This will probably be a shorter post, but I think an important one in helping people understand the dynamics of their classes and their teams, and especially how to see them achieve.
What you can see is a now famous graph often found in management theory, the Tuckman’s Team & Group Development. A new team is formed and it then seems to go bad with infighting etc but like a phoenix from the flames this turmoil helps to develop certain norms for the group and this then enables the team to perform well, and for the team itself to become a more effective unit. Now for the observant and knowledgeable, I have added a red line, more on that later.
I began to think about how this model might apply to teaching. You’re probably ahead of me and can see how it fits both for new classes and new teams of staff working in a school. This later application could be a new SLT, a new Department, etc etc.
In relation to a new class, this is classically what happens in September when you get your new classes. You have been ‘formed’ into a new group, not necessarily with complete willingness of all in this new group. You have great one or two lessons – wow the behaviour of this class is amazing! This is going to be a doddle. Now the wise teacher knows, the students are sussing you out. This is the calm before the storm. In the next few lessons it all kicks off. All the usual class misbehaviour and the direct challenge to your authority, whether overtly or covertly. It’s all shouting and challenging, detentions and phone calls home. Those who are the naughties in the class now dislike you, even hate you, will start saying you are a crap teacher and how you can’t keep control of the class. This is the point a brand new or trainee teacher might quit or go off with stress, no surprise there. Kids can be really horrible (and really nice). It can also be the place that new/trainee teachers are criticised, that their lessons aren’t ‘engaging’ enough, or that they must ‘get to know the kids’ (all 300 of them that they teach) and it’s all the teacher’s fault. This is all nonsense and what is really needed is a recognition that this is precisely what is to be expected to happen and how can we (SLT, HoD, HoY,etc) support not scold these new/trainee teachers to fight on through, win the battles which help to finally win the war and to come through to the ‘norming’ phase, where behaviour is acceptable and consistent and in time the storming phase can be looked back on with the students saying, “Gosh Miss/Sir, we really used to play you up”.
Now I mentioned I would go back to the red line, which is something I added. The situation I described above of how a teacher can journey through Tuckman’s stages and come out the other side with high performing students who are behaving, as this is now the class the norm. Sadly, and in too many schools, something less successful happens. It all starts at the storming phase. If a teacher is not able to win this stage, then the ‘norming’ does happen, but in a negative and destructive way. The ‘norm’ becomes that students regularly play up. Lessons are hijacked by poor behaviour and students are just given ‘work’ to get on with, with the hope they might get on with something and that having the class silent and listening to the teacher won’t be happening. That’s the reason for the red line, and it’s extremely dangerous. If this pervades a school, then learning will not happen, and any new/trainee teachers will never succeed and the school will become a staff of those that ‘can’, and those that ‘cant’, survival of the fittest. The first INSET day in September in these schools will see established teachers all taking bets as to which new member of staff will go off with stress (and leave) first. The school leadership wrongly believe a mantra that only the toughest teachers can hack it at this school, and that there is something sub standard about you as a teacher if you fail here. What senior leaders really need to ask is how are we going to support our new/trainee teachers to be able to progress along the green line, not the red line?
Now a word about teams. Every so often the team members in a department, year team or SLT change. This may be a whole new team or just a new team member. Firstly there are a number of factors which aren’t to do with Tuckman’s model. There is the circumstances of why the team is changing, for example a really popular leader has left. May be there’s differences in things like the ages within the group, the sex of the different members. These shouldn’t matter but they can for some people, wrongly. Some of the team might be quite anti the school, for example an academy chain taking over or just a person that is just bitter over one thing or another to do with the school, or life in general. So I get it there are numerous variables at work here. But I do think new staff teams do go through the Tuckman model to some extent or other. The point I am trying to make is that for new leaders to a group, the ‘storming’ phase is actually very important and one to be embraced, as best as one can. This is because what you are going through is the establishment of the norms for your team, and kick back is as old as creation. Expect it, work with it. Help everyone to come out the other side and use it as an opportunity to state and establish the norms you want. After the storm the sun comes out. It’s how your team will get better, stronger and more effective.
Follow the green line, not the red.