Tuesday, 10 February 2015

An orderly learning environment challenged

At the start of a school year there are always glitches and teachers are usually great at going with the flow while everything settles down. As a school leader I've always been one of the people who is trying to get things organised, solve the problems that arise and do what I can to make the start of the school year as smooth as possible for the teachers and students. I believe I have always done this well and although I may be frantically paddling underwater, on the surface I always hope I look like I'm gliding. I tackle the challenges with the goal of helping everyone get settled as soon as possible.

It's been suggested that one of the preconditions for school improvement is an orderly learning environment (Signposts: Research points to how Victorian government schools have improved student performance). I often think of this as what happens in the classroom but I've been reminded over the last two weeks that this also includes external factors that revolve around whole school organisation. As a leader I knew this implicitly as I negotiated teaching loads, paired staff to team teach together, looked into room allocations and generally went into bat for the team if I felt things were not right.

This year, though, I'm on the other end of the stick. I'm the new teacher hoping that someone is watching out for me as I grapple with the newness of everything. My school is a government school and as is the norm for government schools a change in enrolments can mean that portable classrooms can be added or taken in preparation for the new year. It's a fairly simple (usually) proposition if the portable is taken but when your school has grown and you need the new portables for it to operate efficiently then you hope that the government has its act together and gets them ready for the start of the year. Unfortunately our new portables aren't ready and the promise is that it will be next week. In the meantime the school is doing its best to accommodate the lack of rooms. In reality it means that my classes are actually scheduled into the unfinished portable and I face room changes each day. Of course, it affects the Foundation 9's and not the Advanced 10's. The room number appears on my timetable and the students' timetables and each day there are room changes advertised online. The system depends on form teachers notifying students on the change and generally this works but sometimes the kids forget, the adults forget and therefore kids don't always turn up in the right space at the right time. The positive is that I've learnt very quickly where all the rooms are in the school and which ones help me and my students and which ones hinder us.

Who'd have thought a room change can make such a big difference. I like to think of myself as a very flexible person and I'm not stressing about kids arriving late to class but it has impacted on our orderly learning environment. Each day it's a different room, each day the 9's arrive in dribs and drabs so there's no real 'start' to the class. The students come in complaining, inevitably another child has to be sent to find them and together we try and guess which room they might have gone to. By the time they get to class they're excited, but not about the maths, they are noisy, they have a go at each other as person arrives and occasionally they'll sit down and get started on the task I've got ready. With a 47 minute lesson this uses up valuable time and there's no orderliness about it regardless of what I try. But try I do, and I hope that the promise that the room is ready next week will come true. I'm practising very hard at staying calm, going with the flow, not raising my voice, trying a variety of class starters and just trying to be the positive one in the room when we are all just frustrated.

I feel a little frustrated that I have no control over it at the leadership level like I used to have and I'm not one to complain as I'm sure people are doing the best they can. Being the new one and not being in a role I'm used to means I have to carefully think about what I say and what I do. It's a new challenge for me.

I'm just hoping that the habits for starting class that my students are exhibiting at the moment are not ingrained yet and we can start again when we we have a little more certainty. Personally I'll be happy not to be carting stuff from pillar to post.

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