How are you feeling now that you are an Early Career Teacher (ECT) and you have the responsibility of your own pupils? Do you feel like a teacher? Or do you feel like you are still ‘practising’ or ‘pretending’?
When I (Rachael) became a headteacher, I recall I was reluctant to wear my headteacher badge because the words represented the huge (metaphorical) weight of the role which I felt somewhat under prepared and inexperienced to manage.
Being in a new role or situation can be overwhelming and so the importance of tackling things in smaller chunks, or prioritising the most important things first, are important habits. With each day, your professional identity will be developing and your professional behaviours refining.
Here we consider five essential stepping stones for developing your professional behaviours.
Stepping stone 1: Understanding your professional identity
Who do you think you are? That is the question! Beginning by recognising your own developing identity as a teacher is at the heart of being a genuine and authentic practitioner, where you can build trust with others and a belief in yourself.
In positive psychology, there is an emphasis upon knowing your strengths and using these as your foundation. Understanding what motivates and inspires you, stemming from your core beliefs and values, also enables you to develop confidence in who you are and what you are aiming to achieve. Current thinking around identity is that this is not static: whilst many of your values and beliefs may be longstanding, your own sense of self and the outward display of this through your attitudes and behaviours will continue to be shaped by your experiences.
Take time to recognise how you are developing as a professional and how your outward actions reflect your identity and strengths. You will discover that in teaching you will always have actions from observations and performance management (no matter how well you have done) and often a ‘gap’ or ‘need’ approach is used to support development in teaching. Hold firm to the positives, the achievements and what you already do well as your foundation, and then start to tackle those targets!
Stepping stone 2: Becoming a reflective practitioner
As you develop your own professional identity and persona, a reflective approach will enable you to learn, develop and become an amazing teacher. This leads on well from the first stepping stone of strong self-awareness and self-understanding.
Develop a critically reflective attitude, where you are conscious of experiences, learning, and the impact of your networks in shaping who you want to be professionally. Having a learning attitude will support you in building resilience and self-esteem, especially if you are someone who strives for perfection in all things. Some days you will not get everything right, and it is these experiences that are great opportunities for learning.
Linked to reflection is the concept of reflexivity. When we are being reflexive, we are asking ourselves complex questions, for example, how do my values or view of the world impact how I acted in this situation? What further knowledge or understanding do I need to support my effectiveness in creating inclusive environments, for example? Moving beyond simple reflection of a situation to really understanding some of our deep-rooted habits, attitudes and behaviours offers opportunity for insightful development and growth.
Stepping stone 3: “Ubuntu – I am because we are!” Being part of a community
The idea of Ubuntu describes a collective responsibility and offers a different way to understand who we are in terms of social beings.
In our book, we reflect upon the idea that no-one is an island, working completely in isolation. We are influenced by those people in our close networks and those networks can often have a collective identity. You have probably noticed this in your school where a shared culture is evident (‘how we do it here’) and even shared language to describe the dynamics between people e.g. a family. Building strong networks, professionally and personally, and selecting carefully who is part of those networks, can impact our success.
Find your advocates/cheerleaders! Find your critical friends! Commit to those networks and relationships so that you can work in a reciprocal way to give to your community as well as gain from the experience and expertise of others.
Stepping stone 4: Developing good habits
Alongside the notion that you will always have targets (see stepping stone 1) however well you have done, the other truism in teaching is that the ‘to do’ list is never complete. Whilst you need to develop good habits for organisation, and lists are a great strategy, you will need to develop ways to prioritise and to decide when a job is ‘good enough’ or needs more work.
In Professional Behaviours, we offer some strategies such as prioritising urgent and important tasks using a tool such as an Eisenhower Matrix (shown below).
Our book has been written to provide a supportive guide, a go-to resource, which is authoritative and accessible. We hope by reading our book it will provide a springboard for learning as well as promoting critical self-reflection.
Stepping stone 5: Be kind to yourself
This is just the beginning of your journey. So, be kind to yourself and find ways to ensure that you are healthy and well. Being a teacher can become all consuming (do you find yourself collecting things out on a walk because you will be able to use them in some way, for example?) and so make time to do things that support your holistic well-being.
Maintain your hobbies and friendships so that you have opportunity to do something different. Develop habits so that you have time for exercise and leisure. If you are finding the work-life balance difficult or you are starting to feel pressure from your role, engage in the supportive well-being for teachers resources that are available to you.
NASBTT has a dedicated section on their website and Sally Price has written an essential guide for mental well-being and self-care for the ‘Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers’.
Dr Rachael Paige is Deputy Head of the School of Education (Learning, Teaching and Quality Enhancement), and Dr Colin Howard is Associate Lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Worcester. Their book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Professional Behaviours, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, is out now.