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Trust and empowerment of teachers

In any school, some decisions are made for you by your headteacher and some decisions you inherit from your students and their beyond-school lives. However, many decisions are completely down to you. Let’s take a look at why you have more decision-making power than you may think.

The role of the head teacher
Head teachers have overall responsibility for the success of their schools and inevitably have to be concerned with external assessment and accountability issues. How they deal with this varies, with some wanting to ensure consistency in how the students are taught across classes, whilst others encourage greater experimentation and individuality in teaching approaches. However, even in schools where the head wants there to be a consistent approach you will find considerable variation in aspects of teachers’ practices between classes. There’s a great example in Twining et al.’s (2017) NP3 study-  in one of the schools  there was an expected three part lesson structure; learning intentions had to be shared and copied down by the students; there was a particular approach to feedback marking; and the three classes in each year group planned together so that they all ‘did the same thing’. However, when observing ‘the same’ lesson taught by different teachers there was a vast difference in how it was implemented. One teacher showed a video at the start of the lesson as a stimulus for a teacher led whole class discussion before the students worked individually on planning their writing task in their exercise books. Another used the same video at the start of her lesson, but then allowed the students to choose whether to work alone or with one or more others to plan their writing and they had the option to work on the writing wall, a laptop, the interactive whiteboard or on paper.

Many teachers wait for direction (often perceived as permission) from their headteacher before trying out new ideas, assuming (often incorrectly) that their headteacher has the time and need to absorb the detail. But as teachers, we need to be more open to the idea that our heads usually trust and empower us more than we think - as long as we focus on the things that really matter to children’s learning.

Three headteachers explain what their trust in teachers looks like, illustrated with examples of how their teachers used digital technology in practice.

Students aged 3-11
Mid-sized urban school
“I only ask that they look at the students in front of them and think about how they are moving those students on” e.g. Teachers empowered students who had not traveled on an aeroplane using Virtual Reality headsets*  to ‘experience’ a flight before writing about it
Students aged 5-7,
Mid-sized urban school
“That class runs itself – that tells me what I need to know” e.g. Teachers used talking postcards to enabled pre-reading students to self-manage their timetabled activities
Students aged 3-18, Large inner-city school “I don’t hear my teachers talking about the difficulties that students are facing, I hear them talking about what they are doing about those difficulties” e.g. Teachers allowed students with limited English to use Google translate (free) on iPads in order to fully participate in lessons

*These can be homemade and used with existing smartphones, so not dependent on high cost kit.

The focus from the headteachers doesn’t mention digital technology. But the solutions – the empowerment - from each teachers does. None of the heads were confident users of digital technology - they were leading by focusing on what mattered – teachers’ mindsets and students’ learning .

Key point: As Teachers we have more agency than we might think.

In conclusion
Whilst  you have to work within the Teaching & Learning ethos set by your school, you almost certainly have more scope to be agentive within your practice than you think. You can make important decisions about what you do and how you do it in your classroom. We explore some of these possibilities in more detail in the next post in this series in which we ask ‘What can you do in practice?’.

This series of blog posts was written by Fiona Aubrey-Smith and Peter Twining.

Posts in the series include:

1. Trust, Empowerment and Learning with Digital Technology
2. Trust and empowerment of teachers
3. What can you do in practice?
4. Trust and empowerment of students
5. But I can't because ...
6. In conclusion - expanding possibilities


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