Does anyone ever want to do more work? Really?! Voluntarily? On your own time? Unpaid? As if teachers don’t rack up their 35 hours CPD in the first two weeks of term. That was me two years ago. After over ten years of being a classroom teacher I was in the proverbial ‘doldrums’ of the profession. I had started off a peppy upstart who had big dreams of promotion and success, then settled into that lovely comfy spot in a school where my colleagues were friends and I relished the ease to which my job came to me. I was good at it, very good at it but I was bored. My lack of professional satisfaction had grown into a visible discontent and I needed more. I decided then that I needed to change. So, seeing no other way around it, I needed to get out of that comfy spot and move onwards or upwards or both.
However, by then I was no longer that youngster with nothing to lose, I was cautious and wary and had developed the fear of putting myself out there to be judged whether by interview or application form. So, to best prepare myself for this next step I needed to re-engage with education and start doing some CPD. This filled me with dread as I’m sure it does everyone who has ever sat in a whole staff CPD on an in-service day thinking ‘I have so many other better things I could be doing with my time’ as you roll your eyes at yet another speaker or co-operative learning activity. So, I decided to throw myself into it and signed up for a range of courses, some through my local council and some through the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (now part of Education Scotland) recommended by my headteacher. These courses were based on ‘leadership’ which at that point I just took to mean ‘promotion into management’. Perfect, just what I needed to get on the CV to get my foot in the door. That was it, that was the reason I started these courses - like it was a tick list for success.
I remember turning up on the introductory day of the Teacher Leadership Programme with lots of other teachers from all walks of life from all over the region and thinking ‘What have I signed up to?!’. Their experiences and desired outcomes varied significantly but actually it was quite nice to have a day out of school talking about Education to other professionals. The most I had done recently was the daily slagging in the staff room with colleagues and constant complaining about the butchery of the English language and the worsening behaviour of pupils. That first day of the programme I have to say I was cynical. I listened and took notes, but I wasn’t convinced. However, I had signed up to this course and I was going to see it through.
Then came the first assignment. Still wary about how the whole thing worked I took my time, read the articles we were issued and answered the analytical questions. This took a while as I recall, as it had been a long time since my brain had done so much thinking. Not the thinking you do when you are trying to make a shopping list but that really deep thinking when you are actually having to read and decipher the language then put the sentence into context within your own personal situation. Boy that was a challenge! Although by the end I found myself actually having, dare I say it, enjoyed doing it - very odd.
Writing my answers though was another thing. As I didn’t know who might be on the other end of the blog post I was writing I was cautious, measured in my answers. It felt like a test and by that point I had committed to this course and therefore I wanted to get it right. Who wants to get answers wrong? I submitted the post and some nice comments came back from my tutor Louise and from the other people who I had been grouped with. We were having professional dialogue and it was positive. So, the next task was posted, and I found myself doing the same again. The third task came and this time it was to watch a TED talk video. Now, to me there is very little I want to watch on YouTube. Never have I found myself watching a video of an evening on YouTube. I am not part of that generation, but as required I watched this talk. I could not tell you the name of the talk or the presenter, but I found it very engaging. It was about poverty and the impact on education and youth engagement. If it had been a Horizon documentary, I would have no doubt thought it very interesting but drained a bottle of wine during it and then gone to bed despondent about the youth of today and the future of Britain. Nevertheless, I watched it and then looked at the questions we had been set to answer based on the video. Up until this point I had been very prudent with my answers but this time something changed. The video felt more personal and human and I guess I just decided to emulate that in my answers. It just happened that I worked (at that time) in the most deprived school in the local area so answering questions on poverty was an easy exercise for me. So, I spilled my heart on the blog post. It was me, raw unfiltered me. There was a second of doubt and then a ‘what do I have to lose?’ moment as I pressed the submit button. I don’t know what I was worried about, the response I got from everyone was great and this positivity just spurred me on.
I decided at that moment that if I was to actually get anything out of this course then I would have to embrace it fully – boots and all. So that’s how I did it from that point forward. I started relishing sitting down each Sunday morning with a coffee and doing my hour or so of work and tasks. As soon as it got to the project part my imagination had been sparked and as a result of all the well-structured articles and assignments that scaffolded my knowledge, I felt like I was thinking outside the box a bit more. I was starting to get ‘it’ again, I was seeing the bigger picture. It wasn’t easy to commit to all the weekly tasks, but I was genuinely seeing a change in my perspective and attitude to education and to my job, so it was worth spending that time. The feedback on the group page was so important to keep me going particularly in those dark January months when pressures and expectations were high from work. Realistically without that weekly pep talk from everyone, particularly Louise, it just wouldn’t have worked so well. As I planned my change project my excitement and confidence grew and by Easter I felt like a new woman. Okay, well perhaps that is a step too far, but I certainly felt I had a bit of that spark or mojo or whatever you want to call it, back.
As I wrote up my project in May ready for submission I was asked to reflect on my year. I had by some coincidence gained a promotion during that point but that wasn’t really what I was thinking about. I really was grateful for the role that the TLP played in my development as a professional. Sure, my CV looked better but more importantly I had grown in knowledge, skills, confidence and most of all the ability to lead. What I learnt was that leadership is not management. Leadership is about what you can bring to a team and how you can motivate them to drive change. You don’t have to be at the head of that team, as every member is important.
We tell the pupils all the time that teamwork is what makes the dream work, but we forget this as adults. We as staff members wait to be told what to do by those ‘above’ us. However, it is that collective knowledge and variable skill set of all staff which ensure a diverse and forward-thinking team who will make lasting change in a school. The TLP programme allowed me to see an opportunity for change and action it with the guidance and support from the tutors. The encouragement that was offered by my tutor and group reduced my fear of putting my ideas out there and gave me the toolkit which ultimately helped me make a change in my school.
By June I was keen to attend the end of year celebration event in Glasgow and rather than cringe at the eagerness of my teaching colleagues in the room, I actually embraced the event. The outside speakers were inspirational, I loved seeing all the other change projects hung on the walls, collecting loads of ideas, and enjoyed sharing discussions with others. I, like many of my teaching colleagues across Scotland, have found all the changes we have experienced in the past ten years very challenging. Hopefully the Scottish Government will deliver on the promise of more leadership opportunities for teachers and if/when these leadership opportunities present themselves, it seems to me that participating in programmes like TLP is the best way to prepare for this. Even if promotion is not your thing, you can still action change within your school for the better of one lesson, one class, one year group. It doesn’t have to be big. If it makes your life as a teacher better and also makes things better for even one pupil, then it really is worth doing. Although you have to do it right and what TLP did was to equip me for making change. Change can be tiring for a profession but when you upskill and empower yourself or your staff you are placing them in control of that change and what could be better than that?