Working with Teachers

The Secret Teacher

There is a whole group of careers that are related to schools, but don’t exist IN schools.

There are people who sell solutions and products to schools; perhaps edutech things, CPD or toolkits. These jobs are really tough because schools just don’t have money to spend on things, even if they know deep down that what you’ll selling will make their lives easier.

There are other people who have been given funding to do stuff in schools for free, but need the schools’ cooporation to deliver these things. These jobs are probably even more tough because you’re asking the school for the one thing more valuable than their money – their time.

In my previous two jobs, as well as my current one, I have been working in fields that require lots of school cooperation in order to do what I need to do. The difference with my current role is that I am physically in my schools, which makes things SO much easier. I’m able to physically find that person I’m waiting to hear back from, or go to the office myself to check the calendar for a date. I can have a cup of tea with a teacher having a bad day, and attempt to find a solution, and sit in the back of morning briefing so I can hear what the day’s focus will be.

In this sector of “doing stuff with schools” it’s really paramount to understand the world of the school. However, I think that many people overlook this step, or assume that schools run like any other organisation – they don’t.

Recently I read The Secret Teacher, which I picked up at the wonderful Topping Books in Ely (which give out free coffee and a beautiful window seat to their customers to sit and stay a while).

The Secret Teacher is an anonymous tale of a newly qualified teacher starting out in a London(?) secondary school. He has a passion for English literature, but quickly finds that teaching is much more than reading great works out to fresh and raw minds.

Mr Teacher encounters a lot of things along his journey that would be perhaps surprising to those who don’t know schools. People may think that teachers can do what they want within the classroom walls, but Teacher has to conform to a strict structure in what he does, and finds it hard to fit his passion for the subject within this at first.

The balance between encouraging passion for their subject, maximising grades, and running the school overall is a challenge one, especially when taking into account that this machine’s products are real young people. Young people who may have disengaged parents, learning disabilities, or social struggles to deal with as well as their studies.

It’s a very easy read; I did it within a week or two. I’ve given it to my TeachFirst sister (warning: TeachFirst are the butts of a couple of jokes within the book) and she can’t put it down.

For those who work with schools, though, it’s essential reading. We can’t get done what we need to get done if we don’t understand the lives of teachers. With this in mind, aside from the book recommendation, I wanted to give a few tips to help make working with schools easier.

Show passion for what you do

No matter how good your product/service is, this is not a simple transaction like selling something in a shop. Resources are tight as I mentioned, and the people who you need to get on your side need to really understand why this thing you want to do is going to be amazing.

Just like in any sales role, having passion for what you’re doing will drive you forward when things get tough but will ultimately get you more sales as people invest in you and your product.

Understand the school’s priorities

Some schools are keen for 100% of their students to go to university (which would make an apprenticeship promoter an unwelcome presence). Some schools are focused on their Ofsted result. Others want to up their provision to targeted students, like SEN or Pupil Premium students.

Understanding where each school is at and what they want is key to building that relationship with them. You won’t necessarily find this information out through research; you should be able to get some contact in the school to sit and talk you through their priorities so you can explore how to pitch to them.

While your work isn’t a tick box activity for you (I would hope), finding how it could tick boxes for schools may be the key to delivering. For example, does your product help towards Gatsby Benchmarks? Schools are now required to provide access to technical routes such as apprenticeships – it’s called the Baker Clause. Therefore if you’re an apprenticeship promoter then you can present your pitch to help the school striving for 100% university progression.

Don’t make work for the already busy teachers

So you’re passionate and have communicated how amazing your product is. You have shown how this will help the school to their individual goals. But sometimes even when they want what you have to give, it’s far too much of a faff for them to make use of it.

In everything you do, you have to make it as easy as possible for your teachers. Just like Mr Teacher in the book, they’re under such pressure to get results. In cooperating with you, it shouldn’t mean that their plates are suddenly full of loads of extra tasks and stress.

When pitching events and activities to teachers, I create pitching documents that list the objectives and planned outcomes. I lay out everything that I will do and what is required from them. I’ll even schedule everything so they can picture how the event will look.

More often than not, all I need from teachers is for them to provide the students. I try to do absolutely everything else. I’m so very grateful to the teachers helping me in my work on top of everything else they do, so I don’t want my work to create extra work for them.

So those are my tips for working with schools. There’s a whole army of us out there who work with schools from the outside, and I’d love for there to be more discussion between us in this sector.

But in the meantime, this goes out to the higher education outreach people, the edutech sales people, the apprenticeship promoters, the NCS teams, the FuturesFirst people, the motivational speakers looking for gigs, the STEM skills project managers. It’s nearly time to go back to school, so let’s work together to get stuff done!

Any thoughts or comments? Please let me know below!

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