Angelina Idun, SSAT Director, considers the challenges faced by NQTs over the last few months and offers some practical strategies for leaders to support their professional development and wellbeing
The autumn term 2020 and the start of the spring term 2021 have challenged highly skilled, confident, experienced teachers and leaders like never before. The scale of uncertainty and change and the differing needs of our children, their families and communities as they face the pandemic have demanded that educators everywhere dig deeper, drawing on every ounce of their resilience and resourcefulness. The commitment shown by seasoned professionals has been taken to another level.
What then has this looked like through the lens of the newly qualified teachers in our schools?
This honest reflection at the end of the autumn term from an NQT participating in the SSAT NQT Inspirations Programme will undoubtedly resonate with the experience of peers in all phases:
“I have found behaviour quite challenging in a lot of my classes this term. It is mostly the low-level chatting that can get really exhausting…. I praise a lot and try to focus on achievement points as a way to manage the classroom, but I think as the term has gone on and I am tired that I find I lose patience with low level chatter and calling out. I am still searching for ways to do this more effectively across the board.”
These passionate individuals, like the children in our schools, have had to navigate months of disruption as they successfully completed their QTS year, went through the recruitment process and embarked on their first teaching role. Rewarding though the first year of teaching may be, it also presents a huge learning curve. Partial school closure, remote teaching and learning, cancellation of exams, numerous policy U-turns, and all the other unique aspects of tiering and lockdown will further test the determination of our NQTs to survive and thrive in their first year. School leaders are well aware that the package of support they put in place for NQTs this year has to go beyond their already robust efforts if they are to secure the development of these new teachers, retain them in the profession and shape them as the leaders of our future schools and system.
At the end of the autumn term, participants in SSAT’s NQT Inspirations Programme were asked to reflect on the highlights and challenges of their first term in teaching. Here is a snapshot of what some of them said:
“Of course, it hasn’t all been ‘wonderful’ – after half term I seemed to lose my life/work balance a little, but with a bit of support and a lot of teeth gritting, it’s closer to where it should be. As disciplined as we are about behaviour management or lesson structure, we need to manage our own personal time and find that happy, flexible balance. Perhaps never perfect but at least heading in the right direction.”
“I began to feel both myself and my classes reach an enthusiasm lull. After speaking to my HoF we decided that I should do some observations of other teachers. This has made a huge difference! I observed two different teachers and afterwards I spent some time reflecting on their practice and what I wanted to take from those observations and apply to my teaching moving forwards. I now have new activity ideas, new classroom management techniques and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for planning my lessons.”
“Reflecting back over the last term, as a team we have dealt with challenging behaviours from new students which have resulted in changes in the class dynamic, regular medical issues and emergencies and still making significant progress for which I am certainly proud of our achievement in class.”
What do the NQTs in your school have to say about their first term and the early weeks of the spring term?
Let us know by commenting below.
What is striking about these and other comments that have surfaced in discussions we have had with new teachers from across the network, is the difference the support they are given by their teams, mentors, school leaders and other individuals in their schools makes to their development, wellbeing, workload and drive.
Teachers, leaders and other partners who have contributed to the SSAT NQT Inspirations sessions have reminded us that some of the simple things we do in our school communities can make a big difference. Continuing to focus on effective practices that probably supported our own development will go a long way to ensuring that whatever the challenges, regardless of whether they are working on site or remotely, our NQTs have the best possible experience this year.
To summarise, here are a few ways in which we can do this:
- Offering regular mentoring and coaching which will empower and give NQTs dedicated time and space to reflect, self-evaluate and find their own solutions
- Providing opportunities to observe others, to be observed and to receive feedback will bring with it opportunity to learn and develop
- Showing new teachers that it’s ok for everyone in the school community to ask for help
- Modelling ways in which those new to the profession can prioritise wellbeing and manage workload
- Encouraging collaboration and co-planning shares the load and sparks the creativity we all need to inspire and engage learners in real or virtual classrooms.
The NQT year is always a year to remember. For reasons we are all familiar with, it will be absolutely unforgettable for those who started as NQTs during the pandemic. We will all want to make sure that when they look back on the year, they will see that they were greatly valued and fully supported to grow into the teachers and leaders our schools and children deserve.
SSAT NQT Inspirations – an online twilight seminar series for everyone in their NQT year
It’s not too late to book NQTs from your school on this seminar series. Participants registering now will be able to access any sessions missed.