Classroom Modelling

One of our areas of focus is around classroom modelling this year. There is no doubt that even if students have gone above and beyond to engage with the work set online during lockdown, one thing they have not had as much access to is classroom modelling. The below is not an exhaustive list but just a few strategies we have decided on focus on.

  1. Joint Essays – Teacher constructs essay using student answers on the board or using visualiser.
Advantages Challenges
Can be very effective in demonstrating structure Can be overwhelming for students who are trying to listen, write and help construct an answer at the same time
Involves students and their opinions in your answer Can be passive – students just copy the answer from the board
Demonstrates how you choose between possible answers – how do you decide which answer/quote etc.. is the best one? Students can think there is only one perfect answer and that is the one you have written on the board which they try to memorise

Requirements

Must talk through thinking – why are you going with the argument you are making in your written response? Why have you decided to put your argument together in this order?

Do one thing at a time – Talk or write – so students know if they should be listening or writing

Be crystal clear about your expectations. Will you allow students to simply contribute orally when they so choose, or is there a simple protocol, like putting their hands up.

Questioning: pre-plan who you will question in readiness.

Get ongoing feedback on the model. Ask: Is this good enough? Can we do better? Have we used the best vocabulary we can?

Explain this is only one answer – in several subjects other approaches may have worked so it’s the skill of making a persuasive argument that is getting you the mark.

Make sure they understand the standard you are working to. What is the mark scheme looking for? What are they working towards?

Variations

Using technology – If in an IT room you can use software such as One Drive to collaborate in small groups to construct an answer.

Small groups feed in – You can start an essay off and get small groups to collaborate an answer. Give them different colour felts/pens so you can see who has contributed what. Then bring the answers together on the board to ensure students are not passive.

2. Pre prepared Model Answers

Advantages Challenges
Great to show students what they are working towards Can make some students nervous if very far from what they are producing
Allows you to pick apart an answer and discuss what its strengths and weaknesses are in a class. Can be passive – students just copy to keep the answer to memorise
You may even want to show marking so what would be rewarded in the answer to provide clarity Students can think there is only one perfect answer and that is the one you have written on the board which they try to memorise
Good way to show common misconceptions/mistakes and then correct  

Requirements

Questioning: pre-plan who you will question in readiness. What will you get them to pick apart in the answer? Or explain? How will you get them to analyse it?

Explain this is only one answer – in several subjects other approaches may have worked so it’s the skill of making a persuasive argument that is getting you the mark.

Make sure they understand the standard you are working to. What is the mark scheme looking for? What are they working towards?

Variations

Comparative judgements – Ask students to complete/plan their own answer to a question. Give students 3-4 other answers to rank and then explain why they have ranked them in this way. What would they improve? Why?

Marking of an answer as a group on the board they have to tell you what you should and should not award according to marking criteria.

3. Oral arguments

Advantages Challenges
Helps students think through their answers before they try and write them down – helps them process Ensuring that those not speaking are still active in the learning
Helps you correct any misconceptions live Ensuring that students walk away with some written notes and don’t forget what has been discussed
Allows you to lift vocabulary (Say it better) before they write things down. Harder to keep track of verbal answer sometimes if get lost in discussion so may need to log on the board
Allows several opinions to be heard so students can reach an informed decision  
Lends itself to excellent questioning e.g. How many of you agree? Who can build on that further? What example should we use to demonstrate that point?  
Allows students to demonstrate their thinking to others  

Variations:

Pass it on: Students verbalise answers then write down and pass it on – next student has to build and etc.. then can write a full response.

Debates: Split class in two – Ask students to make opposing arguments

Statements: Make an extreme statement and then ask them to counteract it with what they have learnt orally to start with and then write down.

Please note: for any of these strategies two things are critical. Trust and respect between all participants and a clear success criteria

How Dame Sally Coates, Abby Bayford and Brene Brown made me check myself. – A blog post about confessions, values and authenticity.

So I have a confession, I haven’t always been honest.

Covid and Lockdown has given us a lot of time to think. Not as much as some in the media would have people believe and the number of times I have screamed ‘Schools haven’t closed’ at a screen probably says more about the state of my mind than the statement I’m trying to make. But anyway I digress. Upon reflection I haven’t always been honest.

This was my first year as a Vice Principal and although I know I tried, I tried damn hard, I’m not proud of how much of myself I have hidden. I should highlight this is not how my Head feels about me, or anyone else for that matter and this is not imposter syndrome or lack of satisfaction where no matter what I do I will not be happy with it. This is hard reflection. Looking back on the past year I can see I have tried to squeeze, bend, mix, contort into what fits in with the school I have joined. I have told myself on many occasions that this is what is necessary, the first year is about building trust, rapport, getting to know the landscape of your new school, assimilating, but to be honest I’ve never felt 100% convinced.

My problem, I have come to realise is I am waiting for a leader to give me permission to be myself, to be my champion to be my voice to be my cheerleader. But here’s the thing, when you get to VP you are the leader, the champion and the voice, often of the people who need you. I am at my very place because I am different to the Head, yet I have tried to assimilate and that was a foolish thing to do.

Looking back I can see it clearly now, agreeing to decisions I knew would not work in teacher training, an area I am responsible for, but that were insisted upon. Not questioning enough. Going along with paperwork which makes no sense. Going with the motions.

Let me tell you what really brought my behaviour over the last year into focus. Dame Sally Coates. I both loved her and wanted to scream at her whilst reading her book Head Strong – 11 lessons of school Leadership. Someone on twitter recommended it to me and I can’t for the life of me remember who but whoever you are, know that I am wishing so much good for you for bringing this book into my life. In it, Sally (how do you address someone with a Damehood? Do you think she likes being addressed as Dame all the time?) talks about Leading from the front. You may not agree with all of her opinions or practices (Saturday detentions for one) but you cannot doubt her conviction and that she lives according to her values and it was enough to make me reflect on my own. I have the privilege of being mentored by Abby Bayford and her and I have spoken about the role of Values a lot since April. Now in the new academic year with the kids coming back it’s time to really bring mine to the fore. (I’ve also read a lot of Brene Brown over lockdown so I think the mixture of the powerful three Sally, Abby and Brene has now got me going into full confession mode in this blog, don’t blame me blame them!).

During Lockdown and this summer I have spent time really thinking about my values and those I want to demonstrate every day at work and at home. I know people who talk about having a work persona and home persona. I understand that to some extent but it doesn’t sit right with me. I take my whole self to work every day so my values are my values full stop.

So after a lot of self reflection on actions that have made me happy and others that haven’t and working out what is important to me these are the values that I most align with.

Courage – I think it takes courage to be authentic and we are required to be continuously courageous to speak up when something doesn’t sit right with us. I think also as a leader, which everyone is in education, you need courage to reflect and recalibrate and course correct. Courage is what I believe gets us to be hopeful for the future, the courage to dream for our young people is what makes us insist on ensuring they behave the way we know they can and see in them what they themselves cannot yet see, to hold them to a higher standard. It takes courage to be vulnerable so you can experience…

Growth – I’ve heard people talk about reinventing themselves to live a fulfilled life. For me its about growing and revealing more of myself as a leader. Peeling back the armour I have put up, to be more of my authentic self. Which then gives me the space to learn and grow.

Joy – I am eternally optimistic, it’s just in my DNA. I don’t know how not to find a way out of a bad situation and dream. Maybe it’s because my parents were entrepreneurs and immigrants to the UK and hope has kept them eternally moving forward. It was all they had when they faced racism, poverty and despair. I, in my core, like them, believe that my tomorrows will always be better than my todays, that life is abundant in its giving. The alternative to me is too destructive to imagine. I’ve met people who believe in a zero sum game, who believe if someone or some school is getting ahead that this means they are getting behind and I have never seen them prosper. We cannot teach our kids about contributing to future society if we are working from a place from lack. If you are one of those people please stay out of my circle.

So what does living your values mean in the workplace? Well I’m just starting on this journey but the above values have shaped our INSET days and our Teaching and learning and QA processes for the forthcoming year.

Professional Development – I have absolutely refused to introduce anything new this year but worked on taking away and pairing back. Keep the main thing the main thing seems to be my motto right now. I’ve asked teachers to reflect, tweak and really hone in on questioning, modelling and recall. Things they already do. I’ve asked them to come on this courageous journey with me, record themselves, reflect with peers on how they can improve. To become fascinated and obsessed with themselves and their teaching. I’ve also made a promise that I’ll go first and share recordings of myself teaching for open feedback. I’ve asked for courage in the small things. Our professional development programme which requires triads of teachers to work together asks them to be responsible for not only their own growth but that of each others.

Last year we spent a lot of time working on our curriculum plans. To me Joy and curriculum plans go hand in hand. Call me a geek but the joy a well thought through curriculum in History or any other subject brings me is ridiculous. I love hearing about a curriculum journey, how leanring in year 7 is prepping them for bigger questions and reflections in year 9. It is music to me. This year I have asked teachers to overtly share this joy with the kids. We started on this journey last year but our job is not done. I want kids not only to be excited about what they are learning now but what they are going to learn.

I have done away with judgmental QA processes and learning walks. Not one learning walk last year taught me something I didn’t already know. I’ve done away with a PP strategy and combined it into our T&L strategy. There is not one T&L strategy that we are focused on that would not also benefit our PP kids.

These are just some examples of how living from my values has let me to make decisions that I always believed in. I’m excited. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. To some these may seem like small steps but often our actions don’t have to be revolutionary, sometimes its having the passion to not go with the flow that makes them extraordinary.

I’ll be keeping you posted to on how things go.

I would love to build an accountability group. A group of us who come together and hold each other to our values. I honestly believe that sometimes this is harder as a VP then a Head. Because you don’t have the final word and may think the right thing to do is fall in line with the Head’s decisions. This is great if you are completely aligned but I would argue that you are there to be a contrast to your Head to complement them and to help bounce ideas to steer the school forward. Please let me know on @noonetoldmehow if you’d like to join a by monthly zoom conversation.

Recovering from an unsuccessful interview

This blog post is in collaboration with some wonderful people including @EmmaHal39281100, @MrsLFlower and @Miss_Southon

I’ve been putting writing this blog off to be honest. Who likes to talk about their failures in public spaces after all? But it is important what we do. You’ll see a lot of websites talking about what to do in preparation for an interview but not a lot once it is over and you haven’t got the job and that is just as important.

What you won’t find is trite remarks such as ‘It makes you stronger’ or ‘something better will come along’ or ‘If it was meant for you you will have got it,’ even if they may all be true. Hopefully what you will find is some strategies for moving forward. And some ideas on how to grow from the experience.

My experience

I recently went for a Headship interview. I have only been a VP for a year and recognise that it is probably quite early to take the next step. My motivations included ensuring that I understood the process, used it as an opportunity to reflect how far I’d come in the previous year and used it as the best CPD and 360 review I could get my hands on as well as, if possible, get the job. As far as I was concerned I had nothing to lose from giving it a shot.

The rejection

Despite all of the benefits I know I have got out of the experience nothing really makes it any easier to deal with the negative outcome. I knew I was the underdog, I knew there were sections of experience I didn’t have. I did fall in love with the school when I went to visit, which made managing expectations harder. So I gave myself 24 hours to eat and drink my feelings and sulk!

So now that I have been told I haven’t got it what do I do?

Get feedback – Well the first thing I have asked for is the paperwork in relation to my interview questions. The school in question are being wonderful in that they are happy to provide me with question by question feedback so I’m going to make the most of that. Two areas of development were clear. The first, timetabling and the second finance (although I have handled extremely large budgets in the commercial sector for 7 years not managing them in education is a problem).

Make a List – of the structure of the day, tasks, questions, things you struggled with elements you found easy, so that you can remember for next time. You may think you’ll never forget but you will so get it down.

Have a frank conversation with your boss – The interview has given me a place from which to demand development – I knew timetabling and finance were areas for development for me 7 months ago, I had bought them up with my Head who hadn’t done much to develop me in these areas. Since the interview we have a had a very frank conversation about the need for exposure to these elements or the need for me to go elsewhere to get them. A tough but honest conversation which has been provided clarity for both of us.

Take control of your development – Deep down I’ve known I’m repeating what I have previously done and not demanded that the Head give me opportunities to develop in other areas. He is risk averse and therefore would need some convincing. This experience has given me the impetus to do just that. I’m looking for courses, demanding a seat at the table in meetings I would not usually be at in a bid to learn and all of this is happening in context for my Head to understand why so he can support me.

Below is the experience of @EmmaHal39281100

The feeling of rejection is never pleasant, particularly if you’ve had to battle your inner imposter syndrome feelings to start with. I have two experiences that I feel are worth sharing.

A few years ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed with my role, the leadership, at the time did not suit me, and, it is a very challenging school to work in.

1. I was applying for a head of KS3 role in a beautiful school further away from my home town. When I say beautiful, it really was a dream. The tour, lead by the students, was awesome. The whole day went well, weighing up the other candidates I felt strong. There was a niggling feeling that it wasn’t right for me. I continued through to the interview but all the way home I was panicking that I might actually be successful! I opted to pull out. The head teacher was a true gentlemen. I explained that I liked teaching in challenging schools that were, dare I say it…a bit gritty. He completely understood and then, did the most amazing thing…he thanked me for working in challenging contexts and appreciated that the pressures would be different in his school. His out pouring of respect for schools like mine and teachers like me was the boost I needed to realise why I teach where I do.

2. This time i was applying for a second in department role. The current HOD knew of me and my school as we are in similiar areas. Again, the day seemed ok. There was much deliberation and the three candidates, myself included, were wondering why it was taking so long. I was the first to be pulled out. The HOD explained that they were sending me home. She mentioned that work that I was doing at my current school is great and I was making a real difference. Although I felt rejected, hurt, and a little embarrassed…now, with hindsight, I’m delighted! I was making a difference and chipping away at making improvements, our results would improve in time and I should not be applying out demoting myself.

Growing where you are – Since then my department have gone from strength to strength, our school is on an amazing journey and I am considered a driving force behind that. To top it off, myself and my second in department planned, coordinated and hosted a Teachmeet at our school for over 100 teachers! So really, my message is that there’s a lot to learn from rejection. Although it feels raw, your inner demons are shouting “i told you so!” and it can be embarrassing when you tell people you didn’t get it but often, you learn things about yourself, what drives you and where your passions truly lie. Ask yourself, how can I grow where I am?

Learning what is a good fit – Visiting other schools made me realise that you are interviewing the school as much as they are interviewing you. YOu have to ask yourself whether this is the school you want to work for. Similarly, the chances are you are being appointed as part of a team so when being interviewed the interviewer is thinking what you bring to the team. It may be that they already have someone with a similar perspective to you so the rejection isn’t personal it may be to ensure the team is made up of a diverse group of people.

Below is the experience of @Miss_Southon applying for an NQT position

My first interview experience was very daunting after having sent off around six applications all which had been rejected. I felt over the moon when I was finally invited to an interview via zoom for a position in key stage two. Due it being my first interview I was extremely nervous and I didn’t have any idea what to expect from an online interview, it felt very strange having to look at yourself while talking to four other members of the school community (the headteacher a member of the governing body and two members of senior leadership). I knew straightaway that I hadn’t been successful with the interview because even though the interview allowed 45 minutes to an hour I had finished answering all the questions in 20 minutes. I researched the school website off by heart and I knew all of the schools policies and mission statements however, I didn’t take a lot of time to think about my experiences from my teacher training and how I was going to put that in an answer to them as most of the questions were about me but for some reason I thought the questions were going to be about the school and how I would fit in which 100% wasn’t the case. I got a call back from the headteacher about an hour and a half later and he explained I have been unsuccessful and I could ring back in two weeks after the holidays for some feedback. 

Getting Feedback

I was embarrassed to ring back because I didn’t want to hear my failures over the phone but I know that listening to what he had to say would help me in the future if I was invited to another interview. The headteacher explained that my answers weren’t very detailed and I didn’t give many examples of my own experience and tended to keep the answers very short which didn’t give them a lot of information about my experience as a teacher. For example when explaining the behaviour management technique I use or spoke about a situation within placement I didn’t go into very much detail which is what they were looking for as by doing this it would’ve given them a lot more information about my experience and what I could bring to the school as a teacher. He also gave me some tips for the lesson plan I produced  as the activity for the interview was to plan a lesson; he said that I should listen to the brief and strictly follow the brief because even though my lesson plan was great he wanted the lesson plan to be about reading but I focus my lesson plan more on vocabulary which isn’t what they asked for. 

Stepping forward

When I was called to the next interview (which to bear in mind was about three weeks after my first unsuccessful interview) I was feeling very nervous but as soon as I was introduced to everyone before the interview began I just felt very calm straight away because all three interviewers were really warm and made me feel at ease. I also made sure to explain all my answers in detail and sometimes I gave two examples if I didn’t feel like that was a enough, I didn’t worry that I was speaking to much because at the end of the day this interview is for them to find out about me and my experience as a teacher and what I can being to the school so therefore I needed to talk about myself and my teaching experience as much as possible. In addition, I was asked to plan a maths lesson, I stuck to the brief and did exactly they asked by not going off topic, I also made sure that the values of the school were embedded within the lesson plan and I made it very detailed because I wasn’t actually going to be able to teach that lesson due to Covid so I wanted to make sure that they could see my teaching style clearly within the plan and that they could visualise what my lesson would like if they were to see it in person. 

Lessons learnt

Overall I think it’s really important to listen to constructive feedback, be confident, use examples and listen to the brief but most of all be yourself and try not to come across as being nervous because if you do that shows. It is extremely difficult having an interview over zoom but they are new to this way of working too, so be confident in yourself and your ability.

Here @MrsLFlower talks about a slightly different experience which offers the same challenges and opportunities for growth. Stepping down from Leadership.

I was saturated with mortification. I felt the slow, hot prickle of shame creeping up my chest and neck, settling on my cheeks, emblazoned for the world to see. 

My usual tagline here is ‘I stepped down from leadership after a difficult return from maternity leave’. This quick, rehearsed, flyaway comment with the practiced smile gives just enough of the truth to feel authentic, without exposing the hurt too much.

Knowing that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d made mistakes, that I hadn’t lived up to the lofty ideal of fabulous leader and new mummy, made me ashamed. I believed I’d failed, and that this was the end of everything I was.

Although not an unsuccessful job interview, the above situation brought about the familiar feeling of ‘doors closing.’ 8 months later, I’ve come to the other side feeling stronger, with clarity and vision, and most importantly, with renewed hope.

My tips for coming through the shame and hurt of job interview rejection are:

Grieve: Perhaps you really loved the school, or the opportunities it presented, or, frankly, the status and prestige of the role. Perhaps you really needed this job, financially, or because of its location, or even to get out of your present school. Allow yourself the time to process these feelings – name them, let them out, write them down, cry, wail, curl up in a ball – let it happen. Ignore, for now, the well meaning ‘chin up’ type comments from others. You had hopes for the possibilities of this role – you have a right to be upset. 

Find your supporters: Now turn to those well meaning people. Tell them of your grief. Share your truth. Use them as a mirror – are you really upset about this particular role? Or is it that you now feel definite about applying for a similar role elsewhere? Seek out those above you at your current school, and ask them for advice to develop. Take a deep breath, and ask for meaningful feedback from the school you have just applied to – could someone ring you to really talk it all through? Use this feedback to rebuild your confidence, and strengthen your resolve. 

Search out new opportunities: From your feedback and the opinions of those above you at your current school, what were your strengths? Are these areas you’re passionate about? Shout about these! Attend (virtual) events about them, meet other expert educators, broadcast your ideas, blog, tweet, vlog – you never know where it may lead! Equally, enter into the world of your areas for development, humbly as a novice, reading, absorbing, experiencing all you can. 

Getting back up after a setback is incredibly difficult, and seeing the light that may come afterwards can feel impossible. I broke, falling so far and so hard I couldn’t see for the impetus of shame, dragging me to hide in the shadows. It was after my grieving period, when I found my tribe, that I began to slowly unfurl my tightly held petals to emerge, smiling, into the sun.

I hope the above experiences provide support for the teachers out there who are experiencing some set backs. The common theme seems to be heal and nurture yourself, learn and move forward.

CPD: Returning to School

This is a collaboration post with Molly @Mimmerr

Some of us are back in school, some of us are still working from home. Regardless, we’d be particularly impressed if you weren’t fed up in some way with working life still being so different. In September, hopefully we will see settings that are reminiscent of the ones we loved before but we will still be teaching and working with staff and children that have lived through a traumatic time. We discuss below effective CPD that might be worth looking into before you return to the classroom, that will help everyone in education in a number of ways: mentally, academically or professionally.

Molly points you in the direction of some CPD on how to support students with anxiety for instance. Unfortunately, for some of our students the los may be more extreme. Below is a course that all staff who are coming in for face to face teaching for our Year 10s this week have completed.

  1. Whole school bereavement counselling

Unfortunately, many schools are likely to have students who have experienced a loved one having either a severe illness (Covid related or not) or even death, Winstons Wish offer a short online course for free to train staff to help children cope with grief. https://www.winstonswish.org/bereavement-training-courses-schools/

In addition to training ourselves on how to support the emotional wellbeing of our students we also need to think about unique challenges likely to be posed in the new academic year as they try to re-engage with their education after the summer which has followed a tumultuous term.

2. Student Motivation – This link leads to a brilliant talk by Caroline Spalding and Peps McGrea called Leveraging the science of motivation to optimise the return to school https://researched.org.uk/sessions/peps-mccrea-caroline-spalding-leveraging-the-science-of-motivation-to-optimise-the-return-to-school/ looks at building motivation and the elements that need to be in place for students to reengage with school. It offers some handy tips as teachers face the task of planning for a return in whatever shape it may take.

Managing your own wellbeing – Despite what you may read on the odd uninformed tweet everyone knows that teachers have been working hard during this time to ensure students are able to access their education online. At this point it is important to stress this is not a ‘working from home’ situation. If it were, your own children would be at school allowing you to focus on your work. Instead this is a ‘doing the best you can whilst at home’ situation. Teachers are working hard to balance their family and work life and the need to manage their own wellbeing is paramount.

3. Your own wellbeing

Hays is offering a ‘Why wellbeing first?’ free online course https://educationtraining.hays.co.uk/wellbeing-first/

Which looks at everything from Remote 101 to prioritisation, using gratitude to feel empowered and managing stress. Some staff may be feeling nervous about returning to the classroom. It always amazes me the nerves that take over after summer no matter how many years you have been in the profession. This year the break from classroom teaching will be longer than normal. This article by Happiful offers some little steps to build your confidence https://happiful.com/how-to-rebuild-confidence-post-lockdown/

Do check out Molly’s blog to find more three more courses that could help.

What I’m telling my staff as we get ready to reopen our school for Year 10s

The school that our staff will enter when they start to come back to teach Year 10s next week will be different to the one they left. There will be procedures in place that will require them to act differently and in cases go against their instinct. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we prepare staff for their return and the best way in which I can make them feel safe, valued and empowered. As I embark on a week of 9 training sessions in total for staff who will be in for the partial reopening for Year 10s I have focused on 4 key areas, Thanks, Compassion, Community and Trust.

Thanks

At the start of the lockdown just before the school closed I asked staff to Trust each and see the good. Trust that everyone was doing the best they can, given their circumstances. It would be nonsensical for us to expect the same from each member of staff I had said, some had young children who would need to be home schooled, others elderly parents who needed to be cared for, others their own health to monitor or that of a partner. But if we could trust that everyone was doing what they could, work would be a lot more pleasant. I can’t stop thanking the staff enough for doing this. They have been nothing but true team players during lockdown. People volunteering to go above and beyond, to pull together and make sure our kids get the best deal in a less than ideal situation. In times of uncertainty, Trust and Teamwork has got us through with a smile on our face and I have seen evidence of that every single day of the lockdown.

Trust

I think this is intertwined in all of the above but all also deserves its very own section. I need staff and students to Trust each and know that everyone is doing their best. If someone breaks protocol it is not because they don’t care but because they have slipped into old ways. I need staff to trust themselves and feel empowered to speak up when something isn’t working, if they feel leadership has got something wrong for instance, so that we can improve things day after day. There is no room for being quietly concerned when it comes to the safety of our staff and students, we must speak up. I have asked them to let me know if they think things can be improved because we are all in this together and must assume responsibility. This is our school and it will take all of us to pull in the right direction to make this work. I have asked staff to Trust that kids are doing their best. There are consequences should they break protocol or be silly but the chances are they are more likely to be absentminded than malicious.

Compassion

Towards staff and students. Things won’t be black and white, some students will have experienced several positives during the lockdown, more time with parents taking long walks, reading and watching things beyond the curriculum, time with siblings to play. Others, unfortunately may have experienced emotional neglect, loneliness and poor mental health. None of it will be black and white. Similarly, staff will have had different experiences of lockdown. We will need to be compassionate towards each other as we navigate the next few weeks, understanding that if a child or even member of staff acts out they may well be expressing something that has built up inside them for the past 10 weeks. We have spoken about language and its power. We may not be able to reach out to people by putting a reassuring hand on their shoulder but we can reach them with language and our voices. We have spoken about the use of language and showing compassion in the classroom. We will be celebrating how hard students have worked during lockdown and before, that we have time to complete their GCSE, that they are taught by professionals and that we will figure out how to complete the course on time. Nothing is lost and the number one priority is there welfare. We will figure this out. That they have done us proud.

Community

I honestly believe that in many cases this epidemic has bought communities together, whether that has meant people volunteering, doing the food shop for their neighbours or giving people you know live alone a phonecall. I really have seen the best of humankind in many cases. As we embark on a new journey, community is paramount. It is a sense of community that will make us behave in a way that doesn’t endanger others, by wiping down surfaces used, limiting the number of rooms we visit, ensuring we follow health and safety protocols that don’t seem natural but are necessary for our community to thrive.

So it it with this in mind that I hope to move forward with the support of our amazing staff and students over the forthcoming weeks. I simply can’t wait to stand at those front gates and greet every child next week and watch the Trust, Compassion and sense of Community unfold in my school.

Assessment Models – Knowledge, Practice and Perfection – a fine balance

Assessment, formative and summative is a critical part of every teachers practice. However, in order to be effective, the balance between knowledge recall, practice and perfection is imperative.

I’ve been in schools where practice has been weighted so heavily that students complete mock exam after mock exam without a breather for reflection and establishing where they are and thus have the sinking feeling of getting nowhere.

I’ve been in schools where the pursuit of perfection has meant the stakes are so high that some students feel paralysed.  

As for Kknowledge organisers, I’ve seen them used poorly and well, used for recall of critical information and robotic memorisation. Recently I saw a post from @MathsMrH questioning their validity altogether and he has a point, depending on what you were expecting out of them in the first place.

None of these practices in themselves are good or bad, but the sweet spot is the balance between them, ensuring all involved are clear of their purpose and building in time for reflection.  I don’t for a moment believe that teaching practitioners throw assessments at students without purpose. I can confess however, that after a while assessment models with tests at certain times of the year, with certain questions, being done because they’ve always been done, can lose their purpose. We do them because we do them, the discussion around why and what we do with them disappears or at least becomes less prominent.

So, it is with this in mind that I’ll be looking again at our assessment structure with the middle leaders in the forthcoming year.

Reading Making Kids Cleverer by David Didau has provided the narrative with which I hope to enter the discussions about assessment. In the book he emphasises the importance of how we practice being more important than an abstract number of hours we dedicate to the practice. He even questions deliberate practice (I know I found this a bitter pill to swallow too) but its less of a criticism of the technique more the conditions it needs. He also stresses the two hallmarks of expertise (a) automacity and (b) and the ability to see the deep structure of problems.

This year our middle leaders have spent a lot of time working to develop their curriculum, getting clear about the themes in their curriculum and the student journey. It is time to give the same attention to the assessment model. Of course, this was discussed during the curriculum design but we haven’t got it nailed. Much of what we will be discussing will be around:

Purpose of each assessment

Automacity – Knowledge recall

How have we provided the knowledge (we have knowledge organisers, but how have we explicitly told the students to use them and are they the best they can be?)

How often are we doing low stakes testing?

How are we picking/prioritisng the knowledge being testing

How are we correcting misconceptions in knowledge?

Are students aware of what powerful knowledge in their subject is?

Deep learning of the structure of problems – Problem solving using the knowledge and forming opinions

  • How have we modelled this for the students?
  • When did we model it?
  • How often?
  • Have they experienced success?

Timing

How are we timetabling for spaced practice?

Reflection

Where have we built in time for reflection? Is there enough?

Hinge concepts

How often are we explicitly talking to students about hinge concepts and checking their understanding?

Procedural Knowledge

The above really focuses on Subject specific knowledge. Procedural knowledge, which focuses on how we use the subject specific knowledge is another area we are looking at, in particular modelling. I had the privilege of seeing a ResearchED Northants session with the wonderful @SaysMiss and this sparked my obsession with this area.

Across which subjects can we adopt a similar approach to modelling?

Many of our students use 4 or 5 acronyms in a day to use as a template for writing essays. Where can these be minimized or duplicated?

It’s important that both subject specific and procedural knowledge get time, but as highlighted by Didau, we must recognize that the latter can’t happen without the former in place. Therefore, when looking at our assessment model the weighting of the type of assessment during the year should change.

Essentially, I want the assessment structure to support students to answer the ‘Big questions’ in their subject. Not exam questions. But the big philosophical questions and fall in love with their subjects. For history in the Cold War unit that may mean thinking about whether it is inevitable that Russia and America will be at odds with each other due to their ideologies, for Geography it may mean considering whether Population patterns will always be cyclical. The aim of assessment is to support this development as much as possible through knowledge recall and then procedural knowledge. I’ve included a diagram below to demonstrate this.

There really is heaps I could talk about from the book, at one point I had to stop myself from quoting huge chunks. So you should really go ahead and just read it.

I hope the above sparks some discussions in your own schools about the assessment models being used. I’d love to hear about your own models and how you came about them.

Big moves to get you ready for the next step in your career

Recently I asked Twitter for help once again (seriously it’s the gift that keeps giving!) I’ve been reading a book by Brendan Burchard called High Performance Habits. The section on Performance and Productivity caught my eye, as I imagine it would most people’s in education with the scarcity of time and an ever growing to do list. In it he discusses Productive Quality Output and focusing on the actions that will have the biggest impact. In fact, he asks the reader to focus on 5 areas in which they want to make moves to grow.

So when it came to deciding my 5 I asked for help, on twitter and of course it delivered. As a Vice Principal I often cover all bases, pastoral administrative, T&L it doesn’t matter if it needs to get done it needs to get done.  But at the same time I can feel lost due to lack of focus. It serves me well but also stops me from developing a deep knowledge of areas I know I need to develop in. I work with a Head who is my direct opposite, as a result we can end up focusing on tasks that come to us naturally. I handle all things people, he handles timetables and finance. As someone who came into teaching late and worked in the commercial sector I’m not shy of handling budgets but school budgets seem to be a different beast.

So, I reached out to the Heads on twitter for their advice on the 5 things they did to prep them for headship to help me get a little focus next year. Below is a list of their feedback and also my own thoughts of how I might go about this.

Thank you to the wonderful Mark Chatley, David Ellison, Alienwife, Dr Heery, Raphael Moss, Baritonedeaf, Simmscoaching, EducatingNotts, Jack Newton, Teacher Paul, Community Head, Steve Palmer, Richard Preece and Reynolds3Simon for their feedback and guidance.

VALUES

This was overwhelmingly the common thread in most of the answers. Decide what values you want your leadership to be based on. At first I thought I had to pick three from a large list but truth be told I only operate from my values and express them without even knowing. Mine are:

Integrity – I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I would not do or have a go at, I ensure I speak the truth and if I don’t know something I confess pretty quickly.

Growth– The thing I love about education the most is it is a great big adventure, the environment is always changing (ain’t that the truth at the moment!) new challenges are presenting themselves and we learn more about ourselves every minute. Adventure to me means fun and I embrace it with enthusiasm. To me school from any angle is about growth. Growing knowledge, skills, opportunities, community, this value just resonates with me.

Contribution – To me this means giving the best of yourself at every given moment. It’s what I expect from myself, my staff and students. I’m also not great in meetings with people who can only see the problems, although I’m working on being more patient.

What are you values? To answer this think about the values you operate from every day. It was good to ask myself this question and think about it during a long walk.

How does this translate to a school and the development to Headship? I believe if you use your values as an anchor you’ll make decisions in line with them and as a result be an authentic leader. You’re probably already doing it.

School budgets

Apparently, you can never have enough budget experience! I know I need to get myself into budget meetings. As part of a MAT many of the decisions are made centrally but this is something I’ll be asking to be part of as soon as we return. On another note @secretHT1 published a great blog as an intro to school budgets which you can find here.

Network

Another great peace of advice. I recently spoke to some great colleagues about the problems with echo chambers, particularly if you are in a large Trust. It is healthy to hear different views and purposely speak (or tweet) with people who may not agree with you. Raphael mentioned the NPQH in particular as an opportunity to look beyond your school or Trust. I recently spoke to a colleague who suggested that all those on the NPQH do their second project on a Trust school (luckily he is not in my cohort ;)). Although well-meaning I think this is really dangerous and one way in which schools/Trust can become too inward facing. Other places to network are on Twitter (thoroughly recommend joining the #teacher5oclockclub if you can get up early enough #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites and #FFBWednesday to name a few). Actively seek opinions. A few years ago I also made an active decision to read outside of education and outside of the UK to give myself some perspective.

My next steps are to work with the wonderful Network of people I have found on Twitter to discuss, debate and share as much as I can. Oh, and make sure I do my NPQH project outside of the Trust!

The theory here is to make sure you understand as many different school settings as you can so when you are a Head things don’t take you by surprise or you have different perspectives on tackling a problem.

Get coached/learn from Heads

This took a few different forms. Some people swore by coaching others said they had great Heads who modelled good Leadership for them or bad ones who showed them what not to become. I think all of the above are useful. Taking the time to reflect is critical. I’ve naturally always done a SWOT analysis of a school when I have left trying to be as objective as possible about the school to help me decipher what has and hasn’t worked I suppose to one day get clearer about the school I would like to run. Simms Coaching also recommended listening to podcasts to learn from as many different ideas as possible.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses

Thanks to Mark Chatley for this one! I’ve been thinking about this during lockdown. I’ve taken the Curriculum route into leadership but this year have immersed myself into Pastoral side also. When I joined my current school as VP for T&L and curriculum we had four months until the other VP joined who led on Pastoral and Behavior so I took the opportunity to throw myself into that role before he arrived. It was difficult but it taught me a lot and got me interested in developing school culture.

It’s important to be clear with your Manager or Head about your weaknesses and ask to be developed in those areas. Ask to buddy someone if you have to. I know for myself I haven’t touched timetabling yet and have bought this up so I know it’s coming my way.

Get out there!

I can remember the wise words of a mentor I had during a middle leaders course I completed 5 years ago. She was the Head of a Primary and she said “The biggest problem Headteachers have is not enough people putting their hand up to take care of stuff they need to get done. Do that and you’ll go far.” That advice has never failed me. Although I would recommend you only take it on if you think you can do it or at least give it a proper effort rather than overwhelm yourself.

But after all is said and done it is the advice of David Ellison that I’m left with.

You can never be ready enough so at some point you’ve just gotta dive in! Good luck!

I’d love to hear what steps you have taken to develop to the next step in your career. Let me know.

Transition – We do what we can do and we keep doing that

Transition is on everyone’s mind as we creep towards the end of the academic year without knowing what it will look like. Whether this be for those starting Primary school, Secondary or indeed A Level. Below I’ve focused on transition from Year 6 into Year 7.

Many of the decision around transition, I believe, just can’t be made just yet (you’ll see what I mean towards the end of this blog), until we have more clarity around what return to school will look like. However I think using the blog from Ben Brown @EdRoundtables to make sure that the key areas he describes are at the forefront of your mind is beneficial. I’ve certainly used it to organize my thoughts below.

The ideas below are just decisions we as a Secondary school have decided to make. I don’t believe there are right or wrong answers to the questions transition in these times poses, so please take from it what you please and ignore the rest.

The need to ensure that our children feel comfortable in their new environment is so important to ensure they have a happy start to their educational journey with us. Below are just a few things we have done to ensure this happens despite the current circumstances, but this is an ever evolving process and I’m blown away with the attitude of our transition managers who are being incredibly creative in solving this problem.

Communication with new students and parents at home

Welcome evening – we have taken this online using Teams, recording the Head, Head of Year 7, transition manager and other key personnel such as SENCO and PP lead to talk about the provision and support available and how excited we are about having them at our school.

Mini tour of our site – when we had our Open day some of our buildings were under construction and are just being finished off as we speak. Thanks to the lovely site managers we managed to do a video tour of these new buildings which were recorded on an Iphone and edited using iMovie so students could get a feel for the site as it has changed somewhat. We’ve also used this opportunity to reinforce our values mentioning them throughout the video.

In addition to the above we have also considered, depending on government guidelines, offering tours to students with Special Education Needs who really struggle with change. This would be on a 121 basis but we’re conscious that they have extra challenges when it comes to changing school.

Weekly emails and tutor videos – Our Year 7 tutors have been great about recording at home a short video to talk about why they love being at the school and how they can’t wait to meet their tutees. A different tutor video is released every week to parents so they get to know staff.

Transition booklet – the above is accompanied with a transition booklet which gives our future students quizzes and questions for which they must collect answers from the videos to complete the booklet. For instance, what book does Mr Harrison like to read every year? etc.. This ensures students and parents watch the videos and engage. We have also left spaces in the booklet for students to include information about themselves that their tutors can read when they arrive.

Using social media – Weekly questions such as Word of the Week and Maths brainteasers are put out on our twitter account to engage students. It’s been nice to see that some parents of our future year 7s have started a twitter account to take part with their child!

Forms – such as registration and friendship forms have been taken online in order to collect key data and put into our school systems. There is every chance we will need to print and get the parents to check this when schools return to whatever our new ‘normal’ will look like.

Communication with schools

Groupings – Our primaries have been wonderful in relaying information and have helped us decide tutor groupings and highlighted to us any areas of concern or additional need.  Year 6 teachers have been incredible in being available on zoom to discuss transition and also preparation for secondary school.

Key knowledge and skills gaps. Currently plans for testing are not being looked at. The focus has been on material that our Year 6 teachers think is critical and what the plan of action will be if they cannot deliver it. This has probably been the most challenging aspect of transition and a challenge I think that can only be dealt with by establishing good relationships with the primaries. Obviously, this will be easier if your Year 7 cohort comes from a smaller group of primaries than larger however, I think the insight from whichever primaries you can work with will be invaluable.

  • What do they wish they had time to cover with the kids which they might not get to now?
  • Why is it important?
  • What difference does it make to the kids?

I will illustrate this with an example: In the preparation for the SATS Year 6 students do a lot of work on literacy, for example Inference. We know in secondary school Inference is important in history when looking at evidence and English, not to mention many other subjects. So, we need to build in time in secondary to cover this to make sure our students can access the secondary curriculum.

Uniform

At the moment the line is you can order online and exchange if the fit isn’t right when the students start. At SLT we have discussed the need to relax expectations/sanctions around uniform. This is not ideal especially as we want the students to have clarity around expectations but I don’t think this is a decision we will make till the end.

The start of the year

The calendar has been a nightmare! Do we plan the usual one day for Year 7s to be in as the only year group? Can we afford to have the Year 10s out any longer and should they be in from day 1? Again, another decision we will leave for as long as possible or until we have more clarity about schools returning.

I hope the above is useful. I hope it makes you realise none of us have all the answers. I hope it makes you feel part of a community of professionals who are trying their best for our children.

Work Life Balance, Thinking Time and Lessons Learnt from Lockdown

As I sit here waiting for Boris Johnsons announcement on Sunday night I take a moment to reflect on what Lockdown has taught me. I mean it may all be over tomorrow, unlikely but the possibility is there that the PM will spring it on us that we are all due to go back into schools and well, just cope. This isn’t a blog about the announcement, its merits and drawback. This is a blog about what lockdown has taught me as a senior leader.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked my way up to VP my life is always divided into three and very rarely do they get an equal share. The three parts are:

Teaching and learning – whether that be me teaching, observing other teachers, having discussions about curriculum or organising and delivering CPD.

Business, behaviour and admin – The school calendar, on call, phone calls, meetings about business issues or logistics

Personal development and Family – My own development and time with family and friends

I’m not proud of it but the last one probably gets the least attention when I’m half way through a term and I think many people will agree.

But this time in lockdown has taught me so many things. I can certainly say it hasn’t been a period of slowing down but certainly given me many more periods of reflection.

These are things I have learnt and hope to take forward when we do return to ‘normal’ whatever that may look like.

Work

I produce better work when I have had time to mull it over. Therefore, I must build time to throw ideas around in my head. During lockdown this has been somewhat easier as I am not being dragged to the next ‘emergency’ which often finds itself not being an ‘emergency.’ I’ve actually blocked out time before a meeting to think about how I feel about the area for discussion or built in time to do something else before I write a paper. And the end result of all of this? I am producing better work. How do I apply this when I get back? A quick walk around the site? Moving myself to an empty classroom to work things out in my head? Locking myself in the loos? I don’t know, but I know I have to build it in.

I love people. I didn’t know I was a hugger until this point but I miss a hug. I love people, they fascinate me, my staff my students. I hate to admit it but I have probably had more face to face time with people than I would at school. I have had in depth, hilarious and fascinating conversations with all of my middle leaders, some of them one and a half hours long as we discuss our dreams for education and the school. When this is over I have vowed to spend more time in the staff room or in departments because that’s where the beating heart of our school is. This may sound obvious but ask anyone one in SLT and they’ll tell you this doesn’t always happen.

I have to get braver at pushing back on deadlines. I have had to do this a lot more as on some days I can have Zoom meetings back to back therefore expecting me to produce something in between them is impossible therefore, I have to block out time for writing and be proactive in deciding when work will be completed and sent. Many of the times I’ve found deadlines can be moved. If you produce good work people will be amenable to waiting 24 hours for it. This became really clear as I was reading Brendan Burchards’ High Performance Habits. In it he encourages people to control their time by really testing if deadlines are deadline.

I need to block my time out first. As people have been booking in meetings online a lot more I have started blocking out things I want to do in my diary on a Sunday. It might be a walk, thinking time or just time to read an article. This means when someone tries to schedule time with me they can see I’m busy and can work around those times. I even block out time for a cup of tea in the garden right now to get away from the screen. In the future this might be blocks of time for a chat with a colleague to get a different perspective or a walk around site.

Home/Personal

I’m a nicer person when I’m not reactive! My husband’s noticed it, my niece has noticed it. When I’m setting my week up and not just producing to meet other people’s deadlines and have built in some down time, I’m a better person! No surprises there. But it’s made me think more about transition times when I change from one activity to another. When I drive home do I take that time to wind down or make work calls? The former would be better. When I go into a meeting do I carry the thoughts and stress of the previous activity or take a few minutes to think positively about the meeting I’m going into? This might sound a bit woo woo but I think entering situations with a fresher mind can only be a good thing right?

I can use the phone well. I hate using the phone. I don’t have long conversations with friends and I’d rather just meet face to face. But the lockdown has forced me to use the phone well. Face time quizzes and chats have become the new norm and are great. I’m going to prefer face to face chats when I can have them but face time won’t be such a bad alternative if not.

Obligations. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they have highlighted this one. How much of the stuff do we do out of obligation and because we don’t want to say no. Whether it’s fear of missing out or looking like a bad person it’s easy for things to creep into our diary due to this. Be on guard. I’ve certainly listed a few things I’m going to be doing less of.

I think the single most important thing has been thinking space. This period has given me thinking space and I’ve learnt that at work that can’t happen by accident, it has to be built into my week. It may be at the end of each day but I have to give myself some time to be, feel what I’m feeling and process.

So there you have it a few ponderings about work and life and lessons learnt from lockdown. Will I be able to stick with them all when life returns back to it’s chaotic madness in school? Of course not, but at least I’ll know its possible and there is a better way of working and living. So maybe I’ll try a little harder to have a work life balance.

What does success look like for a teacher who wants to remain in the classroom?

In our profession what does success for a teacher look like? I’m talking about career progression. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I joined leadership to be honest. To be really honest I’ve been thinking about it every time I’ve had a bad day in leadership. Every time I have felt too removed from the classroom and too overwhelmed by the constant barrage of problems those in SLT face.

During my PGCE year we were asked this question and the 7 of us round the table with our seminar leader agreed that short term success was being an excellent practitioner and long term success was headship. 8 years on and 3 have left the profession, 1 has become a middle leader, 1 has tried to avoid leadership altogether, one has moved abroad to teach in an international school and 2 of us are in leadership and our ideas of professional success have changed dramatically.

For many years professional success has meant teachers develop through the following stages (they may skip one or two levels depending on the size of the school):

This very rigid structure doesn’t leave much room for the professional who wants to remain in the classroom and doesn’t want to join SLT or become a manager. It assumes that all teachers will eventually be managers. Experience has taught me that is not the case. Either because teachers don’t want to go into management and occasionally because the best teachers don’t always make great managers. On occasion I have seen how trying to develop teachers into managers make them nothing short of miserable.  

As we see growth in the number of Academy Trusts we are seeing more positions develop for those who want to remain steeped in their subject, for instance becoming Directors. However this is often the case for core subject areas such as English and Maths. Some choose to specialise in a particular skill such as data but again positions are limited and require the member of staff to upskill in a completely different area than teaching which is where many of the most passionate teachers want to remain.

So how do we offer them a sense of development? Particularly for those teachers who want to be exceptional in the classroom and do not want additional responsibility that takes them away from the reason they joined the profession in the first place? How do we reward and create a sense of achievement and progression for our most valuable members of staff without taking them out of the classroom?

Of course I posed this questions to the great teaching community on Twitter and was amazed by the discussion it prompted. I heard of great examples of schools getting creative, listening to teacher passions and looking at how these can be developed. Some are offering Lead practitioner status, development in Lego therapy, teaching those with autism or dyspraxia and getting involved in teacher development. However, there was overwhelming feedback that this is something that needs to be looked at or explored further in schools, as the traditional route highlighted above still seems to be the norm and the expectation in many schools.

I wonder whether we should be moving towards a system like that of the universities where subject specialists are employed as Readers, senior teachers etc.. shown below. I know this is somewhat reflected in where they are on the pay scale however do we recognise it in their title?

An exploration of alternative jobs would need exploration of really clear expectations. For instance what would the expectations of a Reader in History look like? How much research would they be expected to engage in? Would they be expected to network beyond the school/trust. Would they be asked to research within the school/trust into teaching methods for that subject? Would the school expect them publish either on a school/trust blog or in publications such as Impact? How much time will they be allowed to do this?

And therein lies the rub. If we want to create more opportunities for teachers to develop in the classroom we have to be clear about what the expectations are of them and be willing to give them time to complete them. Time means money and schools are already struggling in many cases to manage budgets that are tight. I have no doubt that a role such as the above would add value to a school, bring a sense of pride to a department and the teacher carrying it out. Recognise a professional who loves being in the classroom. They could then upskill others with their findings. But it requires schools to get creative with their budgets.

I do believe it can be done. Many a time I have joined a school where staff have fallen into their TLR role as requested by a member of leadership many years ago but have now lost their way with no clear targets or sense of direction. I think they could be reinvigorated with clear research roles or areas of development to help the most vulnerable. In order for this to work and for us to ensure that teachers who want to remain in the classroom feel a sense of achievement, we must collaborate with them to create a new journey through their profession that doesn’t always lead to Senior Leadership. Exactly how we do this will depend on finance, timetabling and the conversations with the individual teachers. But if we want to champion our most valuable assets I think it must be explored.