Ticking Boxes Posted on 14 October 2013 by Frances Nation in Career Last night, in conversation with a senior lecturer renowned for his creative approach to teaching and learning at one of our best teaching colleges, he told me that after spending a day with his Teach First students on creativity in the classroom and when asked how they might channel all this creativity effectively their response was to use it in an ‘oral or mental starter’ or as part of a ‘plenary’. They had missed the point entirely. He was disappointed. They have clearly spent too much time in schools already. Last week, a teacher who I respect for her hard work and dedication to the job as well as her bubbly and engaging character, came to see me with the news that she has handed in her notice at her current school and is considering leaving teaching. When I asked her why she said that she had recently had a damning observation from a ‘consultant’ bought in to support the head, been told to differentiate nine ways in maths, three groups with three different activities each, and her confidence was at an all time low. How is it possible to differentiate 9 ways? Can someone please tell me how this is done effectively 5 hours a day, 5 days a week? The previous week observations had taken place in my own school with myself and members of SLT and the results were a mixed bag. Granted, my NQT needs support but then she’s a month into one of the most complex and demanding jobs out there. Practice makes perfect and she just needs more practice. I work in a creative school with intelligent and diligent staff. They are deluged with data, ‘developmental’ marking, ‘interactive’ displays, new initiatives, complex social issues and if I don’t watch out it’s going to suck all the lifeblood out of them. Teachers are wrapping themselves up in knots trying to tick too many boxes. If just one child is not deemed to make progress in a lesson then it can’t be a ‘good’ lesson according to Ofsted. Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about standards and high expectations but teachers are scared. Scared of taking risks, scared of being creative, scared that they will leave a box unticked. There is too much rhetoric at the top. The gap between theory and practice is widening. Last term, at a conference, I collared a high ranking Local Authority advisor and gabbled on about the wonderful production of Romeo and Juliet my Year 6 children were doing on the stage at the local secondary school – collaboration (Tick). Bear in mind that I have 57% Free School Meals at my school so you will understand the challenges my children face. ‘That sounds great, but what’s the impact?’ was his polite but slightly curt response. That stopped me in my tracks. I have reflected on this comment for some months now. The data hasn’t improved, so no obvious impact there but hang on; Can I see increased parental engagement – happy, proud parents in other words. (Tick) Has it helped their transition process to secondary school by performing on their new school stage? Yes (Tick) But there is so much more that is not measurable or tickable and which is so vital to the development of any child that has to be at the core of the craft of teaching and the experiential learning of children. My reflections continued….. Did they memorise all their lines, some possibly with the help of their parents? Will they remember these lines for the rest of their lives? They might. Have they had an introduction to the works of Shakespeare, one of England’s finest playwrights? Yes. Might this production help with any GSCE work they may do on Shakespeare in the future? Yes. Did they visit London on the train, some children for the first time ever, to watch a production of the play. Yes. Did they show increased confidence by taking part in the production? Yes. So I am going to continue looking for opportunities to be creative. I am not going to beat my teachers with a hard stick over ‘satisfactory’ observations if I feel standards are high and children are engaged. There are other ways of measuring after all - work in the books, the environment, the opportunities on offer and at the most basic level, just a gut feeling that the children in your school are absorbing, developing and growing. I’m going to encourage and reward ‘thinking outside the box’ and the rest will surely follow. Now, where are those data sheets?The main concern is making sure your teaching style is helping your students grow, so if you are interested in any extra Tips and Tricks on Becoming an Outstanding Teacher have a look at this blog.