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Checking IN Versus Checking UP: Approaches to Leadership

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Catherine Carden and Virginia Bower

Two words - just two tiny words can change the experience of teachers so profoundly.

How do you feel as a teacher? Do you feel checked IN on or checked UP on?

With regards to checking IN or checking UP, there is a significant difference between how these play out within a school culture, and the results can see teachers feeling supported and developed or judged and monitored.

Let’s think about it…

If you check IN on your staff, as a leader, you imply that they are of value and that you care. If you check UP on your staff you are seen, as a leader, to be judgemental; constantly monitoring performance against a dialogue and discourse of measures, performativity and outcomes.

It cannot be denied that leaders in schools are held accountable for all aspects of school life - pupil progress, staff performance, parental satisfaction, the budget, health and safety… the list goes on. This puts extraordinary pressure on the senior leadership team and in particular the headteacher and we are in no way suggesting anything different. Because of this, schools can become consumed and driven by the fear of accountability; always being expected to show immediate impact and constant improvement year on year. The pressures of SATs, phonics screening, the multiplication test, league tables and the Ofsted inspection regime can lead to a culture of surveillance, monitoring and checking UP on staff. This is often undertaken with the best intentions and justification from senior leaders thinking that they have no choice but to undertake activities such as regular observations of teaching, learning walks (observation by another name), book scrutiny and regular data and progress checks.

In the minds of many educational leaders, born out of an implicit message from external agencies, checking UP on staff is the best, and only way, to gauge the quality of teaching and learning, progress and outcomes in order to inform self evaluation and feed into predictions and target setting. Yet, this in turn projects fear, anxiety and constant stress onto the shoulders of the classroom teachers - the very people we rely on to have the space to create and innovate in order to inspire the children they teach.