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Feed the teacher, so they don’t eat the kids.

By Rebecca Thomas

Over 30 very tired staff huddled into a bland white office space of a new building at 3:30pm on a Wednesday (hump day). As they entered the room I could read the expressions on their faces, their body language revealed a picture of breaking point - but still they arrived.

True - the spread of food that greeted them did look amazing. Watching them tuck into it in the hopes to relinquish some sugar, they begin to thaw a little - but not enough to take their coats off, or put down their heavy laptop bags.

I felt awkward as I interrupted their comfort, as I signaled the start of the session.

The room was a small one. Some staff were standing around the edges of those seated. Some wearing masks; others tired of the sores the masks bring. The thought of catching something here might be a relief. Expectant eyes upon me, I began with a rallying call.

I thanked them for arriving; I thanked them for being there after such a long day. I continued to complement them on their feedback from the survey that was thrust at them the last time we met. Gratitude and warm words began to light their cheeks. I saluted their collective efficacy and celebrated their thirst for learning from and with one another.

The task I had planned was a challenging one. They were asked to begin battle on the Literacy Crisis; asked to help with the kahui ako’s achievement challenge; asked to raise the levels of their Māori learners' achievement. Failure was not an option. Russell Bishop had told us we have 2 years to turn things around. Still they smiled.

Despite all this pressure and asking at a time when I could see they were ready to drop, they didn’t dig their heels in, no moaning and groaning escaped them. Instead, the full productive hour and a half of professional learning passed quickly. Some even found it hard to stop - not wishing to leave their task unfinished.

Then I asked them for 'some more'.

In the closing moments I invited them to do this all over again in two weeks time. On top of that I gave them some homework. In the following sessions I wanted them to share with the group an element of their best practice in reading, from silent debates to conscience alley, from intentional learning environments to T-shaped Literacy, one by one they volunteered. There was banter and laughing, cheering and cheek. The atmosphere bore no reflection that the hands of the clock were signally 5pm.

However, these teachers were not done yet. Some had to dash off to child care to get their own children, some had to go shopping and cook tea - no doubt even later still, there would be marking and planning.

Having a long drive home myself, I reflected on the session I just had. My own cheeks were rosy and red now from the warm feelings and kōrero we just had. Experiencing the collective efficacy and empathising with what they were all prepared to do, gave me the reassurance I needed.

Despite all the deficit media around the profession, there are teachers out there willing to give their everything, still wanting to learn, undeterred from the changes ahead.

They know our children need us to help them, they know our students need us to be better, being in our silos is not the answer - we stand together united.

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