When I became Head of Year 7, I was told by a member of staff that the only reason I got the job was because the school couldn’t afford to lose three English teachers especially those who didn’t cost a fortune. There was no mention of merit on my part nor the fact I had beaten 14 other strong candidates to the post. I listened with empathy, he used to be a Deputy Head of Year back in the ‘olden days’ of management points and he was about to lose those points in the coming academic year. He felt sidelined and shunted, like an old steam engine making way for the younger, more efficient models. He was ex-army, he delivered the most inspiring assemblies for November 11th and he commanded the respect of young, disenfranchised boys. I liked him but he certainly didn’t value any of my talents like I did his. It was true enough that I hadn’t quite made it to the Upper Pay Scale but although I disagreed with him, I kept my thoughts to myself.
A few months later, I found out he was to be one of my cohort’s tutors. My first thoughts were, as you can imagine fraught with expletives and indignation, the next thought was, how on earth can I make this work to my advantage?
My tutor list contained a mixture of NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers), Heads of Departments, existing staff and newbies, so I set about seeing each individual to chat informally about their strengths and talents. I had already been given the list of students and had read files about them, in my head I was building the cohort, matching the needs of the student to tutor and vice versa.
The Head of Music was great with pupils who were slightly different, musically gifted of course but also unfriendly towards rules and uniform. He would not shout or demand, he would talk in his gentle and caring way, challenging their issues and upholding the school rules. I sought out the drama teacher who had the space to accommodate a pupil with ADHD whose IEP said he liked to run around and was considered a health and safety risk. I did balance it with some students she could rely on in a meltdown. I made a beeline for the sociology teacher and I filled her register with the more vulnerable and challenging student whom she could mentor and coach. And so I went on, making sure the cohort was spread evenly as possible. I ensured the NQTs were given groups that made their life as easy as possible, splitting up groups from feeder primaries.
And that left one… I went to his room. I said ‘Hi’. He glanced up from his paperwork and proceeded with shuffling. I went into his room and said. “I am so pleased you are one of my tutors, I could really do with the wisdom and I hope you don’t mind, but I was wondering if you could buddy with ________ because I am concerned about him being an NQT.” He took off his reading glasses and he asked me if I really expected him to do all this for nothing? He went on a ranting rampage about teaching, the management etc; I sat quietly listening, I nodded and frowned with the rise and fall of voice. I explained my rationale again, I said, I just want everyone to know that you are experienced and that we all could learn from you but I understand if you don’t want to but would you mind doing a couple of assemblies about the forces and especially the November 11th one….
I referred to him in my team meetings and asked his opinion, I included him as much as possible and I genuinely valued his experience, allowing him time to talk in meetings and express his views. As the year went on, his input became less and less as his faith in me grew. My tutor team were absolute god-sends, and I was lucky to have each one (apart from the ones who moved on to other schools) stay with me.
Make sure you nurture the talent and foster the potential; staff need this as much as students! If they express an interest in your role, get them involved ask them to assist in intervention, invite them to meetings, find out what their professional goals are and support them. Make a consistent effort to value their contributions because no one works harder than a 44/50 period teacher who is also a form tutor. Every initiative that a school implements affects them first. Their work load can double at the drop of an SLT hat. Run little competitions and buy them treats, a bottle of champagne for best attended tutor group or most improved, a pack of biscuits for meetings and a doughnut because it’s Monday. Visit them during registrations, have a conversation and offer to make them tea during meetings. Your rapport with your team is the single biggest factor to a successful cohort.
You are only as good as your team and my team was the best!