This post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
Today’s educational landscape is changing fast, with more and more schools becoming academies and education being slowly aligned to business-like thinking. Schools have never been in a more competitive market place for students, especially considering the birth of free schools and UTC’s on the horizon. Senior leadership groups up and down the country are now starting to pay major attention to business principles and marketing strategies in order to gain a competitive advantage in this growing sector. Some schools are even spending thousands of pounds on marketing consultants each year in the hope that they can provide a brand that portrays an image of excellence to prospective families.
But, as every parent should know, it’s more about what happens in the classrooms, than what happens on the pages of the school prospectus. So how can we exhibit a sense of professionalism and quality in our dealings with students and parents?
A recent Ofsted report into standards in schools claimed that teacher training should be overhauled to place a greater focus on ‘professional dress and conduct’ in the classroom. This comes amid fears that adults may be setting a bad example to students by wearing casual clothes in lessons. If we expect students to be smartly dressed in our schools, then as teachers, isn’t it right that we follow this rule too, leading by example?
Teachers dress and appearance has long been a debated topic within education circles, especially within teaching unions. The big question for all senior leaders and heads is: Where do you set your standards? Irrespective of expensive marketing consultants and flashy advertising campaigns, there are no better walking, talking ambassadors of your school than your teaching staff. They are in front of our children for six hours per day and regularly meet parents and members of the local community. It is the teachers that can sell your school better than anyone by displaying a sense of professionalism in every contact they make with our major stakeholders.
With this in mind, is there a need (like Ofsted commented on) to show a more business-like and professional approach to teacher appearance? With every effort made to find those ‘marginal gains’ in learning to increase student outcomes, is teacher appearance worth reviewing? My personal opinion is that we need to do everything we can to exude professionalism and high standards, as it us ultimately us who, in most cases, serve to be the role model in our young peoples’ lives.
So where do you set your bar? What do you see as professional standards from your staff? Are you happy for male staff to not wear ties? Or female staff to wear leggings? And if you’re not, what have you done about it? It’s no good just moaning about it and wishing it was different. As senior leaders it’s our job to set the tone and establish the climate for which we work and learn in.
It always makes me smile to see teachers ‘dressing up’ for parents’ evenings in their best suits or fancy dresses – the like that you rarely see them wearing at school. What message does this send to our students? That they are not worthy or important enough to warrant the nice suit or fancy outfit day by day, and that their parents are more important? Surely we are doing what we do, for our students – they are the most important people in all of this, so they deserve the very best of our efforts every day.
Professionalism goes deeper than just personal appearance. What does a classroom say about a teacher or a school if it looks like it’s just been burgled? Take a look around the classroom’s in your school tomorrow – how many teachers’ desks portray the image of quality that you are striving for? How many dirty, stained, half drunk coffee cups are left on show in those classrooms? Is this really what we want to see? Does this look business-like to our students? Is it creating the climate for learning that your glossy prospectus shouts about?
Some might say that this is yet another ‘dig’ at a teaching profession under pressure from central government. Another stick to beat the teachers with, who, according to statistics, really don’t need another reason to leave the profession…..they’re leaving anyway due to unmanageable workloads and incredibly stressful working days with constant high pressure. So, is dress really the ‘be all and end all’ of being a professional in the classroom. Well, it’s like anything…..to be taken seriously you need to put on the game face, the armour and exude a sense of authority.
I can see the need for practicalities to be taken care of, that Design & Technology teachers may not wear a tie, that Early Years teachers may wear something more casual when painting with under 4’s. How about a uniform for staff then? I’m sure many a teacher would be happy pulling on a uniform on a morning rather than having to consider if their shirt/tie combo is stylish enough! There is a growing trend, particularly in PE departments to go ‘branded’. Schools want to take opportunities to sell their brand and there is no better way than, effectively doing what they do with students, with teachers. Staff wearing a polo shirt with the school badge embroidered or maybe even a school tie brings together a unity, a connection between the staff and the students which is all too often negated. It unifies the school community.
As a parent, what would your impressions be of a school where teachers wore branded items of clothing? Does it appear to be a bit over the top or, alternatively, is it the perfect way to show that your glossy prospectus really is worth more than the paper it is printed on?