“Winning the award helped to highlight what I had achieved with my students within the industry. This then provided me with opportunities to share good practice in the UK and abroad, allowing other schools and teachers to replicate that level of success.”
Winner of the Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, 2010
Now Head of Economics and Business at Colyton Grammar School
Winning the award helped to highlight what I had achieved with my students within the industry. This then provided me with opportunities to share good practice in the UK and abroad, allowing other schools and teachers to replicate that level of success. Since winning the teaching award, I have led over 50 teaching and learning training sessions in places as diverse as Bristol to Bangladesh all with the same solitary aim of trying to improve student outcomes.
It was fantastic to gain some form of recognition. I work very hard to achieve the outcomes that my students generate and winning the award gave me an additional spurt of motivation to push on and try and achieve even greater educational outcomes and explore new initiatives.
The school where I did my PGCE decided to employ me. I started my career in 1996 at Leeds Grammar School and won my teaching award when I was Head of Sixth Form at Plymouth College in 2010.
THE JOB, CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
I grew up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire at the time when the mining industry started to collapse. I had an excellent teacher who recognised the importance that education would play after the collapse of heavy industry. The ability to influence and shape young people at a time when you can have a tangible outcome on their future success means that it is a job which is incredibly valuable. However, the job does not generate instant payback/gratification. I’ve lost count of the number of students who have come back and thanked me in their twenties for the approach I took with them when they were a teenager. That is when you realise the true value and importance of what you are doing.
Invariably external factors change which means you need to update your teaching style. For instance, I am trying to incorporate AR into lessons at the moment and increase the amount of student-led challenges. However, I believe the core art of teaching remains being passionate about what you do, being motivated and showing your students that their success is also your success. You have shared goals. Use of humour also plays a large part in my lessons. You can achieve great outcomes when the students are on your side. It always disappoints me when I see teachers using too much ‘stick’ rather than ‘carrot’ in their approach to motivating young people. Young people should not be dragged towards getting results, they will always achieve more when they want to do it for themselves.
When I was Head of Sixth Form, I spent a large proportion of my time dealing with pastoral problems. I’m not sure that it is a bigger job now than it was before. It is just that teachers are in a better position to notice more potential situations and have the training to deal with them more effectively. I would say pastoral care does play a bigger role just because the quality of pastoral care has improved immeasurably since I was at school.
Lots of commentators have focused on the negatives of social media in education and all of this is true. However, social media also provides an amazing way to quickly share good practise and ideas. Like everything, it can be a powerful tool for good, but also has the potential to be mistreated.
In 2010, my 24 mixed ability students managed to achieve 100% A* at A level with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th highest marks in the UK. It is as close to the perfect educational outcome that a teacher can ever achieve. I felt at the time it vindicated my approach to seize upon sources of marginal improvement in my teaching.
I am most proud of helping students to achieve life changing educational outcomes in public exams. My students have achieved UK first places 14 times, spread across 2 schools, 3 qualifications and seven different syllabi. Now I’m at my third school – I’m still trying for number 15!
I am also proud of my students winning national business competitions. My students have won 16 UK titles including Young Enterprise and Student Investor.
I was Tom Daley’s Head of Sixth Form. It was amazing to see such a focused young man achieve so much, both academically and in the sporting arena, at a time when he had a lot of emotional trauma to cope with. He is an inspirational young man, who does what he does, without any trace of arrogance.
Always keep your main focus on your students. There will be times when you are asked by your line manager to do things that have no impact on student care or outcomes. Do not spend large amounts of time on this. My mantra has always be spend the most time on the area with the highest potential for improvement in outcomes. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ is what I would say to an NQT.
Look for ways to generate marginal gains in outcomes that can be quickly put in place, by questioning what you do and why you do it. Small changes in your approach can multiply up to generate significant improvement in outcomes. This is how I have managed to generate the success that I have. I look for lots of small ways to improve – which collectively allow you to significantly improve student achievement. Never underestimate the importance of reflection and self-criticism and be willing to ask for advice from seasoned professionals. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it is a sign of strength.
THE TEACHING PROFESSION
There is now much more focus on data and performance. Purist teachers dislike this. I have a different view. Data should be ‘the slave, not the master’ and it can be used to drive forward educational outcomes, if used correctly, and in a non-invasive way. Careful analysis of data has shown me where I should focus my efforts and has allowed me to drive forward student outcomes.
Teaching is hard work, there is no doubt about that. However, the non-financial rewards can be very satisfying. I have actually sought demotion and have dropped down to being a Head of Department from being Director of Learning just so that I can re-focus on the core art of teaching. I wish more senior leaders would follow my lead since this has certainly given me a fresh insight if I were to re-enter school leadership. Teaching is a job where 3.35pm comes incredibly quickly. I would hate to be in a job where you are clock watching and waiting for the day to end.
Whilst I believe that teachers should be held accountable for their outcomes, I would like to see more collaboration and sharing of good practice amongst staff. I would like to see teachers take risks and experiment with new ideas in the classroom and be encouraged to do that without the worry that it could damage the results of students. Collaboration in a no-blame environment would go a long way to reassure teachers that what they are doing is valued.