I was the backchannel

I started my first round of monitoring today.

“Boo hiss!” I hear you all cry. “Nasty senior leader going to spy on poor innocent teachers…”
But I don’t see it like that. I see myself as a backchannel – feeding back information to my colleagues so they can teach better and children can learn better. I’m not specific by person and judgemental – I’m affirmative, positive and general.
It started with something that the headteacher had said two weeks ago at staff training. He had set out how he expects behaviour regimes to be created at the start of the term. I felt it was my job to find out whether his expectations had been met. Firstly here’s what he said about behaviour:
He had written this:


The absolute key priority is that every child settles into their new class – start as you mean to carry on. Make clear and explicit your expectations to all from minute one, day one and continually reinforce – bad habits can be formed very quickly. Don’t worry about getting through lots of work, go slowly – quality learning behaviours and positive attitudes are far more important than quantity.
Be “over the top” to start off with, once all children “know the ropes” only then can you start to slowly ease off. Discuss and agree rules, rewards and consequences that will work for you and your class of children. Make these explicit on display to all and constantly refer to them (ours not mine).

So in turn I had converted his text into a list of questions that looked like this:


  • Are teacher’s expectations clear?
  • How have they re-inforced them?
  • What strategies are in place to prevent bad habits forming?
  • Do children exhibit quality learning behaviours?
  • Do children have positive attitudes?
  • Are rules, rewards and consequences:
  • Realistic?
  • Negotiated?
  • Explicit?
  • Displayed?
  • Constantly referred to?

And I thought that would do the trick. But then I realised that I wanted to answer these questions by asking the children about them – and let’s face it, they’re not so child friendly. So I made a quick questionnaire that looks like the one in the photo. You can find the real one here.


Before lunchtime a sample of children from each class set with me in the ICT suite and answered the questionnaire. It took about twenty minutes, as some of the younger children needed help with the logging on and the like.


The output from the form goes straight into a Google spreadsheet, which, as it is mainly text, can be quite easily turned into a word cloud of some sort – I mainly used Wordle, although I did use Seth Glickman’s gadget for one too.


The word cloud went up on the staff room wall by lunchtime, allowing staff to think about the common themes from the responses.


In terms of my conlcusions, it was clear that teacher’s had made their expectations clear, good strategies are in place and are being re-inforced. The children are positive about their learning and clear about what good learning behaviours look like. If there’s anything we need to work on, it’s the perception of some children that others in their classes behave worse than they do – I guess we all think like that, which is maybe why teachers sometimes fear these sort of monitoring visits so much.


What was good for me was that it was a learning walk without being a learning walk. I found out lots about what the children think without interfering with any lessons or putting pressure on teachers. The feedback format of the word cloud is positive and friendly and provides a discussion point for moving us all on without singling out individuals.
As for the title statement, today I was the backchannel. Monday I’ll be the teacher again, hoping that somebody will give me some feedback and show me where to improve. 



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