In the past month I have been distracted from the things I would like to be doing at work. It is immensely frustrating. I have been drawn to things that really need my full attention, and so I have focused almost entirely on these matters. The result is a deep sense of dissatisfaction and even anxiety.
Our satisfaction at work is dependent on what we attend to. Given agency to choose where to commit our energy we select the tasks that seem worthwhile and productive. If we are lucky, the tasks which others require of us are also meaningful. But when we are required to turn our attention towards work which we see as a distraction from our core purpose, satisfaction falls away.
I think distraction might be at the root of the workload and stress problems we see in schools. Teachers just want to teach. When they are distracted from doing so, frustration results.
The happiest teachers I have known all say they are free to teach without distraction.
Distraction comes in many forms. The (negative) behaviour of students can be a distraction which stops us, and the students who do behave, from attending to the content being taught. As I said in my last post, children have always been naughty and always will be, but we should not accept regular misconduct in lessons. When in comes to behaviour, disruption is distraction.
School policy can be a distraction too, particularly when it intrudes on our ability to attend to teaching. Policies on assessment and marking have been an intrusive distraction, in my opinion, in recent years. There is nothing wrong with having an agreed approach to assessment and marking (indeed it is necessary) but if the approach distracts teachers from focusing on the knowledge the students need to acquire then it becomes counter-productive. Good policy in this area helps teachers attend to knowledge. When it comes to assessment, abstraction is distraction.
The other significant distraction continues to be accountability mechanisms. Whether it be selecting an ‘engaging’ activity or adding extra plenaries for the benefit of an observer, stamping ‘verbal feedback given’ in books, or filling in spreadsheets of data for someone to prove progress is being made, whenever teachers are doing something for the benefit of someone other than their students, or serving the needs of something other than the curriculum, they are distracted from their core purpose. When it comes to performance, accounting for our actions is an unwelcome distraction.
As a school leader, I am most satisfied when I see teachers and students attend to learning. It is my job to minimise the distractions which can prevent this happening and promote the factors which enable teachers to teach. Among other things, this means delivering good conduct, good policy and intelligent accountability. When I attend to these things, everyone wins.
Headteachers have their own list of primary distractions. No prizes for guessing that Government Policy, funding reductions and accountability pressures are my top three. When we have a system which focuses my attention on the students in my school and their learning, everyone will be more satisfied with the results.