Archive for the ‘Teachers’ Category

Imagine you are a stay at home mother looking after two young children. Your other half works full time and only gets to spend limited time with the children, on weekends and holidays perhaps. In the evenings, you discuss them, you talk about what they have done and said. Three snap shots:

One (1)

You: “He wants to help me with everything nowadays. He uses his little chair to get around the kitchen and help himself to biscuits. As soon as I start cooking he is on that chair, at my elbow, saying ‘Help you, Mummy?'”

Other Half: “Brilliant. He’s getting really independent, isn’t he.”

Two (2)

Other half: “He doesn’t seem to talk about his friends, does he?”

You: “No. Just the food he ate. But he does enjoy playing with them when he’s there. That will come, he’s still so little.”

OH: “Ok.”

Three (3)

You come in to the bedroom and your son is bouncing on the bed. Your other half is there and they are laughing together.

You: “That’s cute, but my rule is no jumping on the bed. You can supervise now and catch him if he falls, but he’ll do it again when I’m on my own holding a baby on one arm and then it’s too dangerous. Best if he learns not to jump on the bed at all.”

OH: “Sure. I’m sorry, son, but you heard Mummy. No jumping on the bed. That was Daddy’s mistake too, but you know the rule. Let’s go downstairs and play something else.”

In (1), the oldest child’s progress is discussed. The primary caregiver gives some feedback on the child’s latest accomplishments and the other parent beams and enjoys hearing about how his boy is growing up.

In (2), the parent expresses a concern about the child’s development from his own observation. The primary caregiver acknowledges this concern, but can put it into context from what she has seen and experienced, and can reassure the parent that this is developmental and will get better – either through blind Pollyanna-like optimism or from solid research.

In (3), there is a discrepancy between the rules of behaviour as set by the primary caregiver and those set by the other parent. The stay at home mother explains the problem, giving reasonable justifications for her initial rule, which the other parent acknowledges as valid. He apologises to his son for confusing matters and supports the primary caregivers rules by leading the child away from the undesirable activity.

Note that in none of these examples there was any request for written evidence. At no point did the other parent say: “Show me a log book of what you have done today with the children.” He does not want to go over every single detail to make sure they had their 5-a-day or that they washed their hands after being in the sandpit or that there was a good balance of activities. I am sure the two parents will have had conversations and will continue to have conversations about how they want to bring up their kids and if they have disagreements they thrash them out. But the parent who needs to work full time is placing these two precious children in his partner’s care full time because he trusts her to do a good job. He trusts her to stick to the principles of child-rearing that they both believe in and to own up if she has messed up. Then he trusts her to fix it again. He accepts that she will not always be perfect, but also trusts that she will on the whole have more good days than bad and that she will cope and do right by their children.

Feedback happens in conversation. Art work is stuck on the walls or the fridge or is proudly presented to Daddy. Mishaps and accidents are discussed afterwards or in emergencies, the other parent will be called home from work. Beliefs, morals, principles are discussed and agreed on by the parents. The finer details of what happens day to day in order to keep the children happy and turn them into well-adjusted and decent human beings are mostly left to the parent who does the majority of the childcare. The working parent is happy to hear about them beforehand or afterwards, whatever comes up or is necessary or suits them both best.

There is no quarterly test to assess the children’s progress towards happiness, well-roundedness or decent human-beingness. There is also no yearly assessment of your parenting in which you might get referred to training sessions if your result is merely ‘satisfactory’, nor will your supermarket budget be capped if you don’t make the grade.

I am sure you are starting to see through my cunning and thinly-veiled analogy by now. I am sure you will want to point out at this point that there are rather important differences between leaving your children with your wife and leaving them with a stranger – the teacher. Yes, there are:

1. You love your wife. You don’t even know the teacher. Also, you can be certain your wife loves your kids. How can you feel confident that the teacher is going do what’s best for your child when they hardly know your child?

2. How will you know what your child is being taught and whether you agree with it? You don’t know the teacher’s values, their pet hates or favourite topics, but you do know all these things about your wife and the mother of your children. You know what needs addressing and what you can put up with.

3. How will you know if it is a good or a bad teacher?

Although these are pretty big differences, they can be solved by learning from your relationship with each other as a couple, or from relationships with friends who you might trust to look after your children:

Trust is built up through relationship.
If we want parents and teachers to trust each other, to support each other’s decision and stand together for the good of the child, there needs to be a chance and an opportunity to build relationships. Parent and teacher evenings need to be social evenings where all the important people in a child’s life, with whom he or she spends a significant amount of time, come together to get to know each other and learn to trust each other’s instincts.

You choose who to trust. Choose before sending your child to a school and before employing a teacher.
When you choose a school to send your child to, you are committing to a relationship with the school. When you start a relationship with someone, you choose someone you believe you have important things in common with. Same applies to a school and by extension its teachers. If you think the school you have chosen has sound principles and respects its students, then you should be able to feel you can trust the teachers to teach your children without hovering over them and demanding proof at every turn.

More importantly, if you are a school, you should employ teachers you trust. Spend some time with them, let them teach, watch them work – if you like what you see, employ them. Then step back and let them do what they are good at. As a head teacher, an LEA, a government, you are delegating the job of teaching the children to teachers. Use your head. Let them get on with it. If you give them a job then let them do it, instead of making them spend hours of time that they could be spending preparing brilliant lessons on proving they have followed guidelines. If you don’t think you can trust someone enough to do the job – don’t give them the job.

Keep talking
You maintain trust by keeping in contact, by feeding back. The parents and the school should respect teachers enough to let them do their job – teachers should respect parents and schools enough to keep them informed, to talk to them about how the students are doing.


Trust teachers. Let them teach. Not only because it is the only way that they can teach, but also because trust is an important value to teach our children, and a vital building block for relationships. Model excellent relationships, and trust your teacher.


Mostly, the evidence is on the floor.

Mostly, the evidence is on the floor.



In Part 4 last week, I started thinking about the role of the teacher, but ended up focusing on mentoring and bringing a family atmosphere into school instead. So this week I really will discuss the all important topic of what the teacher’s role will be in my Sandpit School.

I have put a lot of emphasis on learning being instigated by the child in my new school. The children decide what they want to learn and when and have a great measure of freedom to explore their interests. You could be forgiven for thinking that I am arguing that teachers are redundant or even in the way. In Part 1 of Clean Slate I already go some way towards explaining how I see the teacher’s role, but I would like to go into a little more detail here.


Tourists mostly explore by themselves, but appreciate being able to consult a guide (book)

Tourists mostly explore by themselves, but appreciate being able to consult a guide (book)

In a school designed to help children explore the world and discover new interests, one of the teacher’s most important roles is that of a Guide. On arriving in a new country you have no idea what there is to see and do, so you turn to a guide (book) – someone who has lived or been there before, has many years of experience and knows their way around. Children are in effect new immigrants on earth. One of the things I love about spending my days with my two small people is that everything is new and exciting to them. They have no idea what the world has to offer and every new discovery is the best thing yet.

The teacher has the privilege of being a Tour Guide to Life. They should be a sensitive guide: not killing off the enthusiasm of their charges by their own prejudices or cynicism (“Oh you wouldn’t like medieval art, it’s a bit boring” or “Don’t bother with Arabic, you’d have to learn all the special letters. It’s too difficult.”) but hanging back long enough to find out what each child is like in order to get a good idea of what they might enjoy. The Guide lets tourists spend as long as they like exploring an old ruin, even if they have seen it many times before themselves, but then knows when to suggest moving on to another location so they don’t miss out on other fantastic sights.


When you are discovering a new interest, you can get quite far on your own. Let’s say you have heard of archeology and you decide to get a spade and have a go at it in your own garden. You have fun digging and finding. Perhaps you dig up some objects which you then take inside and start to examine. You can decide what you think they are and how old they are and what they are made of, using your own current limited knowledge. But there will come a point – and mostly people come to this point all by themselves – where they will want to look up more information. Most of us go on the Internet and will Google: “old pot with two handles” to see what comes up. We might go to the library and find some books on archeology. Some of us might be lucky enough to have friends, relatives or acquaintances who have some experience in the field and we can show them our find and ask them about it. These experts will either be able to gives us answers or give us good tips on where the answers can be found.

The teacher as expert provides these avenues of broadening the child’s knowledge and experience. Firstly, by providing a classroom that is equipped for self-study. It will have folders with fact files, relevant books and posters and computers or tablets with which children can access the Internet. The teacher can assist where needed by helping with these peripheral but essential research skills. Secondly, the teacher will themselves be the expert, who can provide answers when asked or point the child in the direction of where the answers can be found.

The teacher as expert is sensitive to where the child is at and is responsive rather than intrusive. Some people are happy just digging in the garden. If, even after a long wait, even after other junior archeologists have come and shared what they have found out, even after the expert has shown them pictures of dig-sites and examples of what you can discover with a bit of research, a child is still just happy digging in the garden, then let them. Closer inspection may reveal that their interest was not in archeology at all, but in dogs, or mini beasts, or gardening. The teacher can then gently encourage them to go and do some more exploring in the Biology Wilderness, for example.

Lecturer/Story teller

The two roles I have outlined so far are very hands-off. They involve a lot of preparation before school starts in setting up rooms, but very little traditional “teaching” while a session is in progress. However, I definitely see a place for direct transference of information from teacher to students en masse, not just one-to-one on demand. Everyone has their preferences when it comes to learning. There are plenty of children who benefit greatly from sitting down and listening to someone tell great stories. Not just fiction, but great stories such as “What is courage?” and “Who was Leonardo da Vinci?” and “What is a chemical reaction?”. Sitting down and listening in itself is a skill worth learning for everyone and it will get you far in life. It also provides some structure to an otherwise very free learning environment.

So in the Sandpit School, there could be set times in the day or week when you can go and listen to great stories being told by people who know their stuff. These will be the teachers, because the teachers are experts on their subjects, but they can also be visiting speakers. Children can ask questions and get involved, and these, too, will be occasions to both discover potential new interests and go deeper into the topics that already fascinate you.


Mary: a child learning about nature through experimentation.

Finally, when a session is coming to an end, the teacher once again becomes your tour guide, advising you where you might like to go next based on what you have seen so far. If you are in the English room and you have just started reading The Secret Garden, the teacher might suggest you go to the school garden next to find snow drops or plant flowers – or perhaps to the History Room to find out what clothes Mary might have been wearing. If you are in the kitchen and you have been baking pancakes, you might ask the teacher why the syrup has made your hands sticky. The teacher would then suggest going to the Questions Lab for your next session to do experiments and find out more.

The teacher as advisor is sensitive, and gives advice when asked, based on what genuinely seems to flow from the child’s current projects – not from a desperate need to create reasons to send them to the Maths room.

Your Turn

What else do you think a teacher should or should not aim to do in a curriculum guided by the students?