When we get back, the principles of good teaching remain the same.

The panic is starting, I can hear it in the twitter sphere and in clubhouse rooms. The impact of lockdown on student learning and what we need to do to correct it. When what we need is more of what we said we would always do.

The need is too great. To come up with a fancy strategy to overcome a challenge. But the thing is the challenges were always great in teaching. It’s why we joined the profession. To work against the odds and give our students the best possible foundations for their springboard into life. The world has changed, that doesn’t mean that your teaching radically has to.

What I believe our students need when we get back are two key things

  • Routines
  • Focus on learning in the classroom – through a few strategies that you already know about

Don’t panic let’s just focus on good teaching practice.

The principles of good teaching still apply. We need routine, variation, spacing and interleaving. Let’s look at what these might look like when we return.

Routine: There’s no doubt about it our young people will come back having stuck to their normal routines at varying levels, they’ll need us to redraw the lines, explicitly reteach what is and isn’t acceptable, what we will and will not tolerate. What a strong classroom culture looks and feels like and their role in making that a reality as quickly as possible. The key here is to be explicit in our reteaching of routines.

Variation: Just like you, our students have spent a lot of time in front of a screen staring at information you may have presented. Perhaps you got fancy with breakouts and let them discuss things in small groups. But what they really crave is variety and nows the time to try it. Team work, getting them to build on each others’ answers, group discussions to really explore their thoughts with someone other than their cat! How can you switch things up so you don’t rely on a computer screen for your lessons when you get back?

Spacing: It’ll be tempting to reteach and test quickly, but learning requires forgetting. And not just forgetting once. So when planning recall don’t just recall what the students have learnt during the lockdown period but go further back like you normally would to last year and when they were in the classroom.

Interleaving:Yes it’s tempting to revisit what students have learnt at home however as stated above learning requires forgetting. There’s no reason you can’t move forward with the curriculum and put aside small chunks of time each week to revisit previous topics. Even better link them to what the students are learning now and going forward. We learn in stories and the more hooks you can provide to what they know the easier it is for them to remember new information.

None of this is rocket science. None of this is new. You can do this. You have done this. But we need to be brave and stick to what we know works and keep things simple in a time when it will be tempting to recreate the wheel.

What are schools for?

And are we expecting too much from them?

I recently joined Clubhouse the new online social platform which focuses on audio. Essentially it allows you to go into ‘rooms’ hosted by others members to discuss various topics. One such room asked the question ‘Do our schools prepare our children for success?’ and that stopped me in my tracks is that the bar now? Are we being held solely responsible for the future successes of young people? And what do we mean by success? This then led me to ask the question ‘What are schools for?’ Much like the age old debate about the role of the state we find boundaries shifting.

It takes a village – but that village has got a lot smaller.

You may have heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child and that was all fine and well when we lived in tight knit communities where people shared childcare. But now in 2021 the majority of care is given by schools and immediate family. Over time more and more is added to the curriculum to often teach children many of the things they may have learnt in communities, through mentors, peers and role models.

The question is ‘Have we spread ourselves too thin?’ And whilst the government cannot control homes is it over inflating the responsibilities placed on schools because it can? And does that set us up for a fall?

Do we even know what the role of schools is anymore?

Nick Gibb attempted to answer this question in 2015 when addressing the Education Reform Summit. He argued that the purpose was, well broken down into 3 purposes.

Namely these are:

Economic – to ensure our young people have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a demanding economy through an effective and rigorous curriculum. In his speech he focused on Maths and literacy in particular.

Culture – Here he makes the sensible argument that we need to teach young people the basic tenets of the curriculum for them to engage in culture – for instance grasping the language to enjoy poetry and set free our imagination. But then things get a bit fuzzy as he quotes Matthew Arnold and making ‘all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light’ before talking about how much the arts have been invested in and the need to break down class barriers.

Preparation for adult life – here he talks about character education and draws on case studies from the KIPP schools in the USA who no doubt do incredible work.

To summarise he argues that schools have ‘Three purposes – empowering young people to succeed in the economy, participate in culture, and leave school prepared for adult life’ – and argues that these have consistently guided the programme of reform by the government.

Let’s take each one of these in turn:

Economic – this is probably the one where most school staff feel most comfortable so I’m not going to discuss it in any great length because this is not a blog post about the curriculum. But at a basic level we all agree that a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to participate in the economy and be positive citizens in it, is something we can all get behind.

Culture – What worries me here is that he seems fine with the assumption that a solid education will allow students to break class barriers. We all know that education can play a huge part but it is not the only factor. For instance I can try and break down class barriers as much as I like by educating students but if mass unemployment is still the norm for parents these class barriers will remain because the economic conditions of many of these young people will not allow them to prosper. Also if we have such a commitment to the arts why are they not core elements of Progress 8 like science English and maths?

Preparation for adult life

There is now very clear evidence that schools can make a significant contribution to their pupils’ achievement by finding opportunities to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and curiosity.

I have no doubt the above is true. But I also have no doubt that the home and the character showcased by parents and role models at home play a huge part in students future opportunities. And we can teach these in school but what students need is the ability to practice them in the real world.

Far too often I read reports about the skills young people lack to make them employable. Quite often the feedback is from middle ages business owners  harking on about how the youth of today don’t have what it takes to be employed and they have forgotten what they were like as kids. Its natural, I’m sure you’ve heard your parents say how much better life was 50 or so years ago, yet none of us want to go back there. I have a friend that lives in Yorkshire and was, probably foolishly discussing Brexit with an elderly lady in her 80’s. She like many other people voted for Brexit because she wanted to go back to the good old days. When asked when this was she said the early 80’s. ‘You sure?’ asked my friend, ‘you wanna go back to the miners strikes when we experienced mass unemployment and families struggled to feed their young?’ She then proceeded to hit him with her handbag and told him to stop being so clever. The point I’m trying to make is it is a story as old as time that older generations think that youths of the time are less capable then they were. My experience shows me something completely different. I see young people able to navigate comples social relationships, online and offline, caring about the planet, open minded. What these kids lack is experience in the workplace to put these abilities to use and a chance. Let me ask you would you hire yourself at 16? Or even 18? I asked my husband this question two days ago and his honest response was ‘I don’t think I would have hired me at 22.’ My husband who often manages placement students in their second year of university has to teach them how to write emails, not because schools haven’t taught them how to construct emails but because knowledge without context doesn’t work. They have to know how to address different people in their organisation and that happens in the workplace not in school.

My worry is each time one of these reports come out, education ministers start cracking the whip promising to make qualifications harder, kids more ready for work through a corrected PSHE curriculum. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote character in the curriculum. I’m saying it can’t sink in with the adjoining help of the community.

So given the above can schools ever fulfil their purpose particularly if the onus is placed on them wholly? My answer is no. We’ve all become too accustomed to pointing the finger at schools rather than acting like a village with schools, parents, local business and the government acting together to form an empowering tribe for our young people.

It takes a village.

Why are the farmers protesting in India?

Please note it is not about Rihanna or Greta (although they are wonderful).

I’ve tried not to say much about the Farmers Protest for a while now for a few reasons:

  • Most conflicts in India take on religious tensions which often pull away from the real issues.
  • I’ve wanted to be more informed and this conflict has taken on a new shape in which again I feel like the original issues of the cause of the conflict have been lost

So having looked into it I thought I’d share my thinking.

As someone who teaches Economics and with family back in India who own farmland I’ve been interested in agricultural policy for a while now, whether it be in the EU or abroad. So to the best of my ability I’ve tried to answer some critical questions in a clear way without oversimplifying controversy. These questions are:

  1. What are the changes the government wants in place in India?
  2. Why the government wants to make these changes
  3. Why the moves are feared by farmers and is it justified
  4. How the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from the policy and become about democracy
  5. Why we should care

1.What are the changes the government wants in place in India?

From my understanding and bearing in mind I am not privy to any of the government papers the 3 big changes to agricultural policy that have been made by the new policies centre around:

  • Relationship between farmers and business
  • Stockpiling
  • Minimum Selling Price (MSP)

So let’s look at these individually:

Relationship between farmers and business – Currently farmers (most of which are from Punjab and Haryana) bring their paddy and wheat to a commission agent in a ‘mandi’ (market place). Produce that meets agricultural standards will be purchased by the government at a Minimum Sale Price assuring that farmers get a minimum price for their product and protecting them. Under new laws although the mandi system is said to still exist the government wants to open it up to private buyers allowing farmers to sell directly to private buyers (such as supermarkets) at a market price.

Further to this, private buyers can influence (and this is the bit that is unclear as to how much influence they have) the farming so farmers tailor their farming to meet buyer demands.

Stockpiling – These private buyers will be allowed to stockpile essential commodities (such as wheat) for future sales something that only really the government has done in the past.

Minimum selling price – The government have assured the farmer that this will continue and is something that allows the famers to rest assured that they will get a ‘reasonable’ price for their goods.

Note: Most countries protect their farmers

It’s important to highlight here that India is not unique in the way it has supported farmers many western countries do the same for instance Farmers in the UK currently receive around £3.5 billion support annually under the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) something that is being addressed now we have left the EU but is likely to be replaced by other supportive measures. You should also know that the majority of India’s farmers are small “Since the first agriculture census over 45 years ago, the number of farms in India has more than doubled from 71 million in 1970-71 to 145 million in 2015-16, while the average farm size more than halved from 2.28 hectares (ha) to 1.08ha. (Livemint see references at the bottom of the article). In contrast the UKs average farm size according to MacIntyre Hudson is approx. 86.4 Ha. So they are not mass producing crop by any standard and often don’t have the practices and technology in place you might associate with a farm.

2. Why does the government want to make these changes

The current government want to move the agricultural polcies into 2021 in line with it’s growing economy. They have argued the bills will raise farmers income, remove some of the barriers that small farmers (86% of total farmers in India according to the Times of India) face to trading, reduce marketing and transportation costs (often a massive issue in gaining income from farming in India).

3. Why are the changes feared by farmers then?

Well a lot of it is fear about the way these policies will work out and to be honest if we look at the EU alone they have every right to be afraid.

Farmers are claiming that the way these policies are likely to pan out are as follows. Private buyers will lure farmers in with a higher than MSP price away from the Mandi system that has some government protections, until the farmer becomes reliant on the buyer. Then the buyer (supermarket for example) will drop the prices they are willing to pay forcing the farmer to provide goods for a price that is not sustainable and in possibly expecting them to over farm meaning that it destroys their land (in a nutshell you have to use practices such as rotation farming and give the soil time to rest and become rich with nutrients which the farmers believe the buyers will not allow). Further if the farmers try to protest, well they’ll lose their income and the buyers will have stockpiled goods so they’ll be fine whilst they source another farmer. Whilst this is happening the government Mandi system ensuring minimum prices will have packed up because most farmers will have moved to private sales at this point.

Are the farmers right to be scared?

Well let’s look at what is happening in another part of the world. Namely the EU.

As recently as 2017 the EU courts had to intervene to protect farmers in the EU and to help them form cartels and gain bargaining power against the giant supermarkets. This was to address an imbalance in the food chain. The state of EU farmers was pretty poor. Plunging prices in areas such as dairy, meant many farmers went bankrupt. Supermarkets were accused of forcing down prices once a farmer would become reliant on them. How? Well they were accused of attracting farmers by offering them attractive contracts, making larger and larger orders so farmers would become wholly reliant on selling to that supermarket alone and losing other methods of income and then the supermarket would push down prices to the point where it would become financially unviable to run the farm. The horrifying stories that came to light from farmers who eventually banded together to take these businesses to court is saddening (bankruptcies, losing family farms, having to sell homes etc..) so I don’t think we can be surprised that the Indian farmers fear much of the same.

Understand the current system isn’t working either and change is needed

According to The Diplomat many small farmers are on the brink of financial catastrophe. Weather changes, medical bills or a daughters marriage (the dowry system although illegal is still a cultural practice) bring them to the brink of collapse. Many of the smaller farmers don’t have access to fertiliser or technology that would help them increase how much they can farm and sell and to manage quality. Many heavily rely on loans and that’s only if they are lucky enough to qualify bearing in mind many may not even have a credit history. The thing I found most shocking was that ‘in the past decade the bloated debt of Indian agricultural households has increased almost 400% whilst their undersized income plummeted 300%). This makes it obvious that change is needed. However..

You can’t have these free market style policies if you don’t empower people

My biggest concern is that the government is trying to implement free market such as the west but India has other unique challenges:

  • In 2018 70% of its rural households still relied on agriculture for their livelihood
  • Since 2015 economic reports on the level of illiteracy amongst the farming population has raised concerns and seen as one of the main reasons as to why the methods used in farming have not adopted new practices and technologies. How do we expect these farmers to be able to fight big business?
  • Many of the farmers do not have access to loans to secure resources to update their farming methods

If abuse of the system by large corporations does take place in the future how can we expect the farmers to bring about justice? Particularly with literacy levels as low as they are. Free markets are great when there is not an imbalance of power. Farmers currently expect protections from the governments who they have voted into power. But large organisations have a duty to their shareholders to increase profits which usually means buying for as cheap as possible to increase sales. This hurts the farmer.

4. Why we should care

India is one of the largest producers of milk, jute and pulses, what rice, sugarcane, cotton and groundnuts. We all need to support India’s farmers. This is a global issue.

5. How the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from the policy and become about democracy

Unfortunately, the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from what’s best for the farmers and towards whether India can really call itself a democracy if it cuts internet access and tries to limit free speech. The name calling between superstars globally has taken centre stage.

What’s not being talked about? The potential solutions to Indian farmers’ problems. And that’s a problem that is not going to go away unless addressed.

You can find my you tube video on the farmers protests here https://youtu.be/m-ebhOFeZDg

Sources of information:

Food and Agricultural Organisation of India http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/

Good, India’s Rural Farmers Struggle to Read and Write. Here’s How “AgriApps” Might Change That. https://www.good.is/articles/agricultural-apps-bridge-literacy-gaps-in-india

Politico, Europe rips up free-market rules to help farmers, https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-rips-up-free-market-rules-to-help-farmers-supermarkets-supply-chain/

The Hindustan Times, In Punjab, the centrality of the mandi system https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/in-punjab-the-centrality-of-the-mandi-system/story-V1QIJJuShlfDIRiaE7ukQJ.html

Economic Times, Everything you need to know about the new agricultural bills passed in lok sabah, https://m.economictimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-agriculture-bills-passed-in-lok-sabha/articleshow/78183539.cms

The Diplomat, India’s bitter seeds the plight of the small farmers, https://thediplomat.com/2017/02/indias-bitter-seeds-the-plight-of-small-farmers/

Uk Government website, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-global-and-uk-supply

BBC News, Farm bills: Are India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-india-54233080

BBC, Why are farmers in India protesting and how is Rihanna involved? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/amp/55278977

New York times, Why Are Farmers Protesting in India? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/asia/india-farmer-protest.amp.html

Live Mint, The land challenge underlying India’s farm crisis, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/SOG43o5ypqO13j0QflaawM/The-land-challenge-underlying-Indias-farm-crisis.html

MacIntyre Hudson, What size is the average farm? https://www.macintyrehudson.co.uk/insights/article/what-size-is-the-average-farm

But what else could I do?

It’s something I’ve heard a lot of people say when they are looking at moving on from a job. But I’ve noticed it’s especially prevalent amongst teachers. Many seem convinced that a career in education doesn’t equip them for much else. Just the other week I was speaking to an Assistant Principal who couldn’t think of any transferable skills. It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times and sighed when no answer has come to mind.

A month ago I came across a model in an audio book I was listening to that suggested a matrix from which to look at our passions and skills to direct our lives. The book was ‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jay Shetty and the model appealed to me because it didn’t try and sell me a load of woo woo that our calling was stamped on us at birth and we just had to find it, that there was just one thing we were sent on earth to do and we needed to figure out what with no sign of where to look. Below is the model that is proposed by Jay:

See I think often when people wonder what else they can do they are imagining transporting themselves exactly as they are to a different environment and that rarely works. We have to imagine who we can become if we pursue our passions. So let’s take a look at these 4 quadrants one by one.

No skill, No passion

The people you usually see in this area are graduates or school leavers still trying on different jobs for size trying to figure out what brings them alive or at least sparks their interest. Sometimes you’ve gotta have a lot of these jobs to figure out what you do want. Many people think they are here but often are overlooking their skills so would actually be in the ‘Skilled but not passionate ‘quadrant.

No skill and Passion

More of us should spend our time here. But as we get older we feel less comfortable spending time in the unknown. When was the last time you tried something new? These things that we feel passionate about are often things we gave up on when we ‘grew up.’ That instrument, the desire to paint, draw whatever it may be. We have three options in this area when it comes to passion. Kill it and don’t pay any attention to it, but I think a part of you will be lost too. Pursue it as your hobby, paint who cares what it looks like just enjoy the process. Or sharpen your skills so you can develop it enough to monetise it. Be warned sometimes the pressure of monetising this passion can kill the passion itself, or you may want to pursue it as a side hustle to try it on for size.

Skill, no passion

Unfortunately this is where many Senior leaders find themselves later into their career. They joined with a passion for teaching, engineering, design and find themselves being business managers. Able to do it without a doubt. But passionate perhaps not. Many find the passion behind it by aligning with purpose, particularly if the company has a strong ethical drive. However some don’t. This is where you need to figure out what is killing your passion. Is it the job. Take a look at the job description or keep a log of where you spend your time, do you enjoy any of the tasks or should you be looking at pursuing a different career? If it’s the organisation or the people then is it just a case of moving company?

Skill and Passion

Many of us feel this in professions such as teaching, medicine, nursing etc.. our passion comes from wanting to help young people. The cause calls us. But it’s ok to want to move on. We can develop new skills and find new passions. Research from the Department for Work and Pensions predicts that the average adult will have 5-8 different careers in the future, not jobs careers. We’re allowed to get bored and want to develop in different ways. You can have more than one career in this quadrant.

The problem: too many of us want to jump from Skill no passion to Skill and Passion without going through a period of being unskilled, being novices again. We’ve spent too long knowing what we are doing to cope with the insecurity of no knowing, not doing things perfectly. We need to spend more time here. Yes we need to think about the financial implications. I would advise to pursue something new or an old passion as a hobby first, then maybe a side hustle then move to it as much as possible if you still love it. But spending time on things that we are passionate is where the magic lies. But that magic doesn’t have to be in one place for all of your life.

Myths about teaching and education I wish I could eradicate

Teachers have 12 (or more) weeks of holidays a year

Lets start with this one as it’s the reason I’m most often told I’m lucky to be working in education. So say you work in an office, you’re entitled to about 4 weeks right? Most teachers, and certainly if they are senior leaders, would give their right arm to be able to have 4 weeks off. How could that be you may ask? Here’s the break down. I appreciate that on the surface it can look like we have 12 weeks off a year (5 summer, 2 Christmas – one of which most people would get if they were not in retail. 3 one week half term breaks, 2 weeks for Easter). We had 8 bank holidays entitled to all so let’s take off a week and a half with that taking us down to 9.5 weeks. Most teachers also work for at least half a day each weekend. If a teacher is teaching full time the chances are they will be teaching 22 out of 25 periods. Most schools will want some sort of assessment done every two weeks these range between quick tests and longer exam papers. Many secondary school teachers will have between 11 – 17 groups so you can imagine that 3 hours isn’t going to cover the marking required, thus the weekend. Many primary teachers are swamped with lesson preparation too. Lets assume out of 52 Saturdays a teacher works 14 thats 2 weeks taken right there so we are down to 7.5. Then there is the revision sessions over Easter, the trial exam marking over Christmas, the planning of new specs to meet new curriculum requirements and the general updating of resources over summer and I’d say we can whittle it down to 4 weeks like everyone else. (Most would argue it’s lower, certainly for senior leaders who plan for the forthcoming year it can be). Now here’s the thing, it could be 5 it could be 6 or 3. but there are not many professions that require you to be around 30 people all the time. Yes ALL the time. Whereas most professions will enjoy a lunch, or coffee break teaching staff very rarely do get those moments of quiet, they’re usually on duty, helping kids with things they didn’t understand etc..so the break, for their sanity is much needed. Having an off day, as my husband highlighted in any other profession he can hide behind the screen and just take 15 minutes to gather his thoughts, not in teaching you don’t. We need the down time.

Teachers do not work 9am-3pm

This one really amazes me, because it’s often said by people who drop their children off to school at 7.30am and want them to do after school club till 5pm. Who do they think is watching their children?

Your child is different at school then they are at home

You know that one friend that you always have fun and get into trouble with? Yeah your child has one of them too and the chances are they are that kid for someone else. That’s ok. We are not expecting them to be perfect. But what we are expecting is when we call to say they have stepped out of line you believe us rather than saying ‘My little Jimmy would never do/say that.’ Because little Jimmy did, believe me.

School is not 5 hours of listening to a teacher speaking at your child

This ones in response to parents complaining that we cannot provide round the clock live lessons. When students are at school they are not spoken at from the front for every moment of the lesson. Quite often we have to give them the opportunity to apply what they have learnt or at least what we have been talking to them about and they do that in silence through some independent work. It’s important that they get the same at home during lockdown.

Schools did not close during COVID and teachers have not had a holiday

The children of key workers were still coming in, teachers were changing all of their lessons to make them adequate for online provision. Navigating online assessment methods, cheering up tutees who miss school and their friends as well as trying to teach their own children.

Children have a great imagination

This is in response to twitter feedback. Apparently, they’re too busy playing video games? Having played a fair few they require a lot of imagination too! The problem is they can’t often articulate their imagination or think no one will care.

We cannot tell you 4 years before your child’s GCSE’s what they will get

Sorry, we’d love that kind of certainty, erm actually we wouldn’t, I’d hate to be judged on my actions and performance from four years ago wouldn’t you? Yeah think that through. I’ll happily talk to you about effort and participation. But I cannot guarantee a grade years in advance. Even in Year 10 I’ve seen so many turn things around, but it all comes down to participation and effort. So if you want to help ask your child what questions they asked during the day, when seated at the dinner table, not how they did in a test.

Teenagers are not stroppy and clueless

Honestly they are the funniest, most caring, sensitive and bright young people I’ve ever seen. Most of them are just trying to figure life out (aren’t we all!) Seriously, these kids are going to change the world and they’ll likely do a better job than the abysmal one we have. And ok sometimes they are stroppy and clueless but aren’t we all?!

Exams are easier than they used to be

Another confusing one, because this is often said by the same people who can’t help their kids with their primary school work. I’m not sure I could to be honest! I’ve seen the primary curriculum and I teach the kids when they start with us in year 7 and they are amazing! Having planned, replanned and replanned again GCSE and A Level curriculums over the years I can tell you they are getting tougher, the content more intense and the requirements for them to think outside the box and apply their own thinking greater.

What’s the point of all of this?

I’m not asking for sympathy, a pat on the back or a national monument erected in my honour (although that would be pretty cool) and I’m sure no other teacher is either. But a little bit of respect when we are spoken of would be really nice.

*Please note a lot of my references refer to secondary provision. My primary colleagues are often working with fewer resources which means longer hours and are absolute champs. However, I can only speak from my perspective.

Online teaching – here’s what I’ve learnt

Ok so none of us have trained in it but here we are, with a third lockdown, teaching from home for the second time.

The below are some thoughts on what I’ve learnt whilst teaching online in some of the areas that teachers tend to find most challenging, such as managing the chat! I’ve also included a link to a PP that I shared with all staff at our school should it be helpful for anyone leading CPD.

Before the lesson

The lobby – If you’re using Microsoft Teams or Zoom you can ensure students enter a lobby before they can enter the lesson. Switch this functionality on as it can be an easy way for you to do the register.

Permissions – depending on the system you use you can easily set the permissions so you are the only presenter so the only one with rights to mute/unmute, present etc.. to avoid kids pulling pranks on each other.

Recall – Make sure you have some recall questions which will help you deal with students who enter the online lesson at different times

Your slides – If using slides be explicit about which bits you want them to write down and when they should just be listening. You might do this through using a colour for text they must get down. I just tend to put ‘Write’ in the heading so they always know. Remember students don’t have the non verbal cues they are used to in a physical lesson so are less clear about what you want them to do.

At the start of the lesson

Set the ground rules – ‘You must only use the chat when I ask you a question and ask you to use it and/or when I say your name and ask you to input your answer.’ Students will want to socialise, this is normal and you build this in every now and again but you decide when.

Make behaviour expectations clear – ‘I’m expecting you all to be focused, I know this is new but we can do it’

Tell them what they need – ‘You should have a pen and paper to hand.’ Again those non verbal cues are not there so they can’t see others get their books and pens out so they may not have them to hand (you know the ones who are always the last ones to get their books out!)

What’s the journey? – Tell them where you expect to get to by the end of the leson – ‘Today we need to cover three key things…’ this then gives you a reference point throughout the lesson (‘right we’ve covered A and B you’re doing great now let’s look at C). This helps your lesson have a sense of pace.

Tell them you’re happy to see them! Even if it’s online. They may not see you for much of the lesson if you’re sharing slides so those non verbal cues that make them feel welcome are not there. So start the lesson telling them how happy you are to be able to virtually teach them (even if you’re not!;))

During the Lesson

Cold call – earlier this year we moved away from hands up to cold calling and are implementing this in our online lessons too. It ensures all students are listening and they can respond in the chat or by unmuting their mics.

Explicit instruction – are you being clear about what they should be doing during the lesson? Telling them when they should be listening and when they should be writing is critical.

Change things up – I tend to switch to video, showing my face when I want to explain something to them to break up the slides.

It’s ok to expect periods of silence – Is it just me that gets weirded out by the silence online? I know I’ve just asked them to write but it’s strange when I can’t see them do it.

Use the opportunity for live modelling – they can watch you type up sample answers and then discuss them.

At the end of the lesson

Summarise key learning points from the lesson so they can see how far they have come on the journey you identified at the start.

Run a true or false quiz – Just like the kids, we don’t have physical cues either. We can’t spot the kid with the confused face or glazed over eyes so build in some check points. (it can be something like 3 questions and asking them to put a T or F in the chat). This can help you check understanding.

Managing the chat

This is where most of my teachers get a bit flustered – kids making comments during lessons, nothing wrong but they can be distracting when you’re trying to present at the same time. Here’s some of the ways we are managing that:

  • Cold call – means only one child is responding at any one time
  • Polls – a clearer and quicker way of gauging understanding
  • True or false/Yes or No Qs – Requiring students to put a simple T/F/Y/N in the chat area
  • Being clear at the start of every lesson they are for work related comments only

Finally, go easy on yourself. You are modelling that learning can be challenging and that is ok. We won’t always get it right, but we strive to keep getting better and isn’t that all we want from our kids. So why are we hard on ourselves to get it perfect?

If you’d like, I’ve shared the slides I have gone through with staff in a staff briefing here. Please feel free to download and adapt.

Building a self reflective staff body

It’s New Year’s Eve and needless to say many people are reflecting on their previous year. It has given us a lot to think about. Maybe you are setting goals for the forthcoming year or maybe you just don’t do that. Either way reflection is on a lot of people’s minds.

I’ve been stressing the importance of being reflective practitioners a lot in school over the past two years and to stop it becoming a new buzz word or just something people say to appease me I’ve learnt a lot on my journey to embedding the practice. We have by no way got it spot on, but we are evolving and seeing it more as part of our role as professionals to consistently self evaluate. Below are some of the things we have tried:

Build in time – Time is the most sought after and precious thing you can give a teacher. If you are expecting staff to self reflect, you have to build in the time. Here’s some examples of how we did it.None of them are perfect but we’re giving them a go!

Build it into the 1265 – We reduced the number of twilights we have each year but extended the time to build in reflection and action time. For instance asking staff to record part of their lesson, reflect, cover the topic of the twilight session and then replan a lesson whilst they are with us using what we have discuused.

Building in time through conversations – Any lesson visit or observation feedback (we don’t really tend to do these) must must must build in time for the teacher to reflect on the lesson. The number of times I have seen members of staff in a rush to give feedback. You wouldn’t just give a monologue of knowledge in your lessons and then call it learnig would you?

Building in faculty time – I honestly think this is the best time to reflect, with peers who teach a similar subject. Often teachers will share lessons and conversations on how they have worked with different groups and why, and ow they an e amended are golden.

Using lesson study – We have been using lesson study for 4 years now and I would say it’s finally at the stage where we are happy and confident with the process (despite covid). If you want lesson study to be effective it has to be self reflective, again this is built into our school meetings timetable.

Use line management – Each year our staff go through the teaching standards with their line manager and what they would like to focus on as an area of development, this is then built in with lesson study and discussed regularly.

There is a lot in a name and it has to mean something – This year we switched faculty reviews to self-evaluation cycles.

Practically this meant we expected Heads of Departments and Faculties to take ownership, to reflect on what they felt their departments were doing well and where they needed more collaboration, guidance or to see how other schools do things. As a leadership team we would then help them, this would also mean asking other schools for help or moderation. We also discuss the development of every member of staff and lesson study. All book looks are done with departments, so all feedback is transparent.

Creating a safe space – None of this works if you don’t have trust and safety

Maslow said it years ago, our primary need is to feel safe. Creating a safe space often involves some key tenets, some of the ones I tend to use are:

Praise – praise your staff every opportunity you get. Don’t forget the quiet ones who often get overlooked but actually keep the school moving forward. In fact if you can encourage staff to praise and thank each other! We started something called I heard a Wispa this year where staff thank each other in the weekly bulletin and the recipient gets a Wispa bar in their pigeon hole.

Honesty – Whether it’s bad or good, difficult to deliver or not, speak the truth with kindness.

Show your truth – I make mistakes all the time, everyone does, on Inset day this year I shared a story of the most horrific lesson observation I ever had, I cannot tell you how many people came up to me afterwards laughing and sharing some of their fears/stories. This isn’t about listing your faults so you come across as incompetent, it’s about using your examples carefully to build trust. I used the example to emphasise the value of self evaluation and value of lesson visits as opposed to observations, because no one should be judged on a random 15 minutes (especially not after a wet lunchtime! Speaking from experience here ;))

Showing everyone what is looks like

This has probably been the biggest game changer for me this year. It has been lovely to have some wonderful people join our T&L group and they agreed to be filmed for 5 minutes and then self reflect on their lesson in staff briefings. This has been wonderful and sparked conversations between staff about activities, sharing resources, sharing when things haven’t worked, asking each other for advice. And that’s what self reflection is isn’t it? Knowing that none of us have all the answers but teaching is just one possibility after the next and being flexible enough to try things that are beyond our comfort zone.

Self reflection doesn’t happen by accident. If you are goal setting today or tomorrow the chances are you’ll get yourself some paper or your laptop, make a brew and find somewhere quiet to do it. So in order to help our staff become self reflective practitioners we must create the right conditions too.

Looking back, looking forward

I’m sitting here writing this whilst willing for the end of the term, because like many in the education profession I feel like this has been a never ending term. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that our summer was taken up planning for reopening, working on the 19th version of that darn risk assessment and wondering how staff and students were going to acclimatise to this new way of teaching in learning. No a full term in I’m reflecting back and thinking, I should have had more faith.

Key things I would tell myself if I could go back in time to when I was preparing for school to reopen post lockdown:

Staff will take things in their stride. Yes some will complain and they have every right to, but on the whole everyone wants to do the right thing by the students, therefore they will take change in their stride.

People will amaze you. Trust me.

Kids are flexible and they adapt fast. Just be clear about what you want from them and hold them to it.

Repetition is key. Your problem won’t be that students and staff won’t follow the rules. Your problem will be the number of changes you are trying to implement. So repetition is key here. When you think you have repeated instructions until you are blue in the face, repeat them again. People are not rude or malicious, they are tired and overwhelmed and they don’t mind you giving them direction.

When we talk about what kids missed we are talking about more than education. We are talking about social affirmation from friends. The ability to communicate effectively. We are going to have to address all of this.

Students are desperate to get back to school. I knew this as I drove around the city delivering home learning packs, but it really became apparent to me once the students had all returned. Over this term the dread that they may be sent home for two weeks has kept them extra cautious and following rules.

There will be things you will want to keep from this new way of working. Staggered breaks. Tutor times in year blocks. Online parents evenings. Online tools as a whole. Closing the building for deep cleaning which means staff have to go home earlier. Online open days. Online meetings. There is so much we have learnt from our new routines that we will definitely be keeping some after this is all over.

Your community will be stronger. Parents will see how hard everyone is working and rally around you if you are transparent and clear with them. Of course some won’t, but the majority will, keep perspective.

You will need hand cream. I don’t need to explain the impact of copious amounts of anti bacterial gel do I?

Invest in layers. Your classrooms will be permanently cold. Your office will be permanently cold. In fact cold will become your new state of being. Layer up.

You’ll be surprised how much students remember. They know more than you think although they may struggle to articulate it.

Don’t fill gaps tell a story. Linked to the above. Most students will have accessed some learning and remember things than you think, they just haven’t had to recall them and articulate them so help them fill any gaps and articulate their thoughts by telling the curriculum story built into your curriculum.

Questioning skills will go through the roof. Your staff will want to know what the kids know, how they have reached conclusions, what they remember and questioning will go through the roof. Some will need help to take it deeper but they will be eager.

What better time to embed retrieval!

Scrap unnecessary meetings. For life.

What would your reflection be?

Accountability is great but it’s often misplaced

I’ve been struggling for a while to articulate my feelings about the measures and metrics we use to hold ourselves accountable in education and then the other day I came across a book called ‘The 12 week year’ by Michael Lennington in which he talks about Accountability.

In the book he explains that Accountability is ultimately ownership. It is a character trait, a life stance, a willingness to own actions and results, regardless of the circumstances. And this got me thinking about accountability in the education sense. All to often we use accountability as a stick to beat people with rather than something to build motivation. We set performance management target to ‘hold’ people accountable rather than asking them how they want to make a difference in their school and fuel their passion for education, thus sacrificing ownership.

This took me back to a conversation I was having in a meeting a while ago. We were looking at our fixed term exclusion figures and being told they were higher than some other schools. Now the figures were what the person leading on behaviour was being held accountable for but the statement was nuts. We’d just introduced a new behaviour policy and quite frankly should have been proud that we were upholding it and changing the culture of the school and he was, as was I. But we were being told to look at the numbers.

What became apparent to me was that actually if you’d ask him, me or anyone else in leadership for that matter what we wanted to be accountable for was the culture in the classrooms, we wanted a calm working environment for our kids and staff and we were getting it, it was just that THIS metric didn’t measure what we were working towards. Of course we didn’t want to exclude students and we had evidence to show that we tried to avoid it as much as possible by providing a range of support before we took this step, but we could not allow these students to run a riot. So we didn’t. Yet being held accountable to some figure that didn’t represent what we were working towards made it look like we had something to ‘fix.’

Luckily we were, as stated earlier in the definition of accountability, willing to stand by our actions, rather than be beaten over the head with a number.

Sam Strickland often talks about this in his talks and it was reassuring to hear him reaffirm it at ResearchEd a few years ago. He spoke about the need to maintain behaviour, be accountable for the culture, the figures this produces are a result but the real thing we are accountable for is the learning culture in the school. Let’s not get the two mixed up.

Motivating our students in a Covid world

There is a lot of talk about Motivation amongst students and the level of motivation our students have post isolation. Peps McCrea’s new book also covers it and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time!

Motivation is something our Trust and thus our schools looked at as part of of Inset Days this year. We were aware that students would likely return with mixed levels of motivation, some would no doubt return with a new found enthusiasm for school having been at home for so long but it was likely many would be nervous and all would be out of a routine. Luckily our journey of looking at Motivation was kicked off by Caroline Spalding last year who presented at our INSET, and was magnificent.

Below are some of the decisions we debated with, and made, in order to work on building our students’ motivation. Much of these are based on the 5 levers Peps McCrea and Caroline Spalding discuss in their talk with the AMbition Institute here when talking about ‘levers’:

Routine is everythingSam Strickland talks about routine a lot and I agree with him. This is all I looked for in the first 4 weeks both for student safety and mental health, were teachers establishing routines and expecting them from our students? Were staff and students building rapport with one another again? How could we facilitate this? Were our kids and teacher happy and safe? As suggested by Maslows hierarchy of needs safety forms the foundation of motivation.

Happy students are inspired and motivated by happy teachers – Sometimes we forget happy motivated students are inspired by happy motivated teachers. I am in awe of our staff, who have managed to keep upbeat even though they are running between lessons and acclimatising to a new way of work. It is every senior leaders job to get anything that stops this from happening out of their way. Whilst you’re at it tell them how much you are inspired by them regularly too!

No immediate testing upon return – I understand it is tempting to try and find out as soon as possible what our students picked up and didn’t through their online learning or home learning packs over lockdown/isolation but lots of tough testing is no way to welcome the students back and settle them into school life. Also what’s the point of the testing? Is it just to find out what they know in which case there are plenty of alternatives and some are listed below. If it’s to see how they write what they know, well the chances are if your students are isolating they haven’t seen as much modelling as we would like or been in routines, so you are better off waiting a little while before that happens.

Retrieval – every single lesson. This doesn’t have to be a test it can be a simple ‘Gimme 5’ or ‘When I say X what comes to mind’ kind of activity. Reward students for what they know and remember. Make them feel empowered. Then get challenging them.

Balanced reassurance – Some of our students may come back to school after isolation with an ‘it’s all gone down the drain’ mindset, feeling things are out of their control and they’ll never get to where they need to be. We have made a conscious effort of telling our students that as long as they take care of the effort teaching staff will take care of the content and exam practice. It’s a deal we have made with them. And we keep reminding them of it.

Praise success and effort – Whether it’s with achievement points, stars, emails home we’ve made an added effort to praise effort as part of our deal with students (see above). The old saying, ‘catch em doing good’ isn’t a throwaway comment.

The rhythm of the curriculum and particularly assessment – We’ve ensured our assessment includes lots of light touch/low stakes testing as well as more rigorous assessment, alternating students between things they can be successful at easily and then struggle. If you want to know more about this David Didau explores this in his book ‘Making Kids Celeverer’ and here in his blog

Classroom modelling – this has taken centre this year. Essentially we follow the ‘I do, We do, You do’ method. The teacher models first, then a class attempt or group attempt is put together and showcased before students are asked to complete any assessment questions themselves. Another reason why we shouldn’t be rushing to complete assessments post isolation so that this method can be embedded.

Think about those who have a history of underperforming – how are you going to make any quiz/assessment accessible to them to get them to taste success. Can you link it to an action or an effort they have made to motivate them to make more.

Have we absolutely nailed it? Of course not and I would say we are embedding many of these practices with a backdrop of COVID uncertainty and groups going home to isolate. But our students have proved to be resilient and appreciative of the efforts that are being made day in day out by our staff. There is a heap of things that we are trying to wrestle with, such as hybrid learning but at the centre of all of this is the question ‘Can we take our students on this journey with us’ and the ways to do that has to be at the centre of all of our minds.