Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scrap staffrooms - real example, it works

No staffroom at Mossbourne
Three years ago I blogged an idea that seemed a little crazy at the time - scrap teacher staffrooms. Michael Wilshaw has done precisely that and, along with other measures, has produced one of the most successful state schools in the country - Mossbourne Community Academy. He has no central staffroom and teachers have to take tea and coffee in 'learning areas' around the school, "I wanted staff and students in close proximity at all times so that, at vulnerable periods such as breaks when you get bullying and vandalism, pupils don't all head in one direction and staff in another". And this guy is lambasted by the left for being a traditionalist!

I met Michael Wilshaw two years ago, and he was low key but determined. I found myself agreeing with him on homework and a raft of other issues in schools. Rather than being embraced by Labour, it's the Conservatives who have been parading him around and inviting him to their conferences. Just for the record, his school from being one of the worst in the country now gets 85% A-C (including English and Maths), despite its deprived, and non-selective, intake.

Why staffrooms are bad
When Malcolm Gladwell was asked what one thing would most improve education he replied, ’Abolishing teacher staffrooms’. He may have been right – a survey published in 2007 showed that teachers top the worst ‘gossips at work’ poll, with 79% talking about their colleagues behind their back. John Taylor Gatto, a National award winning teacher in the US gave up teaching quoting one of the reasons as he could no longer stand the culture of the staffroom.

Teachers may lose rank among their peer group if they don’t join in the gossip (Nias 1989) and, worse, may be subjected to rumour and gossip if they shun the classroom (Rosenholz 1989). These studies show troubled teachers, in particular, being at risk. Kainan’s 1994 study of staffrooms found that they were largely simple, colourless, monotonous, devoid of clear functionality and were often split into several cliques; veteran, novice, supply and student teachers. It was a clear hierarchy. Worse than this is the Hammersly study in (1984) that found conversation about students and their parents/carers, was largely condemnatory.

Is there a case for scrapping school staffrooms? No other professions have a ‘panic room’ just for managers to chill out, so why have school staff rooms?

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Bob Harrison said...

Agreed Donald, and furthermore to reinforce one of your previous posts why have "training days"?

Perhaps the VITAL project might begin to address that issue?

http://flux.futurelab.org.uk/2009/12/17/teacher-confidence-and-competence-a-vital-issue/

11:36 AM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

"No other professions have a ‘panic room’ just for managers to chill out, so why have school staff rooms?"
Well, in most other professions, managers have their own offices, replete with executive toys, to chill out. And most other professions don't have to routinely break up fights and deal with the myriad distractions that a thousand or so adolescents bring to the workplace. In my experience, staff rooms were anything but a place to chill out. They were places where you grabbed a cup of coffee in between dealing with a stream of children wanting to talk to you, whilst you tried to sort out who was covering for an absent colleague, and simultaneously tried to get the social services involved in the case of a truanting child.
I also wonder where the teachers in this brave new world do their marking, and store their stuff? They don't have offices.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Francis said...

I,too, have my reservations about staff rooms especially with regard to gossip. But things aren't always simple.

When something kicked off in my last school somebody would rush to the staff room and there would be a mass exodus of staff onto the playground to deal with the situation.

In the model employed at Mossbourne there might be a member or or two of staff on the spot but one of these would have to leave a colleague to go and round up everybody else. This could take some time. One or two staff can do little once the entire playground has ammassed to the chant of, 'Fight! Fight!'

Also, meeting in staff rooms is a great way to have quick professional conversations. As I said above, I agree about gossip but on the other hand many staff use their breaktimes to deal with minor issuses face to face with colleagues (simple things like asking a form tutor to remind a pupil about something; telling a memeber of staff about the results of a discipline issue you may have taken up on their behalf; checking with a colleague that the reason Fred was late to your lesson relly was because that teacher had kept Fred back at the end of the lesson etc.)

There is an article about Mr. Wilshaw in today's Guardian. What I found very intersting is that the school he turned around back in the mid 80's (St. Bonaventure's) is still achieving very good results. It is great to be a charsimatic and successful leader but even better when the improvements can be sustainnd after your departure.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Rob/Francis
Some resaonable points here - he seems to have a 'house' system so that staff are clustered in year-specific learning areas. So they can still chat, exchange information and so on, as well as respond to issues as they arise. His view is that less violence occurrs because staff are more visible and present during these breaks.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

What's the betting that Mr Wilshaw has his own office?

7:13 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Sir Michael Wilshaw's style is not appreciated by a correspondent in yesterday's Guardian:
"I read the profile of Michael Wilshaw with interest, but one aspect concerns me: the 15-hour working day mentioned. I work in aviation and we are well aware of the effects of long working days. After 12 hours the performance is the same as someone at the drink drive alcohol limit, at 15 hours considerably worse. To hear someone proudly speaking of driving their staff to work 15 hours a day smacks of testosterone gone mad and a flagrant disregard for the health and wellbeing of staff"
Work-life balance anyone?

8:46 AM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

I've just read the original article on Wilshaw in the Guardian. Two items leapt out at me:
'Most remarkably, pupils begin each lesson by reciting a mantra: "I aspire to maintain an inquiring mind, a calm disposition and an attentive ear so that in this class and in all classes I can fulfil my true potential."'
I've no problem with the sentiment, but to get kids to chant this before every lesson seems excessive.
And then there's this: "I have an evangelical zeal to do Christ's work on earth. I want to do the sorts of things Christ asked us to do: doing your best for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds." According to the 2001 census, less than half the population of Hackney consider themselves to be Christian.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Rob - on work-life balance, Wilshaw was talking about the transition period and as teachers get long holidays, way beyond anyone else in the economy, I don't see a problem with this level of enthusiasm.

As for his Christian beliefs, that's his business, but the good folks in Hackney, especially those from non-Christian ethnic backgrounds are clambering to get into this school. Remember that he refused to adopt the 10% selection rule, as he absolutely believes in a meritocratic approach to education.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Not sure it was just during the transition. According to the article, '"The staff work 15-hour days," he says proudly."'- which seems pretty unequivocal to me.
I agree his beliefs are private, but not when he is using them as a pronciple to inform the way in which the school is run.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don -
Agreed. As a former teacher and current corporate trainer, staff rooms are a disaster for schools. I found my attitude declined in proportion to my time in the staff room. My wife observed and noted this - and I was shocked. I made a decision based on that to limit my time and I became a better teacher.

Good luck changing educational culture, however.

1:41 PM  

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