Monday, 29 February 2016

Reflection: #teacher5aday29dayswriting

I was going to use my last #teacher5aday29dayswriting post to write up my notes from the Standards and Testing Agency meeting I went to today, but it would be pretty boring and it's past ten o'clock now so that can wait. Instead I shall reflect upon the benefits of writing daily for 29 days.

Last week I spent most of my free time writing a job application (you should be allowed a couple of days off for that because how, realistically, is filling in all that stuff meant to fit in with a teacher's schedule?) It's like they want to make it hard for you to leave your current job... Anyway, having spent so much time writing recently I found that sentence structures and phrasing came very easily. I also felt the application conveyed my personality more than previous letters of application have - this is surely because I've been blogging, let's face it, about me, myself and I every day for the last month! Whilst I wouldn't say practise has made perfect, it's certainly helped.

I think I've genuinely written some helpful stuff over the last few weeks. Posts have been hit and miss - inspiration didn't desert me but the lack of time to think things through means that some posts probably came off half-baked. However, many of the posts I've written have garnered positive feedback, sometimes just from one person who claims that my message was timely and useful to them. I'm not going to lie, that's a good feeling. And it's why I started my blog - to have an impact and to inspire others beyond the realms of my social circles. It'll be interesting to see which posts stand the test of time.

It's done wonders for my blog's stats! I love statistics as much as the next bloke and, whilst getting hits is not why I write my blog, it's gratifying to know that my pieces are being read. Allow me to indulge myself: currently my all time page view count stands at a little over 20,000 - 12,000, over half, of those page views were in the last month! In that time frame two of my blog posts have reached over 2000 views each - most of those in a two day period. I think I've gained a fair few followers on Twitter too as a result. When I wrote my first blog post I naively dreamed of it going as viral as all the 'Why I've Left Teaching' articles and I learnt there and then that my subject matter is not what the masses want to hear. However, I started my blog in the vain hope that I would be able to reach some people somewhere, and I think my stats show that that is happening, especially as a result of blogging so regularly.

Finally, I have really enjoyed the chance to switch off from my work and to do something a little different. I have tried to stay true to the vision I have for my blog's content meaning that I've still written about teaching-related things - a busman's holiday I suppose, but still not actual work. The pieces I've had the most enjoyment in writing are the more creative ones:


Each of those posts conjures up memories of where I was when I wrote them, and how I was feeling - I've had some really good times partaking in this challenge.

I don't think I'll continue posting daily, but I'm sure a habit has been instilled in me. Maybe in the coming months I'll blog more frequently than before, but also more thoughtfully than perhaps I have over the last 29 days - a balance must be struck. I must give a huge thank you to all the visionaries waving the @teacher5aday banner for challenging, inspiring and supporting me through this month of blogging. Same again next year? Ooh, I might do!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Blaze Your Trail

The word 'autonomy' comes from the Greek 'auto' meaning "self" and 'nomos' meaning "law", so together the word means "one who gives oneself one's own law".

But I know too many teachers wanting autonomy who are waiting around expecting to be given it. But if the definition of the word is anything to go by, that's not how it works.

For example, many teachers who are bogged down with work are not willing to speak to their leaders to ask for some extra time. They worry that the answer will be no. Or they believe there is no point in asking because someone else once did and their request was rejected. My answer to these objections is that you don't know until you've tried. If you are a hard worker and have a good reputation then most heads will be inclined to listen to your concerns and find solutions. And what's the worst that could happen? I can't imagine many headteachers who would start capability procedures just because a teacher asks for a morning out of class, even if they do turn down the request.

Being an autonomous teacher means being a go-getter. Go get that extra time you need, go get the help from a colleague, go get that next job if your boss really is that bad.

In the business world employees are much more used to autonomously blazing their own trail, whereas many teachers expect to be led down a well-trodden path. My wife, who worked in the private sector before we had our children, and who is much more savvy than I am when it come to employment, has shown me another way. I have written proposals asking for TLR awards, I have suggested that a role be created for me after pointing out a need in school, I have asked for the advice and training I've needed in order to further my career. After a few years of waiting around for things to happen, becoming an autonomous go-getter was the only solution.

Even the best heads need signals from their staff before they can cater for their needs. Start sending out those signals - and make them obvious. Make your signal as obvious as walking into the office and explaining your problem and suggesting your desired solution. Go get what you want - blaze your trail.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Freestyle Teaching



In my younger days I used to rap a lot. Late Saturday night customers to KFC were often treated to having their order taken by a freestyling team member. Journeys in my best mate's Vauxhall Corsa were sure to be accompanied by some 'off the top' lyrics. And house parties would often be, erm, enhanced by my improv raps. Fo' real.

Research shows that when a rapper freestyles certain parts of the brain are shut down and others are activated. The active parts are the premotor areas and language areas. "Premotor areas are the parts of the brain that prepare and coordinate your movements. The language areas that are active during artistic creativity are responsible for both understanding and producing language." The parts that shut down ensure inhibitions are lower, stopping a rapper from being too controlling and self-critical. They allow a rapper to lose themselves in the moment and to be spontaneously creative.

I'm the sort of teacher who plans a loose lesson structure but trusts themselves to fill in the gaps - winging it as they go along. Since teaching is very language and communication-orientated I think it can legitimately be compared to freestyle rapping. Rappers who can freestyle well can do so because of the hours of practise they've put in - the techniques and skills they need come naturally as their brains draw on the experience. As one becomes a more experienced teacher it is easier to rely on skills and strategies that you know you've used successfully before. The more you freestyle, the more you become confident in your ability to do so.

The most succesful lessons I teach are also the ones where time flies - these are the lessons where I've been freestyling the most. It's called flow state; "Once you have honed a hard-to-master skill (teaching in our case), you may perform best when you begin to feel the flow, i.e., when the parts of your brain that critique and criticise are muted." This is very possibly the reason why observed lessons sometimes don't feel as good as our normal ones - we don't allow ourselves into our comfort zone as we are constantly second-guessing the observer's possible criticisms. On the other hand, it could be because teachers accustomed to winging it spend uncharacteristically long amounts of time planning for an observed lesson, meaning that they are not drawing on their well-practised skills.

I wonder how many teachers really allow themselves into the teaching zone where they draw on past experience in the heat of the moment, instead of sticking to formulaic and over-thought lesson plans. Anything can happen in the course of a lesson and following closely a plan which hasn't anticipated change can often be detrimental to learning.

Would you trust yourself to be a freestyle teacher?

Thanks to Malinda McPherson, Charles Limb, The Guardian and all the freestyle rappers out there for the inspiration for this piece.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Being a Celebrity Teacher


In this burgeoning age of celebrity teachers, is it OK to just be a teacher? 

Teaching is a profession full of ambitious individuals but career development opportunities are limited. Some innovative teachers are now opening doors for themselves with social media being an important proponent in this process. Teacher bloggers and journalists, self-appointed consultants and even practitioners with thousands of followers on Twitter are pushing forwards and making a difference from a grassroots level. It's akin to Grime artists appearing in the UK pop charts. In the face of criticism from the media and the government, teachers are rising up - Pulp's 'Mis-shapes' springs to mind:

"We're making a move, we're making it now,
We're coming out of the sidelines."

And largely, these new celebrity teachers represent us well. I'm all for them. But it does leave little old me feeling like a Heat magazine reader - wishing for the finer things in life as they see non-celebrities become minor celebrities just because they went on a reality TV show once. I just teach a handful of kids and work with a small team of people - is that enough? 

Well, the obvious answer has to be 'Yes!' Remember that time you saw little so-and-so in Tesco and they shouted "Look, it's Miss Thingumajig!" and then acted all shy when you said hello? You are a celebrity to the kids you teach. Remember when you found your colleague upset and you took the time to chat with them? You matter to her. You see, we all have our little sphere of 'fans', and on them we have an influence. And the reach of your influence is far greater than you might think - your colleagues' partners, your pupils' parents will benefit too from he work you do; the ripple effect is in play. Year on year you influence more and more children - there will be young people all across your district who have memories of you. It's up to us to make sure we're famous and not infamous!

You may never reach superstar teacher status in the eyes of the entire profession but to those you work directly with, you could be a superstar teacher. On whichever platform you stand, it is your responsibility to represent yourself and the profession well - you have the power to make a difference, even in, or perhaps especially in, the most difficult of circumstances. 

Your impact is needed. Even if your name isn't up in bright lights, even if your face isn't on the cover of a magazine, even if you're not the talk of the town, you are a superstar celebrity teacher to someone.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/90544929@N02/24642416444/">Annouchka.Supervielle</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Music To My Ears



When it comes to acknowledging the effect of music, research is barely necessary. The fact that music has power to change is universally and historically accepted - that's why it's been made by people from every culture, in every land, in every decade and century.

If you're a regular reader you'll know I love a good quote - here are some good ones about music:

"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." - Plato

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Berthold Auerbach

"I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music." - Billy Joel

"Music can change the world because it can change people." - Bono

"Music is my aeroplane." - Anthony Keidis

Music is that lift; music makes us fly. It doesn't even have to be happy music to do that; listening to sad songs is like crying on the shoulder of an understanding friend. 

A couple of years ago it was my practice to arrive at work and do YouTube battle with my colleague who had the adjoining classroom. Our tastes were pretty similar - funk and soul classics got the most spins but our musical appetites were pretty eclectic so anything went. One year Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' soundtracked the SATs and the next it was Pharrell's 'Happy'. My end of year gift to my colleague was a mix CD of all our most regular plays. Those YouTube sessions really buoyed us in the morning - we were pretty chirpy in class after that.

This morning, I broke with tradition and listened to music on my way into work. I had tweeted a link to 'Good Day' by Nappy Roots ("You know today I just woke up and I said, 'You know instead of waitin' on a good day, Waitin' around through ups and downs, Waitin' on something to happen I just  say: We're gonna have a good day'") and I wanted to hear it in full. A quick search on my iPod revealed I didn't have it but turned up some other great tunes to soundtrack a positive start to the day: Good Vibrations by Beach Boys, Good Times by Chic, Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles and Good Times by Roll Deep (odd one out but played at both my brother's and my sister's weddings so a bit of a family anthem).

All possible dust, as a I drove into the remnants of a beautiful sunrise, was washed away as I enjoyed the music. I walked into school with a smile on my face, a bounce in my step and music in my soul.

Get some music into the start of your day - it could transform your attitude and it might make you feel better.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/44124372363@N01/13927396724/">swanksalot</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Where Hope Grows (About Me)


After reading an excellent and uplifting blog post by @BridgemaryTL it occurred to me that not all hopeful and optimistic people are walking in pastures green; on the contrary, many are traversing what the Psalmist might have termed 'the valley of the shadow of death'. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but it does seem, to put it crudely, and in the words of Dwight from the US Office, that 'Hope grows... in a dump!'

The insecurity inside of me, usually well-tamed by my confidence, sometimes suggests that my optimistic slant on education has many detractors. Self-doubt rears its head and trips my self-assurance, telling me, amongst other things, that passing readers of my blog will automatically think the grass is greener on my side, writing off my ideas as the idealism of the privileged.

Well they're not and @BridgemaryTL has inspired me to finally write my 'about me' spiel to debunk the theories my imaginary foes might have about me only being so optimistic because I've got a cushy job. I'll attempt to be brief and I hope it won't come off as whingey or boastful.

I am a husband and a father of three girls aged 5 and under (I make it a point to be home for bath time and bed time most nights). I hold a practical leadership position at my church (Sunday and some midweek commitments). I am an assistant head with a responsibility for maths and UKS2 (a team of 4 other teachers). I teach a 70% timetable in year 6 focusing on maths and English (with all the planning, preparation, marking, assessment and analysis that goes with it, not to mention SATs). Prior to starting this job (last September, my first leadership role) the school was inspected and rated 'Inadequate' (and the report was kind!) - I took the job knowing this. As a consequence, the behaviour of the children who have spent the longest in the school is challenging and their learning behaviours are improving but not yet consistent. Across the school, percentages of children at ARE are very low, although progress is rapid. There are still many areas of weakness in the school despite rapid improvement and my responsibilities include observing lessons and coaching the members of my team, as well as leading their PPMs, in-phase moderation and the like. I commute in and out of the centre of one of the UK's top 10 biggest cities at the beginning and end of each day.

I've tried to be matter of fact about my roles but if it is not clear, I have a jam-packed schedule and I work in a challenging setting. My optimism and positivity abound despite the every-day pressures of my job and my home life. Perhaps my optimism is what led my to my current school. Perhaps my increased positivity is as a result of working on such a challenging environment. Whatever the case, even when times get tough (and they do), it is possible to be optimistic and positive about teaching.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Optimism and Positivity in Education


The most recent incarnation of the standards for headteachers centres around the skills and personality traits that excellent headteachers will possess. As I did my yearly self check (the first time I've done it with this new framework) one of the key characteristics jumped out at me:

Excellent headteachers demonstrate optimistic personal behaviour, positive relationships and attitudes towards their pupils and staff, and towards parents, governors and members of the local community.

Optimism and positivity - my two favourite words when it comes to education. I've written about them both before, and defended their relevance too. In an increasingly jaded profession where, in some quarters, pessimism and negativity abound, if our leaders aren't optimistic and positive, then what hope do we have?

I'm not a headteacher, yet I find the qualities outlined in the standards document a list of characteristics to aspire to. All teachers are leaders in some capacity - they lead children, support staff, some lead other teachers - and so we'd all do well to strive to display the characteristics outlined in the standards of excellence for headteachers.

And a great starting point would be to begin to cultivate a spirit of optimism in the way that you speak and act. This will inevitably lead to the development of positivity in working relationships - optimism rubs off on others. And most of the time you can't wait around for something to naturally make you feel optimistic, like SATs being scrapped, or Ofsted telling you they're leaving you alone for four years. Optimism is a choice. Optimism is something that can be learned - this blog post has some great tips on how to become more optimistic.

If you became that little bit more optimistic, who might you affect in a positive way? Who could you lead into optimism, just by being optimistic yourself? Could you lead yourself into optimism? Try it, I think you might like it.

Photo Credit: mambonumberfive via Compfight cc

Monday, 22 February 2016

Reading for Pleasure

Today we are roughly 14% of the way through this year. I am currently at 12% of my way through reading the fifty books that I've challenged myself to read this year. I love reading, and as a child I remember myself to be voracious when it came to books, but as an adult I've allowed all sorts of other things to push books out of my routine. I've always liked reading but for about two thirds of my life I have not been actively enjoying books. There has been a gradual ascent as I began to realise that I should just read the books that I want to read rather than attempting to read the books that I thought I should read. Now I truly read for pleasure and I really enjoy it.

And it has been my attempts to generate those same feelings in ten and eleven year olds that have simultaneously kindled them in me. I'm not ashamed to say that I read a lot of books intended for children or young adults. Two series of books particularly grabbed me: Philip Reeves' 'Mortal Engines' books and Rosemary Sutcliff's trilogy of books about Roman Britain (beginning with 'The Eagle of the Ninth'). Out of all those books I only read one to my class yet it was the start of something good for me.

Last year, at school, we invested heavily in class sets of 'real' books and, as such, the beginning of this academic year saw me and my class reading the excellent 'Noah Barleywater Runs Away' by John Boyne (of 'The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas' fame, a book which I subsequently devoured because I loved 'Noah Barleywater...' so much). 'Noah...' was a triumph ("sick book, innit, sir?"). After reading one magical novel my children were hooked ("What we reading next, sir? I bet it's not as good as 'Noah Barleywater'"). We picked up 'Tom's Midnight Garden' which they couldn't get into (I think largely on account of the fact as city-dwellers they don't understand the concept of having a garden) so we exercised our right as readers not to finish a book - something I do regularly ('We Need To Talk About Kevin', Jo Nesbo's 'The Redeemer'). Then, after reading it myself (in an evening, no less), we started 'Hitler's Canary' by Sandi Toksvig, and once again they're captivated (I've caught them trying smuggle copies home, and even worse, trying to skip to the end); it's their new favourite book. I read 'Carrie's War' last week, and whilst I love the book, I don't think it's for my class - they need their next favourite book, not just the next book. As teachers we need to make wise choices (which to pick up, which to put down) and to do that we need to know the kids in our class(es). I'm hoping to get a class set of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'; they've been enamoured by World War Two, of which they knew very little about, and I'm keen for them to find out more without actually having to teach a topic on it: the beauty of a good novel.

Now, the children in my class, after years of disinterest, are in the initial stage of what I hope will be a life-long relationship with books. They're discovering new words, new worlds, new ideas, new people and old history. I've seen it clearly impact on their writing; vocabulary, idioms and other turns-of-phrase magpied and used as their own. I use these books to teach whole class sessions, but the less I say about that the better, although I'm a strong advocate of it and a disliker of traditional guided reading. If we want children to love reading, then the first step in my experience is to read to them - speak aloud the thoughts and questions you have, the links you're making and the delight you find in particular phrasings. Read with expression; bring the book alive. Starting the day in this way does as much for me as it does the kids: win/win.

This week my wife, who is beating me in the Fifty Book Challenge, gave me a copy of John Green's debut YA novel 'Looking for Alaska' and whilst it's definitely not one I'll be reading to my class, it's such an amusing read - definitely more appealing than most of those a Penguin books the government want to flog to secondary schools. I suppose reading is rather a personal thing - I don't usually read based on recommendation - a well-designed cover, a familiar author or a decent bit of blurb is enough to pique my interest. Many of the books I've read on recommendation are ones I've not finished.

If there's any point to this post it is this: everyone can enjoy a book, but a book won't be enjoyed by everyone.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

All Aboard!

In 'All In The Same Boat' I touched very briefly on today's subject matter and after a couple of conversations after yesterday's post it became clear that more needs to be said. Previously I wrote "Make sure your leadership are taking responsibility too - don't let them allow you to be alone in the boat" and I'd like to say a little more.

I am going to address this post to year 2 and year 6 teachers, but if you are a senior leader reading this, it is your responsibility to make sure that everything I suggest they do actually happens.

Most leaders will naturally want to be on board - it's their school and their data. Most leaders won't be leaving year 2 and year 6 teachers to hoist the mainsail themselves. Many leaders will now be adopting an 'all hands on deck' approach, but even the best captain needs to know from his crew what is happening in each area of the ship's life. He'll need the quartermaster to inform him when the ship is low on supplies, and he'll need the boatswain to tell him if such-and-such a part is in need of repair. Head teachers, and other members of SLT, will need feedback from teachers in order to understand what the needs and priorities are. And that's where this blog post comes in.

At the earliest possible opportunity, call a meeting with phase leaders (UKS2 and KS1), class teachers (Y2 and Y6), the head and any other SLT members. At the meeting discuss the new assessment arrangements (if you have not done so already) and its implications. If you have new thoughts and feelings after last week's revelations then it will be worth having another meeting anyway. It might be a good idea to take some assessment information with you so that you can identify the areas of greatest need. It'll also be good to approach it with some ideas already - if you go with only problems and no solutions the meeting will take longer, plus leaders always like to see a bit of initiative. Arm yourself with a list of questions you'd like to ask too. The meeting then needs to become a practical planning meeting with decisions made on what your school approach will be to this year's assessments. It's also worth considering as a team how you are going to keep a balanced curriculum instead of just doing maths and English (read this excellent blog post on the matter).

Even if you don't get to have a proper meeting, it'd be wise to ensure that the leadership of your school knows the course you are deciding to take with your year 2 or year 6 class. I would also involve them in any changes you're planning to make. Even when you begin to feel like you're pestering them, keep on asking for advice and informing them of your decisions.

The point of all this?
  • So that you're not alone in the boat at your school. 
  • So that you are supported. 
  • So that collective wisdom, and the wisdom that comes from experience, influences decisions.
  • So that you have the chance to suggest that more manpower might be needed. 
  • So that when the data eventually comes in, it is data that represents a team effort. 
  • And so that no leader can make accusations of you, blaming poor results on you alone. This should not be about taking one for the team, but taking one AS a team
It's a sad state of affairs that I'm even suggesting safeguarding yourself against these eventualities but I know it goes on - there are plenty of disheartening stories out there of teachers stuck in schools with leaders who absolve themselves of these responsibilities and then point the finger at the ones who have slaved all year to make as much progress as possible with each child.

In short; make sure everyone is on board with everything that will end in assessment this year. Do everything you can do get the support that you need - even the best leaders need proactivity from their team.

 Photo Credit: Eje Gustafsson via Compfight cc

Saturday, 20 February 2016

All In The Same Boat


Now that we've all experienced the cocktail of initial relief, mild anger and nervous hilarity that the DfE's announcements yesterday generated, it's time to think soberly and wisely about it. My 'DfE Tells Teachers They're All Very Naughty' was a crude response, yet it did seem to voice the opinion and feeling of many teachers upon hearing what Mr. Gibb and Ms. Morgan had to say (@theprimaryhead's post was much better). What we teachers, however, really need to focus on now is making sure that, for our students, the next few months are worthwhile.

The positives that came out of yesterday's communication from the department are that it appears schools will not be judged too harshly based on the outcomes of this year's assessment. Nick Gibb wrote this in his letter to the NAHT:
"I have also written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector asking that his inspectors take into account national performance and the contextual factors you have outlined when considering a school's performance on writing at Key Stage 2. All organisations holding schools to account should be aware of the changes being introduced in 2016 and will consider the impact of this in making any decisions about performance or intervention on the basis of 2016 data alone. This should give schools the confidence to engage fully with the vision of the new curriculum and to rise to the new standards."
He's actually right. We should have the confidence to go on teaching, even if he had never said this. Even if we know our RAISE online could go blue next year. Even if we know Ofsted will not look kindly on us. Because what we have to focus on is the children - we have a responsibility to them first and foremost. And in a sense it has always been this way in year 6: teachers have always had the role of gatekeeper, protecting the children from the pressure. Sadly, some teachers have never managed this, instead subjecting children to weeks and weeks of practise papers under exam conditions and taking every opportunity to brow-beat them with "It's only x amount of weeks until your SATs, you know?" Some teachers pass on the pressure they feel - and, at all costs, we must not do that.

"As this is the first year of new accountability measures and new assessments, we will wait until tests have been taken to set minimum expectations for a school’s progress scores."
We must also remember this: the scores will be calculated based on the tests taken nationally and if everyone does poorly then the minimum expectation will be set lower. We're all in this together and if the DfE stick to what they've said this week then perhaps we shouldn't worry as much. 

Although the DfE have tried to shy away from admitting that this has all been a bit shambolic,lines like this give it away: "Significant reforms such as these take time to get right and for the system to catch up." We're all in the same boat; teachers, school leaders, inspectors and government officials should all be chalking this year up to experience.

At the end of my first year teaching in year 6 I thought my world was going to come crashing down around me. Some children hadn't achieved as highly as I had hoped, despite acing many a past paper. There were certain issues when comparing the data to the previous year's data. I thought I was for the chop. I spent hours writing documents to defend each and every poor test score, compiling evidence to prove that my teacher judgments weren't way off the mark. I sat in front of the school leaders and even our school improvement partner to defend myself. It all lasted about a week, and then life went on. They asked me to teach in year 6 again and my current school employed me to teach in year 6 too: last year saw a ten percent rise in children achieving floor standards or above. 

That year when it all went wrong is now long gone and forgotten, in fact it was all gone and forgotten after a few weeks. The school went on to get a 'Good' Ofsted inspection (with two ares being 'Outstanding') despite the data which I thought would end the world (in fact, there was barely any mention of the data). 

And when 2017 rolls around 2016 will be gone and forgotten too. Whatever happens this year will not be career-defining for you. Realising that every year 2 and 6 teacher in the land is in the same position is key to having a more positive outlook on this matter. Knowing that when schools are compared, aside from the usual variations, there will be a national trend. That trend will not necessarily be a trend of 'underachievement' because I know that every year 2 and 6 teacher in the country will be working their socks off to ensure excellent progress and high achievement for all their children. Possibly the tests, and even the teacher assessment based on the interim objectives, will show that we are 'underachieving', but we will all be there together - maybe then the DfE will admit that their handling of the changes was clumsy. Maybe they won't. Whatever happens, it will all blow over and we will all move on.

In the meantime, steel yourself for Monday, plan and teach some exciting lessons and make sure the kids are learning and making progress. Don't foist the stress on to them; they're just kids. Make sure your leadership are taking responsibility too - don't let them allow you to be alone in the boat. Do the wise thing and make sure you teach them according to the curriculum and the interim objectives - do what you can with the short time we've got, but just remember that there are only so many hours in a day, week, half term. Maximise that time so that you can be confident your children will 'perform' to the best of their ability. And that is all you can ask for.

Photo Credit: Cyber Monkey via Compfight cc

Friday, 19 February 2016

Yo-Yo Pricing: The New Revised Deadline


Year 2 and 6 teachers - today we all became victims of 'Yo-Yo Pricing'.

The biggest education news in the last 24 hours is of course Nick Gibb's confirmation that "the department would listen to the concerns raised by the sector regarding the deadlines for this year’s assessments at key stage 1 and 2...". The department's response? They have introduced "a new revised deadline of 30 June for both."  

'Yo-Yo Pricing' is a standard trick in the aisles of this country's supermarkets. Here's a definition of it: A product is sold at an inflated price for a limited period at low volume in just a few stores, then rolled out across all stores at the lower price. So, a pack of hot cross buns (let's keep this seasonal) is emblazoned with a '50p off' sticker, suggesting great value for money, and we all buy two packets because they're such a bargain. What we don't know is that's actually just the normal intended price and that for a week, at the back of a handful of stores, they were selling hot cross buns (out of season) for 50p more than the 'new price'. It's a great swizz.

 And so is the "new revised deadline". Let's cast our minds back, ooh, say, a year? When was the old un-revised deadline? 26th June. And all of a sudden, with a bit of yo-yo pricing, low and behold, the new revised deadline is 30th June. Yes, it came via 27th May, but that's the equivalent of the product which is sold at an inflated price for a limited period at low volumes in just a few stores, isn't it? They've not conceded anything. It's just gone back to how it was before. It smacks of being a pre-meditated political bargaining chip. Maybe the conversation went like this:

DfE bod 1: We know they'll complain, and unions will probably make ultimatums, so let's make sure we've got something we are happy to change to show that we're listening to them.
DfE bod 2: How about we pretend that we're changing the teacher assessment data deadline and then when they do complain, we can just put it back to when it used to be?
DfE bod 1: Good idea. Was that minuted? We'll just wait until the unions wade in before we action it though, OK?
DfE bod 2: Sorted. Once we've 'relented' on that they've not got a leg to stand on, have they? They won't be able to say we didn't listen.

Maybe I'm being too skeptical. Maybe the DfE will make more revisions to their proposals but as it stands, I'm not going to be dazzled by today's display of apparent concern and acquiescence. Maybe it wasn't even as intentional as I imagine, but make no mistake: this is yo-yo pricing. Yes, I'm glad that, just like all the years before now, we'll have another month of teaching and assessment time before we have to submit teacher assessment data, but since when has the status quo been anything to write home about?

Really all we're ending up with is this:


Main Photo Credit: hz536n/George Thomas via Compfight cc

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Orangery

As with the impressive glass roof, the people were long gone. The barren orange trees that once grew there prophesied the eventual end of the family. With no heir the once-impressive gothically-styled house fell into disrepair. Now, all that was left, lying forgotten in woodland, was the orangery.

It was a place for the landed gentry to stroll once they had tired of the paintings hung in the house. A place for guests to experience the wealth of the family, and for the family to quietly congratulate themselves on their own success. Ill-gotten gains. Those four walls, through vast glass panes, saw finery, laughter and scandalous stolen moments between lovers who never should have been.

These days though, occasional dog walkers and teenage couples aside, the crumbling brickwork witnessed very little life, its eyes long ago put out. The straggling ivy, intent on survival, like a poor relation; a taunting reminder of the building's history of exotic flora. But the orangery didn't seem to mind. It stood upright like a proud old military man still living his life as if on parade despite his ailments. And it knew. It knew the secret so often overlooked by its infrequent visitors.

For in one corner, one tree remained. Two if you looked closely: the trunk of a lemon tree intertwined with that of a pomegranate tree. And, looking closer still, you would see their faces pressed together in one final kiss, eyes closed in blissful ignorance of the power the orangery held over them. The power of knowing what was meant to be unknown, the power of seeing what was supposed to go unseen. The power to ensure the family's downfall.

Of course it could have allowed the scandal to come to light, as inevitably they all do. But then, where was the satisfaction in allowing nature to take its course? No, it knew the one remaining successor must not survive to continue committing the family's atrocities. Even its own grandeur and ornate stonework told of the abominations carried out by them. It had heard their conversations. It knew of the ships, the trade, even the transport conditions. Its own rows of fruit trees, hibiscus plants and other foreign wonders were a constant and stark reminder of what the family were doing. Forcefully taken. Yes, the next-in-line had to be the last in line.

And the orangery shows no remorse. It stands innocently, only eliciting rose-tinted imaginings of times gone by. For if it reminded us of what really went on, then it would be giving away its secret. And we'd like to forget all about it, thank you very much. 

Photo and inspiration courtesy of @abbiemann1982

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Revealing True Colours

I entered into the #teacher5aday29dayswriting challenge knowing that time and inspiration might be obstacles but feeling confident that I could overcome them. Even so, I've been surprised at how, by evening time, something has inspired me everyday to write. I go through the day alert, waiting for a glimpse of the next spark: the one that will ignite and eventually become something more.

Today I've been reading 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini; a quote caught my attention:

"Children aren't colouring books. You don't get to fill them with your favourite colours."

This spoken to the father of the book's protagonist with regards to the father's disappointment that the boy has not followed in his footsteps as he would have liked.

Remember those 'colouring' books you had as a child? The magic ones where you'd simply brush over the outline with water and the colours would mysteriously appear. I think possibly children are those. The colours are all there already, hidden, and we educators have the responsibility of revealing the already-present hues. We have the task of coaxing out the in-built characteristics, the ones that their DNA have gifted them with. The tones that make them who they are. Not all of the colours will be beautiful to every beholder.

My daughters love colouring books. But often, once the picture is satisfactorily coloured, they will add flowers and trees and sunshines and rainbows to further enhance the image. I think as we are drawing out a child's natural skills, abilities, feelings and preferences we will, to some extent, impart some of our own. Some of these will stick, some will fall by the way. But through interaction with parents, teachers, friends, peers and others, the image of a child will also feature some of those embellishments that my daughters love to add. Not all of them will make the picture look better in everyone's eyes

We can't treat children like a fresh sheet of A4 - we don't have to start from scratch. Nor are teachers required to take a Dr. Frankenstein role, creating cut-and-paste collage children from a mish-mash of educational theories. If we decide to approach children as we might a colouring book then at best by the end of each year we might have classes of mini Miss Smith clones, for example, rather than a class of individuals. Children are individuals and (in the cheesiest moment of this whole blog so far) we, to paraphrase Phil Collins, should want to see their true colours shining through. Once we see them, and understand who they are, then we can begin to make suggested additions: Rahim is really good at drawing, so perhaps I'll show him how to use a painting app on the tablets so he can easily share his images online. Ayesha always brings in really tasty baked goods; let's also develop her instructional writing so she can write recipes. Knowing a child's uniquity and interests will give us the opportunity to add more colour to their palette, but never should it be because they are our favourite colours. Just because you're football-mad, it doesn't mean that you can foist that on your class. Not all children (not even all boys) are football-coloured.

The illustration of the magic painting books falls down when it comes to wielding that watery paintbrush. As a child it was simple: dip paintbrush in jam jar of water, brush on page. Job done. With teaching it's not that simple; it takes an artist. We are all artists. And it's all about our brushstrokes, and our choice of brush, and the temperature of the water. But remember, the colours are all there somewhere and we have to get creative in order to reveal them.

Photo Credit: ScottNorrisPhoto via Compfight cc

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Pedagogy of 'Zog'


"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert fliers by the time you're fully grown."


That's the pedagogy of Madame Dragon in Julia Donaldson's 'Zog'. Every time I read it I wonder if teaching really is that simple.

At a recent Talk for Writing training session it was said that "If you're not modelling reading, then you're not teaching reading" and I agree. I am strong advocate of whole-class reading where the teacher models aloud the thoughts of a reader - why did he say that? What does that word mean? I wonder if...? In writing too: if the children haven't seen how a writer works, its hard for them to be one - they need to see how a writer re-reads and edits, considers word choice, sentence structure and so on. So in a sense, Julia Donaldson is right to portray the model-then-practise approach to learning.

But in maths I often take a very different approach. At the end of this half term we had an in-house 'teach meet'. It was a really positive way to end a half term and was enjoyed by all. I challenged my colleagues to begin lessons not by standing up and 'teaching' (by which I suppose I meant modelling) but by giving the children an activity to complete first without any input. My reasons are simple: you find out quickly who can do it and who can't. In this way no child is sitting listening to something that is either too hard or too easy for them. In this way you can very quickly see who is applying previous skills and strategies and who is struggling to make links. As a result you can very quickly start making learning more bespoke: if you are prepared with extension activities then the ones who find it easy can move on, some children you will decide need to continue working, for others it will be clear that you need to intervene, and it is at this point, for these children, that you model in a small group.

In writing I like to employ the 'cold write' technique. Although more time-consuming than taking a similar approach in maths, it does, again, mean that you can tailor the subsequent learning so that you you know what to model and to whom.

So, Madame Dragon in 'Zog' was right to model how to fly as she had no doubt already assessed whether or not the young dragons could fly. I'm sure she started her lesson by saying "Good morning dragons, I'd like to see, who can fly up into that tree," and upon finding that none of them could, embarked on modelling the flying process before sending them off to practise.

I challenge you in the same way I challenged my colleagues: begin more lessons by just giving the children the task, making assessment the first job you do. Use the first five minutes to decide who needs the modelling, who needs to continue applying their skills and who needs challenging further. And then get on with the modelling but allow for plenty of practise time too.

"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert ??? by the time you're fully grown."

Monday, 15 February 2016

>10%? (PPA Time)


A popular call as a solution for teachers' workload is for teachers to be given extra time at school within working hours to get more of the 'admin' done (throughout this post I will refer to planning, preparation, assessment, moderation and the like as admin). And it's not a bad idea. In fact it's something we do.

Guidelines suggest that a minimum of 10% of teaching time is given to teachers as PPA (planning, preparation and assessment), and it is a statutory right (more info here: http://www.tesfaq.co.uk/ppa#TOC-How-much-PPA-time-should-I-be-getting-). So, let's take a rough estimate of teaching time to be 25 hours meaning 2.5 hours of PPA time should be provided. Our children have 27 hours 5 mins of teaching time so our PPA time should roughly be 2 hours 45 minutes.

The first question to ask is, are you getting what you are entitled to? If not it is worth querying it with your leaders. Many teachers won't even stop to work out how much time they are owed.

The second point to consider is, is even 10% enough and what would happen if you were given more time? 

Our PPA time should be 2 hours 45 minutes, in actuality we get 3 hours 30 minutes. 45 minutes more than 10% of timetabled minimum allowance. As per guidelines this extra time is best referred to as non-contact time - it isn't protected in the same way as PPA time and as a result is designated for other meetings such as Pupil Progress Meetings and Appraisals. However such meetings occur only once or twice per term, leaving each teacher, most weeks, with the extra time to use for their own benefit. Phase Meetings take place during this time also but since all teachers in the phase plan together in one appointed room I find that the meetings become part-and-parcel of the PPA session, therefore taking up little extra time. Our PPA sessions are covered by a combination of senior leaders and HLTAs who teach PE, PSHCE and French lessons.

It's anecdotal but many of my colleagues have mentioned that they prefer to work in the mornings; it's when they feel most productive. Our long PPA sessions can only take place in the mornings. I use the hour before it starts and some of lunchtime to make the session even longer and I complete a great deal of work.

Our extra non-contact time is a gesture which is indicative of our leadership team's commitment to reducing workload. Obviously it still isn't enough time to get EVERYTHING done, but it's a helpful kickstart. The structure of our PPA time encourages collaborative working and the sessions are attended by senior leaders - our staff are vocal about how supported they feel by this set up. If you are a senior leader in a primary school I'd urge you to consider a similar scheme.

Oh, and don't forget the cake.

Photo Credit: mobilyazilar via Compfight cc

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Broken Hearted (On Vulnerable Love And Finding A New School)

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”


- C.S Lewis, The Four Loves

It's probably worth reading the quote again before I go on. In fact, it may be worth reading it again, then closing this window on your browser - what am I going to be able to add to the words of a literary great? Well, perhaps I can elucidate on how the quote might pertain to teachers.

It's that second sentence - 'Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken' - that rings so true for teachers at the moment. Hearts are being broken; hearts once in love with teaching, in love with being so instrumental in the lives of so many children, in love with the creative nature of the job, in love with the fact that no two days are ever quite the same. The pressures placed on us by the ever-changing demands of the government, the fear of Ofsted and poor leadership (in some schools), not to mention the workload generated by all of this, are wringing hearts dry. Teachers are losing the love, many against their will, because the job does not love them back.

And Lewis' suggested solution? Don't love anything. Don't love teaching. But the consequence of that? Your heart will become 'unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable'. Lewis is saying that love is worth the risk of being hurt.

We must love teaching despite its riskiness. By loving teaching we will weather the storm, even though it'll be difficult. By not loving teaching, and by trying to protect ourselves by becoming indifferent, our heart for the job will grow cold and we will enjoy it less and less. We must go on loving the job, exposing ourselves, being vulnerable, but so that love itself continues. So that children go on being taught, nurtured and shaped.

It may be that working in a particular school is, in this analogy, like being in an abusive relationship, but this doesn't have to mean never loving again. A new school or situation and a fresh start can reignite love, and through making oneself vulnerable again, great love can be found. The job can love you back; it is the experience of many. I know a few teachers who, having considered leaving the profession, rather than 'locking away their hearts', have moved on and found the love again. One told me:


At my old school I felt unsupported... I felt angry about new things which were rashly implemented in the school and which I strongly disagreed with... I felt like my opinion didn't matter and an overwhelming fear that I would be the next teacher bullied and forced out of my job. There was a severe lack of organisation which strongly impacted on workload. We were often given pointless time consuming tasks and ridiculous deadlines such as the next day or a text message on a Friday night with a deadline for Monday. This created unnecessary stress.

I did consider leaving the profession as when I spoke to some teachers at other schools they too were unhappy but I felt that it was not to the extent that I was. I wrote my letter of resignation before even applying for any other job as I knew I could no longer work there. It was the first time I had ever applied for another teaching job. 

My initial impression of my new school was that the head teacher was much more personable and the teachers appeared much happier and said things like 'You'll love working here, it's a lovely school'. From day one I was given the chance to develop my career in the area of my choice and have had so much support. I also feel that I am greatly appreciated and the head often sends emails or personally thanks me for things such as putting on the harvest play - which to me means a lot! It is nice to belong to a school that I feel proud of again. Good organisation from the management means that I have a much better work/life balance and less stress as I am given plenty of warning about deadlines and I'm always given help and support if I'm unsure about anything.

Moving school is the most drastic of solutions, aside from leaving teaching altogether. If you are seeking a love of education, and your current school situation isn't loving you back then maybe extreme action is needed; another school could be reciprocal in the love you give. Another school could mend your broken heart. 

If you feel like leaving your current job would be too radical, then I wonder if some of my other blog posts would be of use to you. I have found ways to remain in love with the profession and I'm desperate to share them - I mourn the fact that so many feel unloved by this job and long to help others to a place where they are once again feel like they're in a loving relationship with teaching.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Date Night

Tonight is date night. I say that as if it's a regular fixture in our calendar but it's not. It should be though. My wife is a stay-at-home mum of three and has recently set up her own baking business. Our evenings are taken up with book marking, macaron making and house cleaning, amongst a whole host of other chores.

Evenings out are what works for us - getting out of the house is important as it stops us thinking of all the jobs that could be done and we are less likely to be distracted by technology if we're in the pub or at a restaurant. We consider going out for a meal a luxury as we can't always afford it, and it means finding a babysitter too. Tonight we're benefitting from a kind Christmas present of Zizzis vouchers and my sister is doing the honours with the children. We're really looking forward to enjoying some good food and quality time together.

Even though we don't always get to go out, we ensure that we have a weekend night together to watch a film and have a glass of wine. We also try to spend the last half an hour of each day together, just to catch up and wind down. We've learnt that if we don't do this things get strained between us and communication breaks down. The time together is essential.

If you are a teacher in a relationship then you have to prioritise time with your significant other. Thankfully I have a super-supportive wife who understands the time requirements and the pressures of the job and she enables and encourages me to use time at home effectively. But this understanding is part of a give and take relationship - sometimes I have to put the work down  clear the schedule and make time for what's important. If I never did this I don't think my wife would be inclined to be as supportive, and she'd have every right not to be! 

Having said this I know that this is the first time in five months we'll have been out for a meal together - that is not good enough. This half-term holiday I pledge to make time for more regular date nights during term time - we can't always wait for holidays! Who's with me?

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc

Friday, 12 February 2016

A Love Story?

It wasn't love at first sight. And only those who really knew me believed it would work out. I wasn't even entirely convinced myself. The first letter wasn't even written by me; I asked a friend to write it for me. When we decided to give it a try, to see how things went, I was surprised at how well-matched we were. It seemed my qualities suited the demands of the relationship and, whilst I was nowhere near perfect, we surprised many who would never have match-made us.

I suppose I was gradually falling in love, but I didn't know it. For a long time I thought we just got on well, and that I had a general affection. Inevitably, times weren't always easy, and there have been bumps in the road, but we're still an item. The problems are rarely between us, but as a result of others meddling in what we have together. As with any partnership we grew to understand each other's quirks and we both made compromises. Compromises which have led to a symbiotic relationship - we're good for each other, and we're good to each other.

Who knows how long it will last? Many others in similar relationships have been through painful break ups. Others just manage to keep it together, often through dogged determination and commitment. Thankfully, things are still easy for us, we work hard to remain together but it's not a struggle - it's something I'm still willing to work at, not because I have to, or even because I want to, but just because I do. I'd like to think there's a great future for us - maybe we will continue to prove the doubters wrong. After all, we started out that way, why can't we go on in a similar vein?

'Is this love, is this love, is this love that I'm feeling?' Bob Marley. 

I'm not sure it is love, but as I've said, we do naturally get on and we work really well together. And that's worth something. That's OK with me. I think I'll stick with teaching.

Photo Credit: sowjanya_venugopal via Compfight cc

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Saving Time or Cutting Corners?

If teachers could save time on their everyday routine tasks then inevitably there could be more life in the balance.

I love finding time-saving techniques but in many cases my methods of doing things backfire on me. Last night I tried to move the table without first moving the chair. The chair fell on my foot and hurt me and then I had to bend over and pick it up. It would have been quicker to have just moved it in the first place. This is often the case with attempted corner-cuts. The old saying goes 'More haste, less speed'.

When looking for realistic time-saving methods you will inevitably make mistakes and end up doing some things twice. But in the long run you'll find some truly effective shortcuts.

Last week I did a small thing which has already impacted and saved time. I made a list of all the resources (websites, books, downloads) we use in our maths teaching as some weeks we forget to check all of them for suitable ideas and activities. This week whilst planning we referred to the list and found some great resources for our next week of teaching. In previous weeks, we invariably ended up making our own resources, therefore increasing the amount of time we spend in preparation. In making a simple list to refer to, we saved a lot of time.

It's worth noting, however, that sometimes a great deal of time can be spent searching for the ideal resource, the one you've imagined in your head, when in fact it would have been quicker to just set about making it from scratch. On other occasions when you pick a pre-made resource in an attempt to save time, you can end up with something which isn't up to the job so the children don't learn and you end up repeating the lesson using a resource you had to spend a bit of time making. It's no good cutting corners sometimes; you end up spending more time on a job.

For most teacher tasks there will be a hack - a way to do it more quickly and more efficiently. Make sure that you look for those time-saving techniques in everything you do but be aware of the corner-cuts; they may end up wasting your time.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

#OptimisticEd

Another example of what optimism isn't to kick things off: on the way home, the shuffle function on my iPod selected Go West's 'King of Wishful Thinking' (don't ask, please) for my listening pleasure. The lyrics are thus: 'I'll pretend my ship's not sinking, And I'll tell myself I'm over you, 'Cause I'm the king of wishful thinking.' That is not optimism. That is insanity. I know Messrs Cox and Drummie were speaking metaphorically about a ship, but pretending something awful isn't happening when it is, isn't optimism.

Ernest Shackleton (yes, OK, I do love him a bit) never pretended that the Endurance wasn't stuck in the ice, and when the ice finally crushed the ship, he admitted it was happening, retrieved all their supplies and made new plans. Optimism is not wishful thinking; wishful thinking would not have saved the lives of the Endurance crew and wishful thinking will not protect teachers from struggling with their jobs.

Admitting his ship was scuppered did not mean admitting defeat for Shackleton. He faced the changes, embraced them and made changes in his own plans. The cruelest forces of nature were against him yet he wouldn't submit - he found a way to be successful and to survive.

If you haven't spotted it already, the ice is crushing our ship. Constant changes in syllabuses, curriculums, testing and data reporting have the teaching profession in an icy grip. There is officially a teacher shortage, seemingly due to the pressure coming from every angle. But should we just abandon the expedition? I hope not. Maybe, if the ship represented the way things once were, we have to abandon ship, but hopefully not the entire mission. We must endure. We need, somehow, to find an optimistic view of the future and fix on it.

In my post entitled Optimism vs. Realism I summarised that Ernest Shackleton could be realistically optimistic because:

He had prepared
He planned ahead
He was pliable

Is there any wisdom in this for teachers?

On a long-term scale, what can we do to be prepared? What do we need to plan for? We must be prepared to be, and even plan to be, pliable. We must be ready to weather the seas of change, though they may be stormy.

If we are prepared with all our good practices, the ones that have stood the test of time, and if we are ready to pull together, sharing ideas and resources, then we can be optimistic about the future of education, even though things seem impossible now. If we begin to make plans, asking ourselves, perhaps, how we can make the best of a bad situation, if we begin to formulate schemes for how to teach what is required, or how to make assessment slick and simple, then we can be optimistic about how things will turn out for teachers and pupils.

If we admit defeat and opt not to be adaptable, there is no hope. If we determine to be flexible, even when we don't agree with the changes, then we can be the change that's needed - we are the ones at the chalk face. I suppose I'm talking a quiet grassroots revolution. A revolution of optimism. Yes, we'll have to comply to some of the external pressures; the ship's going down. But we must not bow out of the operation altogether. Whilst teaching their new curriculum, and assessing in who-knows-what way, and knowing that data might take a dip as a result of changes, we must soldier on. Not thinking wishfully. Or being wildly optimistic. But preparing and planning and being pliable, always with survival in mind.

Determined. Confident. Optimistic.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Optimism vs. Realism

I was asked recently why you'd want to help anyone to be optimistic when you could help them to be realistic. The questioner, I think, assumes that optimism is a wishy-washy 'It'll be OK!' sort of principle. People who are optimistic in this way we'll call 'wildly optimistic'. My brand of optimism isn't like that though; I'm 'realistically optimistic'.

In the example of the 'unfailingly optimistic' Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance expedition we see that:

He had prepared

Underpinning each of these three statements is the fact that Shackleton had prior knowledge of exploration. He drew on this when he prepared for his expeditions. When Shackleton was seen to be optimistic it was because he had confidence in the preparations he had made; he knew, come what may, that there were plenty of the right supplies available. Knowing he had prepared well, based on his prior knowledge and experience, Shackleton could be optimistic about his team's chances of survival.

He planned ahead

In addition to making preparations (he had what he needed), Shackleton also planned ahead. Each stage of the intended journey was carefully scheduled and each crew member had specific roles. Shackleton and his crew knew what they would do during each phase of the expedition. Because of this, Shackleton was optimistic about what the future held.

He was pliable

Even when plans changed, Shackleton was un-phased and pliable. His experience taught him how to respond - he was adaptable and would quickly re-plan. Due to his prior experience, Shackleton was confident of his own ability to do that, and his crew were confident of it too. Shackleton did not go to pieces when faced with change; he was optimistic because knew that his where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way attitude meant that he would find practical solutions in order to ensure future success. 

Optimism doesn't have to be based on nothing - it can be based on reality. It can be based on having confidence in the reality of good planning, preparation and pliability
7
Photo Credit: Uriolus via Compfight cc

Monday, 8 February 2016

Managing Marking

The year I began my requested move to year 6 was the year marking and feedback became high on the agenda. With the knowledge that book scrutinies with the SIP were going to become common place, not to mention the expectations from Ofsted, I quickly sought help and advice. How was I going to keep up with the marking when the output from year 6 was proving to be voluminous?

My deputy head at the time was a seasoned year 6 teacher and she gave just two pieces of sage advice which revolutionised my marking:

Mark as much as you can during lessons

Previously my focus in a lesson would have been group work, or even one-to-one work, and whilst this has not fallen entirely by the wayside, my focus is now on seeing as many kids as possible during the lesson. By doing this, and marking as I go, I find that I ensnare any issues with understanding before the end of a lesson, meaning I can address needs there and then, often pulling together a group who need help with a similar problem. As I feedback verbally to them I make a written record in their books which they then respond to within the lesson. This I find to be much more effective than the marking I do once the lesson has finished which they are expected to respond to in the following days (when, to be quite frank, it is hard to find time to allow them to do this). Having done this, I'm left with 15 to 30 minutes of 'mopping up' marking to do, usually at lunchtime or straight after school when there's not a meeting. 
If you're lucky enough to have another adult working with you in the classroom then asking them to do the same saves even more time, even if they're just marking right/wrong in maths or checking for spelling and grammar mistakes in English. Share the marking policy with them, take time to show them examples of your own marking and then give them a green pen; trust them enough to have a go.

Plan carefully so you don't have too much marking

Teachers really don't help themselves sometimes. In a bid to have as much evidence of a child's learning as possible they record everything in books. This is not necessary. It also points towards the possibility that the tasks being set are not that engaging. Children like working on paper, or on the walls, or verbally, and they learn a lot by working in this way. Additionally, non-book tasks often promote the use of other skills such as working collaboratively, problem solving and reasoning. 
When you're planning your lessons think of the entire week. How much time for marking will you have? In that time, how many books or sets of books can you realistically get marked? Decide which classes need that evidence in books and plan book work for them. For the other classes design tasks that mean you will have little to no marking. There is no need for these tasks to be considered pointless just because the work is not done in books. As you do this, be conscious of children, groups or classes who have not done recorded work for a while and make sure that there is always some up-to-date evidence in books.

Since then, at my current school, I have implemented a marking system based on using symbols which represent and replace common marking comments. Both staff and children have become adept at using the system and it frees teachers up to spend more time on writing comments which children can respond to in order to deepen their understanding. Even if there is no such policy in your school, this is something you could design and use in your own classroom.

By taking all of these actions, I have, for the last few years, succeeded in managing the workload generated by marking. Whilst expectations are still high for marking and feedback, beginning to build these ideas into your routine should see a reduction in the time you spend marking.

I realise many teachers will already employ these techniques but have written this in the hope that for some, as it was for me a few years ago, it will be a new time-saving idea. I would also love to hear from experienced teachers who have found other ways to reduce the time they spend marking books.

For more excellent stuff on marking:


Photo Credit: kennysarmy via Compfight cc

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Wellbeing Hymn

'Liturgy of the Hours' is a Roman Catholic practice which I've not time to even begin to really understand. In brief, though, it's a supporting structure designed to aid priests in focusing on God throughout the day. Modern hymn writer Stuart Townend, however, has written a song I do understand, and I'd like to share some parts of it with you, suggesting that it contains a good framework for wellbeing:

With ev’ry morning I will kneel to pray,
To be a blessing in this coming day
In ev’rything I say and ev’rything I do,
To wholly honour you.

Beginning the day with the remainder of the day in mind is helpful. Considering the manner in which you hope to say and do things before you get a chance to say or do something thoughtless, reduces the chance of speaking or acting without careful judgment. If you are mindful of being patient and kind from the outset, you're more likely to succeed in being conducive to the happiness and welfare of the children you teach and the staff who you work with.

At noon remind me through this day to give
My full attention to the ones I’m with,
Be mindful of those things around and those within,
And fully enter in.

In these days of mobile devices and addictive social media, it's easy to forget to actually interact with those who are physically present. Every single person who reads this will have been guilty of this. Face to face communication and the sharing of joys and fears, is crucial to our wellbeing - a problem shared is a problem halved. 

It is better to 'fully enter in' to the job than to do it half-heartedly and at lunch time, when you're losing the will to live yet know you've still got two hours of teaching to go, it's a good time to refocus and get ready to give yourself selflessly again to the kids who need you.

And in the evening as my thoughts retell
This passing day let me remember well;
So that no bitterness takes root within my soul,
Help me to let them go.

Reflecting on the day once you're home from school can be constructive or destructive; it depends on how you reflect. 'Count your blessings' is a twee idiom, yet many would testify to its benefits. What was good about your lessons? What did you learn? Who did you help? Finding even the smallest of positive events can alter the perception of a tough day spent in school. 

And if there really was nothing good, then considering how you will learn and move forward from your experiences can have the same effect. On the other hand, it's helpful to chat (with a friend or loved one) about some of the difficult scenarios you've encountered so that you can 'park' them and move on.

And in the night-time may my mind be free
To truly rest and be refreshed in sleep;
And by releasing every worry, every strain,
Be free to start again.

A great 'Amen!' goes up from teachers here. A night free of dreams about field trips gone wrong or exam results or that awful year 10 class - what we wouldn't give for that! Be it prayer, be it list-making or some other practice, having a technique for clearing the mind before bedtime will lead to a better night's sleep. Different things work for different people. 

And even though we know in a few short hours we'll be considering hitting the snooze button yet again, with a routine of mindfulness such as outlined above, as your head hits the pillow, the knowledge that a day can be bearable and even enjoyable, will further relax your mind, readying you to gain from sleep's healing properties.

This hymn assumes the singer will be calling on divine power to answer the prayers contained within. In my analysis of the contributing factors to my own wellbeing I often conclude that, were it not for my faith, I would not have as healthy a way of dealing with a teacher's workload. In short, I remember that work is not the be-all and end-all and that there are more important things in life than my job.