Buried deep in the medial temporal lobe, just above the brain stem is the neural nugget called the Amygdala ; a collection of neurons that are believed to play an important role in the processing of fear and threat for humans. As we approach the start of a new term, a term which will include KS2 and KS4 external assessments, how many of our pupil’s own amygdalas will be lit up at the thought of these, and how many of our teachers will demonstrate high levels in activity in their own neural pathways due to the accountability measures we experience here in the UK?
Fear can sometimes be the driver and catalyst to creativity and motivation (how many times have we pulled a late night trying to complete the department evaluation form or school improvement plan!), but the production of cortisol is only a short term fix. Better solutions and coping mechanisms must be intrinsically built so we can cope and develop when facing threat and fear in our jobs. Yet more often than not the first 5 articles that I come across related to teaching are usually about the fear teachers have, the threat of results, of Ofsted, of education itself and where it is heading, and not how we can focus on the positive stories that may help us solve these issues.
Within such articles is talk of teacher retention, (‘Nearly half of young teachers planning to quit over high workload’), of how the percentage of teachers quitting full time work in the classroom has risen by almost 19% in the last 10 years due to mounting pressure and fear of;
- Exam results
- Workload and marking
But rarely do we read that the top fear for a teacher is that they are worried about the pupils not fulfilling their pedagogical potential. But we do, all the time. I like to think, in my hopeful, helpful way, that no one working in any role in education turns up and purposefully ‘doesn’t care’ about the learning. Its innate within our profession that we are altruistic, that we plan so our pupils receive the bets possible learning opportunities. So using that ethos and moral compass, surely teachers should be held to account over the progress of their pupils in all aspects of school life, both academically and pastorally? Is it this natural professionalism that exacerbates the extrinsic fear and pressure, are we just infuriating perfectionists?!
As a senior leader I am lucky enough to visit a wide range of learning environments not just in my own academy but in a wide range of locations. The success stories, the times when you can tangibly feel the learning taking place and realise that the pupils are developing in their cognitive and non-cognitive skills far out-weigh the times when data targets are not met, or when a perf management objective has not yet been achieved. Why not write about these times, these aspects of our profession we treasure and go back for? An amateur golfer doesn’t continually play because of the bad shots and choices they inevitably make (and my word I make a lot of those on the course!), they go back for the positives, the times when it worked and they applied their skills effectively. We want to retain teachers, then lets focus on all the positives they achieve with their pupils in the classroom and beyond. Accountability measures need to be there to ensure that the pupils receive the highest quality learning and relevant opportunities, but are not there to create fear and threat.
Ultimately, fear is a concept, its not a ‘thing’ in the brain, not a place we can quell and administer chemical relief to change our reaction to it. The change and building of faith in our abilities to deal with threat and fear is born out of our ability to learn, (again, just like we do with its pupils!), and apply that learning in the correct contexts. WE should ask ourselves ‘Am I able to use an experience, a technique I had previously observed to positively solve this problem?’.
#OptimisticEd and #teacher5aday are just two mediums I have recently encountered where the positives that are ubiquitous to our profession are shared and enjoyed. What a hopeful and way to start the term, starting it with an elevated degrees of faith in our sector to banish the fear.