Staff Handbook

This post is about our staff handbook. It will interest you if you are a teacher or a teaching assistant.  It contains guidance on working at MBAT.  There are two sections: the first section talks about common features of the whole school and what we are trying to achieve; the second section, will be written by your team leader, and talks about specific features of your part of the school. 

Common Features

Mission: 

  • Shape a future for World Peace
  • Create a community based on compassion, dialogue and equality
  • Respect and honor our place in the Natural World
  • Inspire young people to be loving custodians of Nature
  • Promote good physical and mental health
  • Develop independent learning
  • Give all children the essentials of personal academic progress
  • Engage parents in their children’s learning

Organization

There are four team leaders in the school:

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  • Hadiqa team leader manages:
    • Pre-school
    • Years 1-4
  • Sama team leader manages:
    • Year 5
    • Clubhouse
  • Bahr team leader manages:
    • Upper School
    • Senior School
  • Distance Learning Coordinator manages:
    • Additional teaching staff: IT, PE, Farm Educator
    • SENCO and team

Your team leader is on the Senior Leadership Team along with the Bursar and the Principal.  They work together to ensure that the vision and mission of the school are put into practice.  Sometimes this will include liaison and cross-phase planning, but your team leader is independent and answers directly to the Principal.  The school is small.  It will never be bigger than 500.  Even so, we divide it up into a system of interconnecting small communities because we believe that small, intimate communities are good for children and staff.

Leaders have a lot of freedom to develop their teams using their own unique skills and experience; your team leader wrote the section of this Handbook that refers to your teaching area.  She helps the Principal to set the terms of your job description, an essential document that you must understand.  Your job description details the specific terms of your employment, your responsibilities and obligations.

You can develop over time at the school.  On the basis of a Termly Chat, which you must have every term, your Team Leader can recommend to the Principal additional training, revisions to your job description and salary increments for responsibility and effort.  The SLT reviews all job descriptions annually.  If you put your heart into the school, the school will reward you.

Teaching

As children grow up through the school, they have a close and direct understanding of Nature.  They take part in real activities on the Farm, in the gardens and grounds, and by the sea.  They investigate for themselves.  Teaching at MBAT is not the same as teaching at other schools.  You won’t force all children’s activity through projects or class work.  This may be tricky if you are used to more directive teaching or comprehensive project-based learning.  We will help you with training and coaching.

Some of your time will include cooperative work

It’s not all running around outside.  We want a solid core curriculum: English, Maths and Science will be prominent on the timetable.  As an experienced and reflective teacher, you will know what methods to employ to help children towards mastery in the core.  We don’t have a particular pedagogical model we are asking you to follow.  We have taken you on because you are a good teacher.  You do not have to twist yourself in knots thinking up alternative ways to teach.  You plan your own lessons.

Some of your time will include cooperative work.  You may also have to lead some projects that fill out the curriculum and provide children with a broad and balanced education.  Your team leader will create the term calendar of foundation subject projects and set up the planning and evaluation schedule.

We also want children to have free time and space to work on their own ideas.  We don’t want you to fill their days with teacher-led classes.  At each level there are activity rooms where they can work on their own.  You have an important role in resourcing and equipping this area, but you should not be setting learning objectives or outcomes.  Be involved, yes; turn every activity into a teaching opportunity, no.

Nature

The school is set in Nature and we emphasize natural development: human-scale, face-to-face, respectful and mindful. 

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Early years classes are small.  We think children learn naturally through free play, but we also stimulate their curiosity through projects that reinforce the school’s focus on the natural environment.  Free play and projects continue all the way through the school.  We don’t squeeze the joy out of learning in the Upper School just because they are preparing for examinations.  Our students remain in contact with the sea, the farm and the natural world.

Our emphasis on nature and natural learning is also reflected in our approach to parents.  You may have more contact with parents at MBAT than you have had in previous schools, because we welcome parental engagement in children’s learning.  We want to make the progression to school gentle and natural.  Our aim is for children to be happy, secure, self-confident and self-regulating.

At each level one member of staff takes on the role of Parental Engagement Coordinator.  This is a little more than arranging parent-teacher conferences.  We want parents to be actively involved in their children’s learning.  The 40% distance option plays an important part in this.

Distance Learning

Parents and children can choose to take advantage of the 40% distance option.  We have to work with parents: they need to understand clearly what we are working towards whenever their children are working from home.  Conversely we need to accept parents’ contributions to their children’s learning and the value of their real experiences- not just academic exercises.  If a child is in Athens with his parents, it would be absurd for him to stay in the hotel room to do exercises.  Real life can enter the digital portfolio.

At some times of the year you will have fewer children in your classroom.  Coordinating the curriculum so that children who are not present do not fall behind and still feel like a part of their communities is a challenge.  For this reason, we give great importance to the Distance Learning Coordinator.

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Your team leader will arrange training sessions with the DLC.  You will learn about:

  • Online portfolios
  • Online exercises
  • Online community (forums and chat)
  • The Flipped Classroom

You are probably familiar with the first three.  You flip a classroom by preparing the exposition of your lessons to be recorded and dropped in the online classroom.  Children can access it from anywhere and as many times as they like.  We’ll show you how it can work and, of course, you can work collaboratively with colleagues.

We want our students to grow up with an imaginative and creative approach to IT and technology.  Our distance learning is not just about doing exercises online.  You probably have ideas about how to make it real and we want to hear them.  40% of the year is a significant proportion and you should give the Distance Learning program a corresponding level of attention.

Freedom of Choice of Action

Freedom in Nature is a core value.  We value freedom because it leads to creativity and invention.

This phrase- freedom of choice of action- includes the word action.  Children come to school to do things, not just hang around.  They have choices about things to do, but being completely passive can’t be a long-term option.  They can’t just wait at the edges making comments on what other people are doing.

Giving children freedom to make choices does not mean letting them do just whatever they like.  You may find it tricky to explain this because it is easy for kids to get confused and think they have the right to be rude, for example.  You will have to make clear to them that they have freedom, but they do not have licence; there is no freedom without consequences and there are some things they cannot choose to do or not do. 

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How do they know what they can and cannot do?  Well, they work it out with you.  We want you to create an environment in which children talk freely to discuss what they can and cannot do.  Sometimes you may have to step in, but compassionate dialogue is a core value of the school we expect you to take seriously.  You don’t just step in and give the answers to all problems because you are an adult.

Your team leader will guide you on the level of freedom that is OK for the children you are working with: choices become broader and more comprehensive as children mature through the school.  You will work with your colleagues to create environments where they have to make choices and take responsibility.  This is an essential part of your work.

Authority-sharing

This is another concept you have to explain to the children so you must have it clear in your own head first.  Authority in the school comes from the owners through the Principal and on to you.  We don’t want a centralized and authoritarian school, so we have created the communities to give staff and children more freedom.

You might say to the children you teach:

I am your teacher and I have the authority to make lots of decisions about the way things go in this classroom.  The Principal gives me the authority to say what we are going to do today and when we are going to do it.  What does authority mean?  It just means that I am in charge.  I can tell you what to do.

But I think there are lots of things that you can decide for yourselves.  I want to give you some of that authority.  Some things you can decide for yourself- just you.  Other things you can decide together as a group.

I can’t just let you do whatever you want right now, because that would be a disaster.  There are some things we are going to have to learn about living and working together.  But that is what I want.  I want you to make choices for yourselves.  And we are going to work towards that.

You have to remember that I am still in charge.  If things go badly, I might have to be the boss for a time.  But I think you are able to do this and we are going to start by…

You can come up with your own ideas about what you are going to start with.  It is a good idea to start with something simple: do we have to wear shoes in the classroom?  It may take some time for children to get used to the idea that you are not going to tell them what to do all the time.  They may have very few people in their lives who listen to what they say.  However, all children are capable of making decisions for themselves and taking part in communal decision-making.  This is the start of self-government.

Self-government and communities

Self-government does not fully come into effect in the school until Sama.  Hadiqa prepares children to start taking the responsibilities and leadership they assume in Sama, but their communities are class communities and they rely on their teachers for direction.

Self-government just means that the children can sort things out for themselves.  They may need help in organizing complicated projects, but they can take care of almost everything else.  They can organize the school day, take care of the facilities, sort out problems between people, make laws about community life, propose activities, work on their own or in groups, suggest projects or activities, sign up for the classes they need, run a newspaper, control their online community and portfolios, engage with the upper and lower school, and, last but not least, organize parties and festivities.

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They still need teachers to give them lessons in the subjects of the formal curriculum, so you won’t be able to drink coffee all day!

You will need some training to work like this.  We will show you how to set up community meetings that work, with a basic toolkit to get things going.  Over time, the Meeting will create its own culture.  It is not complicated but it can be difficult, especially if you have been trained to think that you have to make the decisions.  The art of it is to stand back, listen and not speak too much.  You also need the humility to accept that community meetings may not always go your way.

The school will grow over the first seven years to include a Sixth Form.  By the time students reach the Sixth form they will be effective at running committees and resolving problems, using the structures of meetings they have learnt lower down the school.

Published by Jason Preater

Working on Projects

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