The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Mel Greenwood

A culture of learning and growing – ECT years and beyond

Find out the importance of continuous learning and growth for educators, emphasising their impact on improving the educational experience for students.

The earliest years of your teaching career can be the toughest, but for some, these are the years that see the most growth as an educator. 

After those first two years of teaching, you can continue to learn and grow or stagnate and sit comfortably where you are. Unfortunately, even some of us who move on to middle or senior leadership roles can stagnate if we don't continue to read, listen, watch and network. 

This blog calls all teachers, ECT or not, to keep learning and growing.

Why should there be such a focus on continued learning and growing? Because this is the only way that the offer for our children and young people will get better and more relevant.

In terms of student data collection, we tend to focus on three parts: attainment, aptitude and attitude in that order (rightly or wrongly – I would argue wrongly!). To explore a career of continuous learning and growing, I will explore the three facets in this order:


Does your attitude exemplify the profession?

As an experienced student mentor, this is the focus of my mentoring. Does the teacher (student or otherwise) sitting before me display an attitude that exemplifies the profession? Are they eager? Warm? Driven by virtues? Willing to learn? In charge of their own learning? If the answer is yes, then everything else falls into place quickly. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a reader? What are you currently reading about that supports your growth as an educator?
  • How do you network with other educators beyond those you work with daily? Do you network on social media? In a collaborative? A reading group?
  • When do you allow yourself time and space for honest reflection on your craft? Do you consider what you might do differently next time to support even more progress or to engage your students differently? Do you seek support when you need to?
  • How do you deal with setbacks or developmental feedback? Do you bury your head in the sand or strive to make purposeful changes to your practice?
  • Do you consider and implement intentional strategies to support your mental health and wellbeing? Are you ensuring that you are physically well?

Journal your responses and consider whether you need to make any changes or adaptations or put new things in place to support you in developing an attitude that exemplifies the profession. If you struggle with a positive attitude, do not love what you do or feel that your wellbeing is at risk, you must seek to do something about that now. The profession cannot afford to lose you! We all must harness an attitude of compassion and empathy where supporting one another continually, even beyond the ECT years, is just commonplace.

Don't be afraid to hold your mentor to account or ask them for further support after you have spent some time reflecting on your attitude. If you have a thirst and a drive to keep learning and developing your craft but don't feel you have the tools to do so, it is your responsibility to seek additional support. 


  • Are you empowered to be the best you?
  • Do you have all the tools you need to be successful and support your students' success?

Are you capable of being the best you that you can be because you have the tools at your disposal to be so? This data point is about you and it is about your mentor and those colleagues around you working in a complex yet supportive web. One of the most exciting things about working in education is how diversity is at the forefront of many recruiters' thinking – hopefully, we are seeing more diversity in school staff than ever before. Harness this: diversity brings different experiences, passions, thinking and strengths. Engage in healthy dialogue with your colleagues around you to add to your learning and teaching toolbox!

Keep reading

When you began at your current school, it would have provided you with relevant policies and curriculum documents to understand what learning and teaching, culture and expectations look like in your environment. Never stop referring to and reading these key pieces of information; look for other tools to support you in becoming even more capable.

For example, read around the subject if your school harnesses the power of restorative practices in behaviour management. And if you are not sure what to read, just ask around or look at LinkedIn or Twitter. There is a wealth of information out there. If embracing metacognitive strategies is a priority, observe others in practice or look at the EEF toolkit. And if you need clarification, look it up. 

There will always be a new idea proposed, buzzword used or strategy to implement, but it is up to you to seek to understand and decide what is useful, what is interesting and what is imperative to know more about in your school context.

Is there any specific training that you would benefit from? This could be in-house training by linking with a colleague, it could be online or it could be an external course you sign up for. Do not be afraid to ask if you would benefit from something – just ensure that you are prepared to talk about your plans and why you think said training will support you as you grow and flourish as a practitioner.


  • Are you successful?
  • Are you thriving?
  • Are you harnessing and developing your skills?

The last point was about whether you have the tools you need to succeed; this is about using those tools. An honest conversation with yourself early on is crucial. If you can't be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with? This data point is about whether you are finding you are successful in the current position and school that you are in. We all thrive in different environments and you must be in the right one. If you are not, you find the space where you can thrive or find the tools to help you thrive. This is on you. 

Ask yourself:


  • Does your thinking around supporting behaviour and developing student character match with the school you are in? Schools all work slightly differently, with different systems and priorities and finding a home you are comfortable in and believe in is important. Your school is your work family – only this family you get to choose!
  • Do you agree with how your subject or subjects is/are being taught or would you like to gain experience in a school whose pedagogy is slightly different? It is okay if you feel that you need to move on. Like plants, we all thrive in different conditions.
  • Can you harness all of your skills where you are currently? If not, why not? Could you find a way to lead an extracurricular activity or get involved in a project in a different part of the school that will enable you to explore your passions and skills outside of where you are currently teaching?
  • Is there anything you feel you are struggling with or could improve? Where will you seek support? What resources may you need to consider to help you? Your mentor in school can support you with this, but you must be willing to ask and take responsibility for how well you are doing.

Schedule time to thrive

Being the best you and harnessing everything great and individual about you is important. You will quickly burn out if you feel that you are not capable of thriving or you are struggling to thrive in the position and/or school that you are in.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that there is never enough time. Luckily, as an ECT, you should already have been allotted time out of the classroom in addition to your PPA time. Use this, protect this, calendar this. This is where your reading and watching can start. After these ECT years, consider where you will commit to your professional development; become an advocate for further protected time in your school; approach the right people and get the conversation started – ask for the time to continue allowing yourself to grow and learn.

As a senior leader, I still made sure that I calendar time in my week to read, watch webinars and listen to podcasts. I am continuing to learn and grow as an educator and this is important. Also, remember that your thinking will likely change over time. There are practices I used to do that I would never dream of doing now that I am better informed and more experienced and there will be further changes I make as I continue growing.

As educators, we never stop learning. 

Working in education is a lifelong commitment to your own learning and the learning of the children and young people you are blessed to work with. Share something you have learned with a colleague of yours today and take responsibility for your growth and support theirs. Reflect and regroup if you need to and most of all, do not be afraid to ask for any support that you feel you need to thrive in your role.

Child Protection in Education

Our annual Child Protection in Education conference is your opportunity to network with leading educational lawyers, practitioners and experts, unpack the Department for Education advice and guidance and take away proven strategies and resources to implement and evidence compliant child protection procedures and an outstanding schoolwide safeguarding culture.

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