If you're a Year 6 teacher this Easter, you definitely don't need me to wax lyrical about the pressure you're feeling right now. Teachers up and down the country are, in their own way, stepping up their preparations for that one week in May that so much of their year seems to have been geared towards. Instead, I’d like to offer some advice from my own practice.
I'm not really sure where it came from but the idea of an organisation being made up either of radiators or drains is fairly well known - it's even made its way into the vernacular of school leaders.
If you've not come across it, it's very simple: radiators radiate positive energy and such like, whereas drains drain said energy. It's not a bad analogy really - we can all identify certain teachers we know within the two categories. Most teachers, in reality, will probably flit between being a radiator and a drain depending on the circumstances(I know I do). And there probably is some sort of middle ground too - it just doesn't have a straightforward parallel in the world of plumbing.
So, a reflection as a leader who hopes that his team will all be, for want of a better phrase, radiators: I can't expect people to be 'radiators' instead of 'drains' if I'm draining them and giving them very little to radiate.
It's funny what leads to these ruminations: a couple of mishaps with removing radiators during some redecorating got me thinking about how radiators work.
Radiators do not create their own heat. They only radiate heat which is generated in the boiler. Middle leaders are often referred to as the 'engine room' of an organisation. For the purposes of this analogy they are actually the 'boiler room' of a school. And not just middle leaders, senior leaders too. It is leaders who must be generating the heat, or the positive energy, for their staff to be radiating.
Leaders must set the climate - whatever they themselves radiate will be what their teams radiate. If a leader is a drain then their teams will feel drained and will have nothing to radiate - just like a radiator which has just fallen off its bracket and has spurted putrid water all over the newly-fitted carpet.
There are many ways that, as a leader, I might drain my staff. I might have unrealistic expectations of how they plan, mark, prepare or teach. I might fail to support them enough to enable them to cope with changes. I might not provide the necessary emotional support or foster the kind of relationships that are conducive to good teamwork and good teaching. There are a million and one ways I might drain my staff - every choice I make will have a knock-on effect, either positive or negative. As a leader I have to constantly evaluate how my actions will impact on my team, and whether they will drain them of energy or energise them.
Valuing having a team of radiators means that as well as avoiding draining them, I also must give them something to radiate. In order for me to have that positive energy (a loose term, I know) I must ensure that my boiler is fully-serviced and running efficiently. In short, I have to take care of myself in order to set the climate. The balance is a fine one though: I shouldn't ensure my own wellbeing to the detriment of the wellbeing of my team members. For example, when delegating a job I shouldn't just offload it to someone else if it means my load is lightened and theirs is made heavier. All the same, I see good levels of my own wellbeing as an essential part of enabling my team to be radiators.
It is my hope that my enthusiasm for the privileged and exciting role we hold in shaping children's futures will be conducted to the teachers who work with me. But there is no such thing as wireless plumbing, or osmosis, in a heating system - it takes some careful and deliberate pipe work to connect each teacher to the boiler. It will take a great deal of my thoughtfulness to enable each member of my team to radiate the positive energy that makes education possible.
The brilliant thing about creating a heating system like this is that (and here's where the analogy totally falls apart) anyone can then be the boiler creating that positive energy. The energy is generated exponentially as each team member begins to contribute, enabled by the initial example of their leader.
Even if this whole analogy leaves you cold (sorry), there is merit in its basis: leaders can either be radiators or drains, and whichever one they are, their team will most likely follow suit. Turn up the thermostat, keep that pilot light burning and bring the heat to your classrooms this week!
As a primary maths coordinator, it's been difficult to escape the lure of bar modelling: it's in every new publication, on all the maths blogs and at every coordinator's meeting. And so, when the time was right for my school, I succumbed.
Bar modelling, for the uninitiated, is not a method of calculation. Instead, it is a way of representing problems pictorially: from simple addition, through to finding percentages of amounts, all the way to complex multi-step problems involving ratio and proportion. Bar models can be used to pictorially represent arithmetic problems, as well as reasoning problems written with a context.
For a worked example of bar modelling and 6 steps to ensure introducing bar modelling is successful, read on at the TES blog:
Ask a child what 'The Night Spinner' by Abi Elphinstone is about and they will speak of magic and monsters, adventure and action. But those are just plot features. Beneath all that, this is a book about far more.
In actual fact, this book is about loyalty, kindness, bravery, resilience - all those things we're attempting to teach our children through well-intentioned school display boards and PSHCE lessons. Where these attempts might not have long-term impact, a book like this, in the right hands, really could.
Aimed at Key Stage Two children, this rip-roaring adventure, where dull moments are banished, is the perfect vehicle for many-a lesson on those personality traits that we all agree are essential for our children to possess. As an adult, it's difficult to see where the reality of the story ends and metaphor begins: one of the book's main villains is a dead ringer for depression as she steadily drains the lead character, Molly, of all hope, leaving her feeling increasingly unable to go on with her quest. Throughout the book Molly, aided by a colourful array of characters, learns how better to deal with her feelings of self-doubt and becomes a case study in how to overcome adversity through perseverance. There is so much for children to learn about themselves as the thrilling story unfolds.
It's becoming increasingly popular for a female protagonist to be associated with action and adventure stories but Abi Elphinstone's trilogy is a welcome addition to the growing canon of books fronted by strong female leads. The fact that Molly Pecksniff - who doesn't flinch at jumping from a bridge onto a moving train with her wildcat - is a girl, certainly does not make this a book for girls. Whilst it is important that girls have such a positive role model, its also crucial that boys are presented with a character who really challenges gender stereotypes. Books like this have the power to change minds and shape thinking.
For all of this, 'The Night Spinner' and its two preceding volumes thoroughly deserve a prominent place on the shelves of our libraries and schools. Not that they will stay on the shelf for long!
Bar Modelling is taking the primary maths world by storm. The 2014 curriculum appears, despite initial unhappiness, to be achieving a shift in the way maths is taught. Its three main aims of reasoning, problem solving and fluency have encouraged teachers to seek further ways to encourage conceptual understanding, rather than just teaching tricks or rules. So teachers have looked towards the countries who apparently churn out mastery-level mathematicians by the thousands for inspiration - that or some savvy publishers have decided to capitalise on the desire of teachers to teach the 'why' rather than the 'how'.
There has been increasing dissent over World Book Day and its staple activity: dressing up as a book character (although I heard of one school whose children had to come dress up as an adjective!). Does it really encourage children to read, or to become true readers? Can a one-off event really 'get' children to read?
There are plenty of other initiatives out there too that are intended to encourage children to engage in reading. Extreme reading photograph competitions, reading reward programmes, author visits, library trips, decorated reading corner contests, book lucky dips, sleepovers, literary lunches and all manner of other events and programmes - all are carried out in the name of promoting reading for pleasure and creating life-long readers.
I've led on reading in a previous school where we did most of the above things - Ofsted noted that 'pupil's achievement in reading is outstanding'. But can such events and initiatives really have such an impact?
I would say yes, with one caveat: that all of the above are truly book-centred. By this I mean that whatever is done in the name of encouraging reading actually involves the opening, and reading of books. If everything is done tokenistically, however, paying lip service to books, taking the name of books in vain, then there will be no impact. But if books are being read, then they are being allowed to do their thing.
You see, books contain power. The power to grab a reader by the scruff of the neck and drag them kicking and screaming into a literary chokehold. Or sometimes they have the power to reach out and take the reluctant reader in a loving embrace, comforting them and whispering sweet lullabies, enchanting them with beautiful words and far-flung worlds. Books have the power to whisk a non-reader away on an unforgettable reading honeymoon that they'll forever seek to replicate as they court book after book after book. Books persuade, they cajole, they seduce, they occupy, they engage - they can be absolutely tyrannical.
Books contain power and if we can let those covers open and give our children even the smallest of glances, eventually these children will meet their match. And their match will change their lives forever. Of course, the opportunities we provide must be meaningful and some children will require more structure and perseverance than others, but eventually, books can take a hold of anyone.
So if dressing up is what's necessary to allow the innate power of books to prevail, then that is what we must do. If events and initiatives are what it takes to unleash the potential in the books that sit, waiting, on our library or book corner shelves, then fill up your calendar.
But you don't need to wait for those days and weeks in order to marvel at the wonders those pages contain - every day, every lesson is an opportunity to read from those books. Anyone who dislikes dressing up for World Book Day only does so because they really love books and regularly experience the delights of daily reading. They are the ones who hold the secrets of how the power of books can be unleashed every time our children step into their classrooms - so don't dismiss them for their strongly held views, listen to what they are holding up as an alternative... and then do both.
Our question again: how do we 'get' children into reading?
The simple answer?
Reading books. With them. To them.
Books. Whether that's in front of a class of dubiously-costumed 5-year-olds, in that timetabled reading session or during a topic lesson, the answer is books. Be that a lunchtime book club, a visit to a book shop, or the coach ride to the museum, the answer is books. Always books.
Only books will 'get' children into reading so use them in abundance, prolifically, and at every opportunity. They will do their thing.
"It is not a weakness to allow someone else to take prominence, it is a sign of confidence, strength and, ultimately, good leadership."
World Book Day seems an appropriate time to reflect on reading Richard Adam's children's classic 'Watership Down' which reminded me of a very valuable learning experience I had at Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders Residential.
Looking for leadership advice from a rabbit
In the book, the group of escaping rabbits are led by Hazel who proves himself to be an excellent leader; one rabbit comments to some others that ‘he must be good or you'd all be dead’. For rabbits whose main aim is to survive, Hazel is the perfect leader. But, as I read, I noticed something incredible.