We love a pattern. Look at tea leaves and we try to see a pattern that reflects our future. Look at your toast and you try to see a divine image in the burnt bits. Look at the news and we try to see a conspiracy behind the patterns of events.
We love searching for meaning in the unconnected and disjointed fluff of our lives.
Leadership teams look at the reward system to see where there are problems and issues relating to events in the classroom. They look at a spreadsheet to judge the behaviour in departments, year groups, lessons and for teachers. They look to see where support is needed or things need monitoring. They look for patterns in the behaviour.
The problem we have is that a lot of our behaviour systems clump different elements together. Behaviour is often gauged through a numerical figure. That might be a percentage. Or a simple number. We then identify types of students based on this one figure. Good student. Naughty student. Or, effective teacher. Not effective teacher. The problem is that we lump class behaviour, outside the classroom behaviour and homework. A figure combines everything. We don’t separate the three different parts of behaviour in schools. In the classroom. Outside the classroom. Work at home.
As a teacher, I am responsible for the behaviour in the classroom, but I cannot be held responsible for Tim smoking behind the bike shed - unless I lent Tim my lighter. However, as class teachers, we are expected to be responsible for the work done in the classroom and at home. So, in essence, we have a responsibility for the behaviour at home. Let me just repeat that again: we have a responsibility for the behaviour at home. Like some deity, I am expected to have power that ensures that students complete work in a bedroom that isn’t tidied, because they haven’t listened to their parents when they asked them to tidy it. My teacher powers are to be so powerful that they move through walls, buildings, gardens and get a student to work at home. At the moment, I am doing my teacher stare at the window, hoping that my Year 10s will do some of the work I have set them.
I think the way we treat and clump homework to what happens in the classroom is so problematic. My teacher power does weaken as the student leaves the classroom. How can I be responsible for what a student does at home? And, more importantly, why should I be held responsible for a child’s behaviour at home? And, even more importantly, why should I be held accountable for a child’s behaviour at home?
Remote learning has drawn this out in to the public. Teachers are setting work and not every student is completing it. Whose fault is that? Whose responsibility is it?
Homework consumes a lot of any teacher’s time, effort and energy in school. We are setting it. We are checking it. We are chasing it. We are hunting it. We are, in some cases, begging for it. Some time spent teaching is spent on homework. Some time spent planning is spent on homework. Why don’t we have a system that alleviates this burden from teachers. Why are Maths chasing the same students that the English department are chasing ? Usually, if a student is poor at doing homework for one subject, then they are usually poor for most subjects. Yes, they might be getting a repeated message, but is a time effective one. How much time has it taken? Wouldn’t it be better if one person addressed the homework issue, rather than the English, French, PE, Geography, DT and Mathematics teacher?
Remote learning, I hope, has changed the landscape of homework. It has made homework a whole school issue. A whole school responsibility. Our school is collectively looking at students not engaging with remote learning. Then, we have a team of leaders calling home to ask if any support is needed or guidance needed. It is not blaming or accusing, but simply highlighting and helping issues. This model for me is the one we need to take forward after the lockdown. Teachers flag the patterns and it is the school’s responsibility to address and explore the patterns. That collective responsibility I think is a massive shift. It is realising that the work is not just the responsibility of the teacher, but the responsibility of the whole school. The whole school should be monitoring homework for patterns.
I also think remote learning is going to do something phenomenal in how we deal with work on top of lessons. At the moment, we have a huge data exercise. Schools are generating a massive data picture. We are, in effect, creating a data picture of the students that work outside the classroom. Aside from individual problems, we are going to see how over several months how students engage independently with work. We have a building a picture of how independent they are. Or not.
We are able to build a picture of who in Year 7, 8, 9 and 10 will need pushing and monitoring. We are able to build a picture in each year of who ‘might’ not revise for exams. We have a picture of the students who rely solely on lessons for their progress. We have a whole school picture of something we rarely have had in the past. The homework picture has always been isolated to the teacher. It is the teacher’s concern and nobody else’s. I think we need to change that.
Lots of people are talking about gaps in knowledge when the students return but maybe we should look at the gaps in engagement. Those should be the patterns we investigate when we return to school.
Make homework a whole school issue and not just an issue for the one tired teacher who is doing everything else. Chasing homework is so time consuming. We never deal with the underlying issues. A teacher can’t do that on their own. A school can though!
Thanks for reading,