On changing schools

A few years ago, I moved schools and forgot to post this.  Maybe you have moved school and this one could be useful to you.

I learnt a lot from MFL teachers and colleagues in other departments my first school.  I developed a lot as a teacher and a person.  I worked with some amazing teachers and fantastic students.  However, the time had definitely arrived where a change was needed.

Maybe you’re thinking the same?  You could be contemplating the next rung up the ladder, a change of scenery, a change of department or a change of key stage.  In this post, I’ll look at things that remain the same, things that change and things that help to hit the ground running.  Perhaps the biggest thing I noticed in moving is that everything is the same and yet simultaneously everything is different.  Hopefully the rest of the blog unpicks that paradoxical statement.

SAME

Kids are still kids.  It might be the most obvious thing to say but even if you are moving to a more challenging school then it is worth bearing in mind: they are still children.  Some will try to push boundaries, unsettle the new person and test you.  Others will get on board immediately and give you no problems at all.  The adoption bell curve model from the business world suggests that when selling change or a vision to a group you will have the following clusters of people.  From my limited experience so far, I have found this model remarkably applicable to classrooms.  The following was paraphrased from Forbes

  • Innovators (2.5% of population).  These guys will get on board with anything new.
  • Early Adopters (13.5% of population).  People who drive change in an organisation, quite often leaders.
  • Early majority (34%).  People who join once they see the benefits of the change.
  • Late majority (34%).  Skeptics.  People who join after the early majority.  Often will need some convincing or coaxing.
  • Laggards (16%).  People who are stuck in their ways.  These are tricky to convince.

If you get the first 3 groups then you are at 50%.  The subsequent 34% will likely start to tip the balance in your classes.  Of that 34% there will be some quite late adopters who don’t fall into the “laggards” category.  If even half of those get on board then you are at 67%.  

It is worth adding at this point that while kids are still kids, you will see variations depending on the schools you move between.  You may move from a moderately challenging catchment to a less challenging one, or from the frying pan into the fire.  Parents may have different expectations, which then influences in-classroom behaviour.  Don’t be afraid to approach your DSL and pastoral team to get a better idea of the challenges and overall character of the catchment.

You are good at your subject and teaching it.  You have qualifications including GCSEs, A-levels, a degree and a PGCE.  You may even have more letters after your name.  You may be a native speaker of a language or at near-native level in many languages.  You are the one that has trained to teach this subject.  You know a variety of methods, strategies, stories and ways to make the subject come to life and engage learners.  Your enthusiasm and love for your subject will carry people with you.  You know all the advice you have been given over time.  In a new setting, you have a great opportunity to further improve but also develop new habits.  Your new department may also have certain initiatives that may develop your teaching and alter your lessons in a way you had not expected.  You will have different people observing you and giving you feedback, which hopefully makes you even better at your job.

DIFFERENT 

Starting points vary wildly.  This was probably the one that took me by surprise most.  Going from a comprehensive school with a number of feeder primaries to another comprehensive school with a number of feeder primaries, I made the assumption that the year 7s would be similar.  I was wrong.  Get to know your catchment and their starting points.  In addition, in languages, we have the added complexity of the patchwork nature of primary school MFL.  There are primary schools out there doing sterling work, however the experience of languages held by your students can vary wildly.  This may have an impact upon your Year 7.    

New/Old is not always better.  It is really easy to make comparisons between your previous and current departments.  We make sense of things often by comparing to expectation or experience.  In changing schools you could go from the frying pan into the fire, or from the fire into the frying pan, or just from one kitchen worktop to another (if that’s not stretching the metaphor too far).  The key is accepting that it is different and not necessarily better or worse.  Learning when to play the “in my old department” card is key.  Don’t do it too often, but if it is a strong strategy that makes a tangible difference to pupils learning then there is no reason not to suggest it.

Context is crucial.  One of your first jobs in starting at the new school is to gain an understanding of the context you are in.

  • What is the area/estate like?
  • What challenges do the kids face outside of school?
  • How involved are parents?
  • How many go on to further study?

Subject status in your school may be different

Maybe you have moved from a school where everybody does languages to one where it is optional.  Maybe languages are highly valued by SLT; maybe they are not.  These are aspects of life in your new school that you may need to navigate.  Remember: you were picked at interview because of what you offered.  What can you offer your school to raise the profile of MFL?  How can you help to improve uptake or outcomes?

HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING

Know the key people.  Having a HoD, HoY or SLT member to call on in difficult situations does help.  Obviously try to deal with it yourself first but if you need to refer up the food chain then do it.  Don’t be afraid to call a parent positively or negatively.

Know your students.  Seating plans are invaluable. Learn their names as quickly as possible.  Be interested in what they tell you even if you don’t understand TikTok.  Praise effort.  Don’t overlook the quiet kids. Jamie Thom writes “If the adjective “quiet” is used, it is often pejorative: “Daniel is a lovely student, but he is very quiet. He really needs to speak up more.”  How are you going to ensure the quiet kids in your class are able and confident in a subject which requires a lot of talk.

Know the systems.  Behaviour policies and practices are crucial in making a smooth start.  One colleague advised me to be “firm, fair and consistent”.  That sounds manageable but is not always easy to pull off.  Stick to the behaviour policy and when the inevitable “but in Mr Mainwaring’s class…”* is voiced then the answer is “maybe…but I’m asking you to…”

*as with most names on this website Mr Mainwaring is taken from television

Invest in relationships.  Put time into getting to know the kids you are teaching.  Get involved in something outside your subject.  Get to know your tutor group.  Be human.  Acknowledge mistakes if and when you make them.  Remember you are allowed to smile before Christmas but definitely maintain your high expectations throughout the year.

Invest in routines.  How do you start the lesson?  In my current school, all lessons start with a silent starter task.  It’s helpful in terms of setting the tone and expectation.  Use the first five lessons with each class to teach your routines (and more if necessary).  How do you expect students to start?  How do you expect them to participate?  How do you use mini-whiteboards?  How do you finish lessons?

Stick at it.  The first year in a new school can be tough.  In many ways, the second year is easier.  Students know you.  In my experience, students will often check their new timetable by their peers or their siblings.  “I’ve got Mr Wilson and Mr Jones this year, what are they like?”  Quite often, I have found students decide quite quickly that you are “ok” based on their sibling’s or friend’s opinion.  Or sometimes they decide the contrary and need winning round!  I was told shortly before the end of term by a Y10 student I taught in Y8 “we all really loved that lesson at the start of the week.”  It was a great class and I genuinely looked forward to Monday P1 that year.  I will guarantee now that not every class says that about me!!  However, these guys carry that impression of lessons 2 years later and will pass it on to their siblings and their peers.  Returning to our Forbes model, it does help increase your early adopters and early majority in the subsequent years.  

Lean on support when necessary

Sometimes you will need to lean on the experience of others.  In the early days at a new school, there will be things you don’t know or didn’t absorb in the INSET day.  Sometimes this support will come from teachers and other times from students “Sir, have you taken the register yet?”  Don’t be afraid to ask the “how” questions of your pastoral team, heads of year, heads of department, SEND team or tutors.  How do I get the best out of Charles Godfrey?  How does Joe Walker do in your lessons?  Jack Jones seems to struggle with …, what works with him?

If you are changing schools this September, then I offer you my very best wishes.  I hope you have a great start, you meet some great classes and just happen to have a free lesson P5 on a Friday.

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