July 2020

Pefkos, Rhodes

It’s 34 degrees and even I, the most dedicated and resilient of sunbathers, have had to go for a swim to cool off. I put my feet to the sand and turn to face the shore. In the sway of the waves, my thoughts drift to the sheer magnitude of the last six months and I count my many, many blessings once again. In a rare moment of vulnerability, I am overwhelmed by how swamped and drained our profession has been and I struggle to recall the last time I had experienced such exhaustion and ‘brain fog’.

Then it struck me…

A Letter to My-NQT-Self

Dear Amy,

There’s nothing I can tell you that will be as powerful as that which you’ll learn from the incredible colleagues alongside you, the mistakes you’ll make, the children you’ll love and the beauty of hindsight once you’ve been around long enough to accumulate some. However, if I could give you one piece of advice as I look back at you – stood sparkly-eyed at the front of your Pinterest-esque classroom with your Twinkl-worthy handmade resources still hot from the laminator, preparing to ‘engage’ your beloved class in a carousel of TV-themed activities which will take them on an exciting voyage of discovery – it would be this: Not all that glitters is gold.

The hours you’ve spent printing, laminating, trimming and displaying a plethora of posters and prompts have resulted in beautiful, glittering ‘working walls’. But Amy – do they really work? Are they adding to the learning? Your classroom is aesthetically impressive and a real source of pride to you but in actual fact this will serve to be nothing more than wallpaper to your children. They’ll only notice it when the sunlight bounces off the laminate and blurs their vision! Think: Effort and time vs. impact.

The glittering spectacle of ‘engaging’, ‘exciting’ activities that your mentor so often praises you for make your ‘lessons’ a real showstopper. What’s more, SLT are sending others to watch you. But Amy – are the children actually learning? What knowledge are they taking from your lessons? Next week, will they be able to recall those facts about the stone age? Or will they remember only the paper mâché fun and the museum you created and ceremoniously opened in the hall? Will they be able to debate the pros and cons of evacuation during World War 2? Or will they remember only the font, background, images and animations they chose for the PowerPoint presentation they created? Will they be able to accurately explain the water cycle? Or will they remember only the fun of the card-sorting and round-robin activities and games they played? In actual fact, that ‘solid’ teacher who is ‘never going to set the world on fire’ – the one who was so appreciative of the way you welcomed them into your classroom last week after some tough SLT feedback about needing more ‘excitement’ in their lessons – they are the one your mentor should be sending you to observe! Ask to sit in on a few of their lessons and learn from them. Ask them to talk you through their planning – what knowledge? In what order? Why those questions to those children? What came before? What will come next? It’s their cognitive science expertise and principles of instruction that your children need from you, not a circus of ‘engagement’. Think: What do they need to know? How will you make sure it sticks? Keep the main thing the main thing: Task completion is a poor proxy for learning.

Your colleagues will be one of – if not THE – most valuable, rich resource in your continuous improvement. They’ll also become your allies, your confidants, your ‘work mums’. But Amy – remember that the glittering love and laughter emanating from the staffroom can sometimes be negativity and low expectations in disguise. “These kids” CAN; whatever their “issues”. The most vulnerable and deprived children need you to have the highest expectations of them. Do not water down their curriculum diet through misplaced love and ill-advised “differentiation”. Your five levels of this activity are glittering with football themed appeal for ‘the low ability group’ (who also happen to be pupil premium boys), but in actual fact you’re putting a lid on their jar. Read about fleas and the height of their jumps in a jar if you haven’t already; you’re putting a glass ceiling on what these children can achieve. And they know it! Think: Is what you have planned for them empowering or withholding power? Knowledge is a passport to social mobility so in your classroom this cannot just be the domain of the advantaged. Your decisions about what to teach has the potential to open doors and break down barriers for these children – what a difference you could make!

You are so determined to make a difference and you know the value, importance and magic of relationships. This is the best job in the world and some of what glitters really is gold! Make sure you take the time to pick out the grains of glitter from the carpet every single day and store them. You are entering a career in which you are paid to spend your time with the most loving, creative, incredible children – what a privilege! You will meet the most inspiring colleagues who will guide and support you – listen to them and learn from them. Most of all, enjoy it. You deserve it.


From Amy

Amy Bills


Regional Education Director, Primary West

Academy Transformation Trust