Lily Wilson

How Schools Can Best Support Supply Teachers

When a supply teacher enters a new school for the day, it can be a daunting experience. There are so many new policies, procedures, faces and names to take in, and that’s before you even get past reception! They also have to contend with an unknown building, unseen planning, an unknown timetable and a brand new set of students – all of this can be very overwhelming. The way in which schools welcome supply teachers is not something that has been standardised so can be very idiosyncratic. Some teachers have wonderful experiences where they felt as though they had all the information they needed to succeed for the day, or at least knew where to go to if they couldn’t find what they needed, whilst others have more mixed experiences. So, how do you as a school welcome your supply teachers? What procedures do you have in place to ensure that they can enter the classroom and lead the learning to the best of their ability, and to ensure that the children they teach will have a fantastic day of learning ahead of them? 

Supportive Environment  

As Bill Rogers (2003) put it, “What seems familiar, even easy, to the regular teacher can appear daunting to the ‘temporary’ colleague”. One of the best things you can do as a school is create a supportive culture, where permanent teachers are always willing and ready to answer any questions and provide moral support to supply teachers, and where supply teachers are referred to as ‘colleagues’, rather than ‘supply’. This is a culture that most schools have already, however the picture can sometimes, and unintentionally, look slightly different in practice. We all know how busy teachers are throughout the day, and especially in the mornings, which can make it difficult to be on hand to offer moral support to new colleagues. This is usually completely unintentional, and would never be the impression that permanent staff would actively want to give to supply colleagues, but it is something that can happen. One way in which this can be mitigated is to inform staff that there will be supply staff in the school on a particular day, and the classes that they will be covering. By making staff aware of their presence, it means that they will be able to be more conscious about offering that collegiate, moral support.  

Behaviour Management 

Every teacher knows that meeting a new class can be difficult: you don’t yet know the children and how to meet their needs, and you don’t have a good idea of the classroom dynamics. As a supply teacher, this can be particularly difficult, as you may also not be familiar with the school’s behaviour management policy and you’re also having to enter an already-established class as the newcomer. Again, here it is so helpful to provide information about the children in the class, seating plans, class/school rules and routines, and behaviour policies and procedures. Equally, it can be really useful to let your supply colleague know who they can contact if they need support, where to find those members of staff and the best way to get in touch with them during a lesson (for example, there might be one or two children in the class who could be relied upon to go and get them). Having a culture in place where it’s the norm for colleagues take key players out of the room, in order to provide the supply teacher with the opportunity to re-established themselves with the class before the others return, means that this can be done seamlessly and without too much interest or comment from children in the class itself. The key point with any outside intervention is to think about is how the more permanent members of staff, including SLT, provide support with behaviour. It can be common for staff to feel as though going into the room with a heavy hand and ‘laying down the law’ can be a helpful approach; however, this can have the effect of undermining the supply colleague in the eyes of the class, and can also lead to the supply teacher feeling as though they’re being reprimanded or judged themselves. By having set procedures in place that are communicated with the supply teacher at the start of the day, and are a part of the school’s every day culture, these feelings, perceptions and issues can be prevented from the outset. 

Supply Kit

A supply kit is a great way to provide support to supply teaching staff. Not only does it provide them with everything they need to have a successful day, but it also enables you, as a school, to create that culture and those norms for supporting supply teachers. It is important not to begin and end your support with the kit- just handing over a folder and walking away- but instead it should be the starting point that can then be gone over and discussed with the member of staff when they arrive at reception. There will be some things that you would include in the supply kits that you provide that will be specific to your school, but here is a list of the key items that we think make a great starting point: 

  • Identify a designated support teacher that the supply colleague can go to before the start of school or at break times to ask any questions. This is especially useful in larger schools which can be particularly overwhelming to newcomers.  
  • Passwords, logins or codes to the photocopier, computers and the shared drive so that lesson plans and registers (if taken electronically) can be accessed.  
  • School wide rules, routines, systems and procedures 
  • A clear map of the school, with key classrooms (including staff names for the teachers in those rooms) marked off, along with other important spaces, such as staff toilets, the staff room, admin office, medical room, main hall etc.  
  • Class rules (if applicable) and seating plans 
  • Start and end of day routines 
  • Times of the day, including break times and assemblies.  
  • Key information about children in the class, for example details of those with SEMH, EAL or SEN and the strategies that should be used with them (or equally those which do not work at all) and important medical information.  
  • Where to find the planning, activities and lesson presentations for the day.  
  • Staff to contact if support is required with behaviour management, including where they can be found and how they can be reached during lesson times. 

    Again, it’s really important to stress that this information should not just be put into a folder that is then simply handed over to the supply teacher. Taking the time to talk through the information is so important as it means that any questions can be asked in the moment, and there can be no misunderstandings on the part of your supply colleague. Hopefully, with these elements in place, you can create an environment where a supply teacher can walk in at the start of the day and feel as though they are a part of your school’s community from the moment that they are taken to their classroom for the day and can provide the best possible education to the children whilst they are with you.