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Trust in Teachers: Balancing Curriculum Structure with Professional Freedom

by Rebecca Thomas


To deny our teachers autonomy would be akin to silencing the very muse that inspires their craft.


Imagine a painter, stripped of their colours and brushes, forced to create within the confines of rigid, predefined lines. The vibrancy and life that would naturally flow from their fingertips are stifled, resulting in a hollow echo of what could have been a masterpiece. 


Just as an artist needs the freedom to experiment and express, teachers need the liberty to tailor their teaching methods to ignite the minds of their students. Denying this freedom not only undermines their professional integrity but also deprives students of the rich, engaging education they deserve.


This suppression of creative freedom has profound impacts on the wellbeing of both teachers and their students. For teachers, being forced into a rigid framework can lead to frustration, burnout, and a diminished sense of professional fulfilment. The joy and satisfaction that come from inspiring and engaging with students are replaced by a sense of monotony and disempowerment. This emotional toll can lead to higher rates of absenteeism, lower morale, and ultimately, a greater turnover rate among educators (not a bi-product I believe the new budget band-aid is wanting).


For students, the impact is equally significant.


When teachers are unable to bring their unique perspectives and innovative methods into the classroom, learning becomes a static, uninspiring process. Students miss out on the excitement of discovery and the deeper understanding that comes from interactive, personalised instruction. Their natural curiosity may wane, leading to disengagement and a lack of motivation. Moreover, a lack of enthusiasm from their teachers can make students feel undervalued and unsupported, which can adversely affect their academic performance and emotional wellbeing.


It is deeply ironic that New Zealand has placed a child and mental wellbeing strategy at the heart of its curriculum refresh while simultaneously seeking to dictate and strip away the autonomy of educators. This contradiction undermines the very foundation of the strategy itself. On one hand, the strategy aims to promote holistic wellbeing, recognising the importance of mental health and the nurturing of a supportive learning environment. On the other hand, imposing rigid control over teaching methods directly contradicts these goals, stifling the creativity and flexibility that are crucial for fostering a positive and engaging educational experience.


This heavy-handed approach also has more compounding impacts; it erodes the trust between teachers and the wider community.


Educators, feeling disempowered and undervalued, may become disillusioned with the system, leading to a decline in their commitment and passion for teaching. When teachers are not trusted to exercise their professional judgment and expertise, it sends a clear message that their skills and insights are not respected. This not only affects their morale but also diminishes their standing in the eyes of parents and students.


The resulting strain on the relationship between teachers and society can be profound.


If educators are constantly micromanaged and their autonomy is stripped away, it perpetuates a cycle of disrespect. Parents and students may see this lack of trust and support as a reflection of the educators' abilities, further eroding the respect and authority teachers command. This can lead to increased incidences of disrespectful behaviour, undermining classroom management and the overall learning environment (something that I hear and see happening more frequently and pervasively).


The cyclical cycle continues and breeds further harm.


When teachers feel unsupported by the educational system, their ability to advocate for the wellbeing of their students is compromised. The disconnect between the stated goals of the wellbeing strategy and the reality of restrictive teaching practices creates a sense of disillusionment and frustration.


This dissonance can make it difficult for teachers to fully engage with and implement wellbeing initiatives, thereby diminishing their effectiveness.


In conclusion, the irony of advocating for child and mental wellbeing while stripping away teacher autonomy highlights a critical flaw in the government's approach to 'fixing things.' It damages trust, increases disrespect, and ultimately undermines the very goals of the wellbeing strategy. To truly support the mental and emotional health of students, it is essential to empower and trust educators, recognising their crucial role in shaping a positive and nurturing learning environment.


A mutual trust and co-constructed way forward is imperative.


When we neglect to support and trust our teachers, we metaphorically starve them of the professional nourishment they need to thrive.


As the saying goes, if you don't feed the teachers, they will eat the kids. This means that without proper support and autonomy, teachers may resort to rigid, uninspired teaching methods that ultimately harm students' educational experiences.


It all starts with the people at the top trusting what our educators know and involving them in the conversation. Transparency is key; being secretive about significant initiatives with far-reaching consequences only breeds distrust and disillusionment. A collaborative, transparent approach that values and incorporates teachers' insights is essential for fostering a thriving educational environment for both teachers and students.


(click on image for a helpful wellbeing resource)





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