In praise of… institutional memory. Does stability breed success?

Sparked by a comment from Kate Stockings (@kate_stockings) earlier this weekend, I was gently surprised to be able to reflect on a fairly shocking thought. This summer will mark the first year in five that I have not been preparing for significant syllabus, specification or staffing change.

Change is good. Change can be powerful, exciting and necessary. It’s empowering and enjoyable, and makes us think and wonder and work anew. But too much change can be challenging – keeping up with all the new things can take away time, effort and energy from the day to day reality of teaching awesome Geography.

I moved to my current school four years ago. So, that first summer, I was leaving good friends and my first job behind, and getting ready to teach and lead in a completely new setting, as well as moving to co-educational from single sex. Since that time, I’ve:

i) Changed GCSE syllabus twice, and A Level syllabus once. We’ve gone from old spec AQA GCSE to the Edexcel IGCSE, then the updated version of the Edexcel IGCSE as it moved to 9-1 and split the paper. I’ve gone from AQA 2030 A Level to a new syllabus.

ii) Helped to rebuild our entire KS3 offering. A completely new curriculum, designed in collaboration with some incredibly smart people, and willing support from my SLT, has had significant impact on our take up and engagement.

iii) Had eight different colleagues in what is normally a three person Department. One maternity leave (and cover), and then the changes and challenges of temporary staff to cover long-term sickness, together with a retirement.

iv) Changed VLE, school management and data system.

v) Changed from a one week 40 period to a two week 50 period timetable.

Phew! No wonder we feel a little whirled and exhausted at times! Now, pretty much all of these changes have been environmental or school-generated – rather than caused by me! – and the circumstances where they have overlapped and happened at the same sort of time been merely coincidence. And, perhaps on reflection, all of them have been pretty positive for the Department and the Geography we teach.

But this summer, we’re able to have different conversations. We have the same team, syllabus and curriculum in 2019-20 as we do this year, for the first time in five. We know each other, now: how we think about ideas, what kind of teachers we are, and are trying to be, what kind of ways we like to think as a team and as a Department. We have the same parameters – timetable, and how we get the data out of the system, email home, and find information about our students. We know a bit more about what we want to do together, and what kinds of things we can build from.

Our expectations, therefore, are adjusting – not “how do we survive the year?” or “how do we make sure we can all deliver what we want to this year?” – but “how do we do this to the best possible standard?”. How can we aim for operational, curriculum and Geographical excellence?

It feels exciting and challenging at the same time – it’s a real challenge to integrate all of the reading, blogs and books, ideas and discussions in to a coherent narrative whole. How can we do what we want – as effectively, as powerfully, and as efficiently as possible? Can we pull all the threads together to make something wonderful?


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