At the end of last term I spent a day as a Year 11 pupil in my school. This was because at a recent Auction of Promises I offered to follow a pupil around for a full day as my ‘promise’. I raised a tidy sum for the School rugby tour and associated charities in agreeing to do this.
What did I learn from the day? I should preface these comments by making it clear that none of what follows is a reflection on any of my colleagues whose lessons I attended, indeed I was hugely impressed by all that I came across. However, there were a number of thoughts that came to mind as I went through the day.
I suspect that like most schools we start the day with a form period/tutor set or indeed an assembly. My reflection as a pupil was just how long had passed in the day before I was expected to do any work. Registration started at 8.45 but it was nearly 35 minutes later that lessons began. This start to the day is standard in most schools but given that students are fresher at the start of the day (more on this later) are there some changes that need to be made here? The counter-argument though is also strong that in the event of any lateness due to transport difficulties etc pupils would miss their first lesson regularly. As a Head the first 35 minutes of my day prior to the school day started are amongst my busiest as I try to pack in as much as I can prior to the first knocks on the door!
It was interesting to observe the pupils throughout the day. Much of this confirmed what I intuitively felt to be true. They responded best when the nature of the activity changed every 15-20 minutes and when there was real variety during the course of the lesson. They were also at their most alert when the teachers were doing question/answer sessions in which they tried to involve every pupil. By the end of the day many of them were visibly flagging. Talking to them, many of them stay up late playing on computer games, on MSN etc and this is clearly affecting their ability to stay fully involved in their lessons in the afternoon. This is concerning for us as teachers as we clearly cannot influence their bed-times but the issue is clearly affecting their performance for us.
I was surprised by how much reassurance pupils seek during the course of the day. Seemingly bright and able pupils were often asking for reassurance that the answer they had worked out was indeed correct. Is this wrong? Probably not, I guess we all like to receive such praise and reassurance from time to time.
It was really encouraging to see boys turning up for a lunchtime workshop revision session. Such sessions clearly do such a great deal to reinforce skills previously taught and also play a significant role in ensuring boys are prepared for public examinations. I guess my only regret is that I know that there are many boys who do not routinely take up such opportunities. Perhaps we need to do more to advertise them to parents to ensure boys turn up.
It was interesting for both myself and the boy I was following around to see the reactions of his peers. Some were completely comfortable in coming across to talk to us both, others smiled in an embarrassed fashion and turned around! I guess this made me reflect on just how difficult it is for senior leaders in school to be approachable. Quite simply not everyone wants to approach us even if we are making every effort to approach them! I was delighted though by how open and welcoming my colleagues made me as I went into their lessons. They allowed me to join in and indeed most insisted that I did so.
ICT in lessons was clearly very popular with the boys. They were comfortable using it and enjoyed doing so. Staff use of it also brought topics to life. It made me feel though that it would be so much easier if we were able to equip the pupils with handheld devices so that they could access the internet easily from wherever they were working rather than having to book the ICT room so much in advance. It was great to see boys being directed to relevant websites rather than having to just ‘google’ it.
The topic material of the lessons I attended was all very interesting. I guess that once you have stopped your formal education you develop your own interests. I very much enjoyed hearing about such things as kidneys, dialysis, globalisation and enjoyed the challenge of undertaking a chemistry experiment. I felt most comfortable in the subjects (e.g. English, Geography) closest in style to my own specialism of History but was reassured to know that I could still do a good number of the GCSE Maths questions – clearly my own O Level some 30 years ago had left more of a lasting impression than I would ever have realised at the time.
So all in all a fascinating day. I would recommend this to all school leaders – it does enable you to reflect on your school in a completely different way to usual and yet all of us in schools are there for the pupils so it makes complete sense to experience what they do. There are a number of small changes to make to things which I would never have spotted without doing this – these do not relate to teaching but just to things around the school. Whether this be providing mint sauce with the lamb at lunchtime or painting the odd wall here and there, again this was very useful. So next time we have an auction of promises I will again offer myself for ‘hire’!