reneging on these. It comes down to great professional development, where staff feel listened to and valued. It comes down to supporting middle leaders to great cultures in their departments and supporting individual teachers to teach. 

We talk about removing the barriers for learning for our students, great school cultures are those where the barriers to outstanding teaching are removed. That, at the end of the day, is what we are employed to do!


- Peterson, K. (2002) Positive or negative?, Journal of Staff Development, vol.23, no.3. pp.10-15.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

We need to talk about: Getting back to basics (What I've learnt so far)

I'm in my third year of teaching (getting on as a veteran now?!) and I feel like my general teaching practice is improving. During discussions with an NQT at my current school, I realised how far I'd come since day 1, September 2013. It was during this discussion that my colleague uttered the words: "Does it ever get easier?" a common question from those new into the profession.

The truth? It does get easier, of course. We become more streamlined at planning/marking/assessing/analysing/inputting/phoning/chastising/praising/teaching. However, whilst these basic elements tend to get easier, there can be a tendency to over complicate. I am writing this post, inspired by a recent observation in which the feedback could be summarised as: 

"Nice idea, but at times you were more confused than the students."

Put simply, I'd tried to do too much in too little time. It has taken me awhile to learn, but great teaching happens over time and not in isolated, hour long blocks. It's about going back to basics and sorting out the little things. 

This observation has prompted me to reflect on just what great teaching and learning is - I encounter it every day, but what are the common features that make it great? 

This list is by no means exhaustive and I thoroughly intend to add to, and republish, this blog post as I go on, but for now 4 key things to great teaching and learning:

1. Plan your instruction

Wait, hear me out here! At its most basic level, teaching is about facilitating the process of gaining and using knowledge. As teachers, we have found thousands of ways to deliver on this. However, one common feature to all those thousands of ways of delivering is instruction

At some point, you will need to instruct your learners what to do and how this will support their learning. This sounds devilishly simple, but can be (and often is) fiendishly hard. By planning what you want to say (in as few words as possible!) your students will be crystal clear on your expectations and their outcomes. This leads onto number 2...

2. Be clear on what you want to see

I learnt this through countless conversations with a great friend and colleague of mine who I trained with and, simply, when you are planning a lesson, the first thing to think about is: What do I want my students to know/be able to do at the end of the lesson? This sounds painfully simple, but I am guilty of neglecting this too often. The rationale is simple, by planning what students should be able to do at the end of the lesson (multiple outcomes are fine, differentiation in action!) the rest of the lesson builds to fit those outcomes. For example, if I am teaching plate tectonics and I want my students to be able to:

- Identify and label layers of the Earth
- Describe how tectonic plates move
- Describe the different movements of the Earth's plates

Everything I do must be geared towards two things: 

- Firstly, delivering knowledge - I need to give my students the specific factual understanding to complete the above (the way in which this knowledge is delivered can vary, but students must get knowledge).

- Secondly, practice (or opportunities to demonstrate) - I must plan activities where my students directly apply the knowledge they have been given (e.g. an unlabeled diagram of the Earth's structure or a series of questions to probe student understanding). A point on this, great teaching and learning ensures knowledge is applied in different contexts so students don't learn an idea and associate it with one task - a variety of tasks ensures deep learning.

3. High expectations

Now, I'm not the biggest fan of Michael Wilshaw, but I think there's a lot to be said for the following:

"I believe that poverty of expectations bears harder on educational achievement than material poverty." (Oftsed, 2013, p5)

We owe every student we teach to two things:

- The belief they can achieve.
- Never accepting work that is not done to the best of their ability.

If we renege on these two simple things we are, tacitly, telling our students that we don't care about them or their outcomes and we are happy to accept a poor standard of work. This is very hard to ensure and maintain in the classroom everyday, but it is essential that our students know we expect the very best of them, 100% of the time. It is only by maintaining incredibly high standards that we can deliver great outcomes for our students. This can be even more challenging in schools where the culture is not one of high expectations, but every teacher can begin to establish a precedent for their students. 

This is delivered by - being clear on expectations (what should students be doing, what shouldn't they be doing), clear sanctions for failure to meet expectations and a culture of acknowledgement (I'm careful not to emphasise praise). Acknowledge students who are meeting expectations - show them you are aware of their efforts and relate their efforts into the quality of the work they are producing. Of course, praise is an important part of any successful teacher's armory, but it must be earned. Overuse of praise can be problematic and encourage students to associate praise with shallow learning requiring little effort.

4. Be a subject geek!

A week ago, at a parents evening, I was told the following by a parent when discussing the progress of her daughter in my lesson:

"Now, don't take this the wrong way or owt (c'mon, its Yorkshire!) but you're a massive geek! You love Geography! I reckon you could just talk about it all night!"

Fulfilling every Geography teacher stereotype!
I think some teachers may perhaps have been offended by those comments, but I delighted in them. It is true - I really do love geography! 

It is the love of my subject which means I am regularly seeking out new and up to date information that I can use in my lessons. By being a subject geek, I am bringing a huge backlog of knowledge into the classroom. This huge backup of (mostly useless) knowledge allows me to be a better geography teacher than if I didn't have it. By being a geek, I can understand the wide range of questions students might ask on a particular topic, I can see their questions from a different view, it can help me correct misconceptions if/when they arise.

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments!


- Ofsted, (2013), Unseen children: access and achievement 20 years on Evidence report, [online] Available at:

Monday, 30 November 2015

We need to talk about: Confronting Difficult Issues

I am a news junkie, I love keeping up to date with what's happening in the world around us. Given the events of recent weeks; most notably, the terrible events in Paris on Friday 13th, I have been in news overdrive - following the events and the subsequent arguments over what to do.

My interest in the news is not purely for myself, I am aware of the importance of being up to date on the issues of the day for the sake of my students. In the days and weeks that have since followed Paris (and the terror attacks across the globe) I have been bombarded by questions and opinions from many of the students I teach. It is completely natural, given the magnitude of the events. However, with such questions come hesitancy, risk, fear? Many teachers I have spoken to, and interacted with, openly admit to shutting down conversations about ISIS and terrorism in the classroom, mostly for fear of offending someone/saying the wrong thing.

I feel this is setting a dangerous precedent - our students rely on us to help them sort and understand the world around them. For some of our students, we may be the only source of conversation about the news, the only source of critical thought and analysis of the days/weeks/months events. This is a huge responsibility, and one that can be fraught with issues, but if I were a headteacher, I would back my staff to talk to their students about these issues. We mustn't hide away from them - events such as those in Paris create a breeding ground for intolerance and misinformation, if this can't be challenged and confronted in schools, where can it be? 

It is a reckless assumption that all teachers are perfect for this task, there is an argument to be made that maybe it isn't our responsibility, maybe we should leave it to someone else. 

(An example of the potential problems:

However, in spite of stories such as that linked above, I stand firm in the belief that teachers/teaching assistants (and just about anyone working in schools) must be brave enough to talk through the issues of the day with our students. (Of course, we have a responsibility to ensure we are well read and literate on these issues ourselves before we face those conversations.) Perhaps it is my Humanities background (always thought of as more of a 'talking' subject, in my experience) that drives these beliefs, but I suspect not. If you don't feel comfortable/able to talk about these issues, build some time into a department meeting/school meeting/break time to get your facts straight and confront mistruths. At the end of the day, terrorism seeks to create a culture of fear and misinformation, we have a unique role as educators to stop the spread of such culture.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Results Day is looming, why do we do this?

It's the day before results day (gulp!) and I find myself looking to write. No shame in that I suppose.
I've been racking my brains for something interesting, insightful, topical and/or controversial to write about. However, I think I'm a little distracted (see above.) so I thought I would write something to myself that I'd like you all to share in.

No matter what happens tomorrow, the past 2 years have been a real blast. I have had the pleasure of working with some truly incredible individuals. These people have inspired me, they have infuriated me, they have done things I would never do, they have made me question everything I do, they have made me laugh and they have changed my life. These people? They are, of course, my students. 

A proportion of those young people will be collecting their GCSE results and this will be a huge day for them, it's the crowning moment of their studies.

Alongside this, you have had some incredible personal and professional support from friends and colleagues. All in all, it's been pretty good.

I hope they aren't too nervous tomorrow. I will do all I can to reassure them, remind them of the effort they put in, remind them of their controlled assessment grades, but I don't think it will truly go in and why should it? There's a piece of paper with a letter on that means more than anything I can say tomorrow. 

That makes me a little bit sad. Actually, that makes me a lot sad. However, I digress, this post is not a critique of the assessment systems we subscribe to in our educational system.

Tomorrow has the power to shape the rest of my summer holidays. Good set of results - happy days! Relax and go in confident and fresh for next year. Bad set of results? Unhappy days - all that work? What was the point?! 
(I can only talk about this from my perspective, that of a relatively inexperienced teacher, so I'm sure others will approach tomorrow differently.)

But, I don't like framing it in opposite binaries so, I thought I'd write myself a letter:

A letter to myself, 19/08/2015

Dear Tom,

I hope that when you come back to reading this, you are happy with your results. I hope that everything went swimmingly and all the students made outstanding levels of progress and achieved outstanding grades. 

However, if that didn't happen, don't be too downbeat, don't be too distressed. Teaching is a phenomenal profession and one where you can truly make a difference. That's why you do it, right? To make a difference. 

That difference can be through the very tangible reality of a great GCSE grade or it can be through being a role model, trying to encourage students to be a positive influence on the world. That change might be something you never see, and as sad as that might seem, just remember you have helped to sow the seeds to make a difference.

You teach because you were lucky enough to have some amazing teachers, some people who inspired you to change the world, some people who challenged you, chastised you but ultimately made you literate, empowered and interested in the world around you. These people showed you the power of education and that's something nobody can take away. 

You teach because your fiancée convinced you that you'd be pretty good at it. I have her to thank (and to blame!?) for all of this.

Teaching is a privilege. You are in a privileged position, in spite of its challenges and difficulties, so don't forget that.

Accountability is important. Tomorrow you will be held to account, by yourself and others, for the results you get. That's scary. But just keep in mind, that's only one part of the job (albeit an important one!). Use it as a driver, frame it in a positive way. What did I do well? What can I do better? These are the questions you ask your students, you won't accept them giving up, so don't accept it from yourself.

You are very lucky as an educator, and you get to do something not many other people do. At the start of year, you get to start again, knowing everything you know, it all begins again and you get the chance to be better.

So, remember the amazing memories of the last 2 years, remember the challenges and go and be better.

From your past self.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

We need to talk about: Technology in the Classroom - Challenges and Opportunities

(Disclaimer: Whilst I try to make my entries academically rigorous, supported by educational research, I have had some difficulty in constructing this entry owing to a real lack of accessible research on Educational Technology and its pitfalls. Please direct/link me to research and I will amend any points accordingly.)

What is educational technology? The term appears to have become truly ubiquitous in education today. It's used a lot in Twitter bios, particularly by educational consultants, and, increasingly, teachers are starting to use the phrase.

In my search for a definition, I have encountered a wide variety of definitions, each with different emphasis and nuance on the phrase. After sifting through a wide number of definitions, the one that most closely fits my understanding of 'EdTech' and my experience of it is offered by Januszewski and Molenda (2008):

"Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources."

A full conceptual rationale for this definition is offered by the authors in the referenced text. To simplify this, I see EdTech as any form of technology that can be utilized to support learning.

Common challenges with EdTech

A) The lack of appropriate resources to implement effective learning. 
By this, I mean: the computers are too slow/the computers only work for some students/some students have forgotten log-in details/the computer has restarted because it needed to be updated/the previous class shut down the computers.

B) Prioritizing the use of tech over good curriculum planning.
The temptation to use EdTech can mean that we may create a stand-alone lesson to maximize the technology, but sacrifice the curriculum plan to accommodate it, creating mismatched learning episodes.

C) Loss of learning time.
Similar to A, the movement/log on/log off process that teacher must go through each lesson can result in a loss of instructional time, which can cut into the learning.

D) Technology, and particularly the internet, offers a huge bank of information.
This sounds great right? However, this can be a hugely limiting factor in the use of internet based lessons. Without proper planning and implementation, students can follow any leads they find, with sometimes disastrous (incorrect information) results, a problem often called the 'Wikipedia Problem'.

E) A lack of training can lead to bad experiences.
In the 21st century, we tend to assume all people have been exposed to a range of technologies and thus are confident and able using them. This, naturally, isn't the case and can lead to a bad experience for practitioners. This bad experience, often manifested through disruptive behavior/poor quality learning, can lead to practitioners attributing this to the technology and being cautious/rejecting it for future use. 

Photograph: Rex Features. Image Source / Rex Features/Image Source / Rex Features

So, how do we deal with these problems?

A) This is obviously a challenge for the individual educator to deal with, whilst we may not be able to completely overhaul our institution's technology resources, we can work smart. By this, actively seek out the people responsible for technology in school (IT Technician?) and have the discussion with them.

- What are the problems with the tech? Are there any machines to avoid?
- What can be done to help it run more smoothly? 
- What is the protocol for students forgetting passwords? 

B) Most important thing to remember here - technology is a tool to support the learning. It certainly shouldn't be used to jeopardize great medium-term plans. It's easy to fall into this trap, especially if you find a great new piece of EdTech you're desperate to use. That said, don't reject EdTech outright because it doesn't fit with current schemes of learning. Be creative, find ways for it to fit in, it can enhance already great plans. A great example of this, from a fellow Geography teacher, revolves around the Skype Classroom. This practitioner planned to link his students to a scientist in Svalbard to augment a scheme of learning on glaciation. The great thing from this was that this teacher planned with students, the week before, some key questions and clearly outlined the learning outcomes to guide student experience of the technology. By all accounts, great success!

C) Now this one may not even apply to most of you! However, I've had some experience with this and it comes back down to routines and expectations. Just because the environment has changed (e.g. the computer room) that shouldn't have any affect on what you do. Don't let the change of environment change what you do - keep up those routines.

D) Now this problem just requires a little bit of forethought and planning. Using a Geography example (banging the Geo drum!!), if I have asked my class to research development indicators for a variety of countries, I need to be aware of saying to a group of students; "Go and find the life expectancy of a country in Sub-Saharan Africa." I need to be aware of two things:
- 1) My students may not have any idea what life expectancy looks like beyond the abstract teaching of the classroom.
- 2) How many teenagers would have any idea where that information could be found, short of a Google search?
It is these questions that I need to account for in my planning. Using EdTech just frames lesson planning in a different way. The internet is an amazing resource, but as with any other resource, it may require differentiation to allow students to maximize its learning potential.

E) Great schools and learning communities have a culture of collaboration. We share what works, we share our failures and we offer our advice and guidance to our colleagues when and where it's appropriate. EdTech seems to be a bit of a taboo in some schools, professionals seem afraid to admit fault or misunderstanding of how to use different forms of technology, meaning they may be missing out on a whole world of opportunity. As professional learning communities, and as individuals, we need to make sure we don't neglect technology in the classroom and instead embrace it and all of its potential.

And my final two cents? Technology is merely a tool to support great teaching, it's not a gateway to great teaching. Be sure to trial and experiment with it, but never forget those core things that make great teaching and learning.

This entry is designed to be a quick overview of my experiences of EdTech and not anything like an exhaustive list! Feedback and sharing are key here - we're a professional learning community after all!


- Januszewski. A and Molenda. M, (2007) Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Monday, 3 August 2015

We need to talk about: Burnout

You know what? You matter. You really, really matter. No matter who you are or what you do, you are really important - Good job! I think it's important that you're reminded of that. (I don't usually open my blog posts with a compliment to my a reader, but it felt nice to start that way.)

In this entry, I write about burnout and the cultures we, as educators, exist in can contribute to this phenomena. Carson et al (2011) have shown that burnout can have a significant impact over quality of life and over a teachers effectiveness. It is these very reasons that talking about burnout (identifying it, dealing with it and finding ways to reduce it) really matters. 

What's the problem?

I have been a teacher for 2 years, during which time I have experienced feelings of burnout and have witnessed colleagues going through the same. The worst thing about it, it felt like a natural part of the job. I felt as though it was something I had to deal with and overcome, we all know teaching's hard, right? Whilst I am most definitely enjoying my summer holiday, I have full embraced the chance to reflect on the past year. There have been times this year where I have been completely burnt-out. And the scariest thing about all of this? The impact this had on my students, and, sadly, only now I'm starting to realise this...

Maslach et al (2001) carried out a pioneering study into job burnout and what characterizes it. Their study identified three key features; 1) emotional exhaustion, 2) depersonalisation and 3) reduced personal accomplishment. Of these three features, the one I found most shocking was number 2. Depersonalisation is described as the development of negative emotions towards the people in one's care/receiving one's service. In the case of teachers, this would be our students. When a teacher is suffering burnour, students are the one's suffering. When we are burnt out, we no longer recognize, or choose to ignore, the things that make our young people unique and great. The impacts of burnout extend beyond short term impacts, Schaufeli & Enzmann (1998) demonstrated the impact burnout can have on motivation. Their research cites that burnout can reduce a professional's intrinsic motivation (and in teaching, for me at least, intrinsic motivation is the thing that keeps you going on the really tough days). Furthermore, Shen et al (2015) build on this work and explain how teacher burnout goes deeper with students, they have shown that burnout can affect the intrinsic motivation of students. A burnt-out teacher can very quickly lead to disengaged students.

At the most basic level, these findings show us the importance of being rested. (That remains my most common nugget of advice for teachers starting out in the profession today - sleep matters, don't neglect it.) Yet this research goes far beyond this, it shows us the importance of the school environment. 
At its root, burnout is a psychological problem, and thus any discussion of it relies on a degree of this research to be considered. Ryan (1995) suggests humans have three basic psychological needs that need to be met to ensure we remain motivated. These needs are framed within the wider concept of Self-Determination Theory (herein referred to as SDT) (Deci and Ryan, 1985) 

SDT identifies these needs as the following; the first is the need for autonomy. This evinces our need to be the source of our own work and this is realized when we conclude our behavior is self-defined. The second is the need for competence. This is based upon our desire to work with our environment and undertake opportunities to express ourselves to our full capacity, in essence, to show our full capabilities. And finally, the third need is relatedness. This is our want of strong and meaningful relationships with others. The arguments presented previously indicate that the absence of stimulus for any of these needs will result in a heightened chance of teacher burnout.

So, what do we do? 

I certainly don't claim to have all the answer, but there are some small changes we could make as individuals that would go part of the way to dealing with this chronic problem.

Firstly, we need to create an autonomy supportive environment. This means giving members of the school community their own responsibilities and believing in their ability to do it. I have seen some very, very busy senior/middle leaders. Delegate, give your teachers the responsibility to show you what they can do. It reduces your workload and empowers them. Equally, I've seen some very busy classroom teachers (I'm one of them!), lets give our students some responsibility. Once a term, challenge your students to plan and deliver a lesson. Let them be responsible for their learning for that hour. Naturally you may be constrained by the structures of your school, but try and present your argument for the validity of this. 

Secondly, we need to show teachers and students they really matter. We need to create a shared growth mind-set and make it a central part of the school culture. We need to encourage all members of the school community to value challenge and to rise to it. We need to allow people, teachers and students, to show us what they can do - you'd be amazed at what people can do if you believe in them. The caveat to this, of course, is that any challenge must be presented in a positive way. Staff and students alike need to be empowered to undertake challenge, creating this takes time.

Thirdly, to enhance relatedness, talking matters. I opened this blog post with telling you how fantastic you are (I still mean it by the way) and that's a really easy takeaway from this. Create that feeling of belonging for colleagues and students alike, take 5 minutes at the end of the day and have a chat with someone. Tell them how fantastic their contributions have been, tell them their efforts are not ignored, tell them their appreciated. It doesn't have to be about work, it can be about anything, but show you value that person. You'll feel better after doing it too!

I reiterate again, I don't have all the answers. These are my thoughts and ideas, open the discussion (comments below!). What do you think? How can we create great cultures of learning where teachers and students can do their best, show their best and celebrate their successes?

- Carson, R., Plemmons, S., Templin, T., and Weiss, H. (2011), “You are who you are:” A mixed method study of affectivity and emotional regulation in curbing teacher burnout. In G. Gates, W. Gmelch (Series Eds.), G. M. Reevy & E. Frydenberg (Vol. Eds.), Research on stress and coping in education: Vol. 6. Personality, stress and coping: Implications for education (pp. 239–265). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

- Deci, E. and Ryan, R., (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

- Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W., and Leiter, M.,(2001), Job burnout, Annual Review of Psychology, 52, pp. 397–422. 

- Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63, pp. 397–427.

- Schaufeli, W., and Enzmann, D. (1998). The burnout companion to study and practice: A critical analysis. London, UK: Taylor & Francis.

Shen, B., McCaughtry, N., Martin, J., Garn, J., Kulik, N. and Fahlman, M., (2015), The relationship between teacher burnout and student motivation, British Journal of Educational Psychology, doi: 10.1111/bjep.12089