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.

Going Part Time/Switching jobs – The financial thinking behind it

Earlier this year I decided to go part time at work and use that time to see how I might branch out into more than teaching. The opportunity looked like it would arise and it was now or never. This would obviously have financial implications and I wanted to know that I wasn’t going to struggle or regret having made the decision. This is an outline of the things I did to prepare.

Calculate your monthly spending

This may sound ridiculously obvious but I’m surprised by the WAY people do this. Let me be clear, totting up your spending in your head is not enough. This should be a paper exercise not an emotional one. The facts on paper (or web page if you’d rather) should be displayed in the form of monthly bank statements. How far you go back will vary depending on changes you’ve experienced. Just had a baby? Look at your spending before and after to get a real insight into how much you need. I was doing this through lockdown so obviously would not get a real reflection of my spending in a few months in which spending was limited due to external factors, so rather than going back say 4 months I went back 6. Then list your spending each month depending on category e.g. Grocery shopping, eating out, memberships, travel etc.. You may uncover some interesting facts. I was shocked by how much we were spending on a grocery shopping. Not the weekly visit, but all the visits in between, for the odd thing (which then inevitably turns into 8 things because you see them on offer).

Make a list of what makes you happy

It’s important to do this before you start analysing how you amend your spending. For instance, if meeting friends makes you happy then you don’t want to start culling all of your meals/drinks out. Maybe think about whether you prefer 1-2-1 meals with close friends over large gatherings where you don’t get to have a meaningful conversation with anyone and prioritise these meals over drinks. It’s about maximising your happiness with things you do. Or if you love to read and see you’re not spending anything in that area then get an Audible membership which allows you to listen to books. The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right? It’s also about identifying any areas where you’re spending your money but not getting a great deal of happiness. For example, the thrill of a new Zara top, for me doesn’t compare to the happiness of checking out a new restaurant, yet I seem to be going to the same restaurants (pre-covid, as my receipts show me and buying stuff form Zara I don’t need, go figure.)

The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right?

Calculate your pay per hour.

For instance say you work 40 hours a week. Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked. This is false. Why? because nearly a third of your salary is going out to the tax man, pensions, NI etc.. So I recommend you take that out first. For instance imagine I earn £30,000 per annum which is now the average in the UK and work 40 hours a week. 30,000/3 x 2 is actually what I’m left with. £20,000. Then I divide that by 52 and then 40 to give me £9.60. For every hour worked I end up with £9.60 in my pocket. This will make you start seeing things a lot differently. Having dinner with someone who doesn’t bring you joy? You sure you want to give up 4 hours of your life? (yeah the dinner may be 2 hours but then your half of the bill might be another 2). Like but don’t love that dress? Oh its on sale, still is it worth 5 hours of your life? You’ll notice you get a lot more pickier about what you spend money on.

Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked.

Ask yourself what is adding value

Look at your spending does it align with the things that add value to your life and make you happy? For instance, are you actually using that gym membership, or reading the magazine you have subscribed to? Perhaps pause some memberships and see if you notice their lack in your life?

Ask yourself what can be swapped out either for cheaper alternatives or alternatives that bring you more joy

For me it was the grocery shop, we switched from Tesco to Aldi and allowed ourselves to go to Tesco only in emergencies because it is closer to home. The great thing was not that we were buying less food as such but the smaller variety in Aldi meant we were going off script (or grocery list) a lot less. Some of my friends have switched to online grocery shopping for this very reason, so that they are not tempted by the bargains in the aisles. I also switched some of my memberships, I replaced my Masterclass membership which I’d had for a year, with Harvard Business Review, for a change and because I enjoy reading it. We then slashed some of tv subscriptions so that we spend more time reading rather than hypnotised by bad tv.

Check your contracts

Phone, Gas, electricity, water, television service the lot. The chances are if you have been with a company for a while you are not getting the best deal. They are relying on you to be complacent about asking for a better deal so don’t let them get away with it. I hate this part of money management I really do. So I assign 3 hours to it. In those three hours I’m going to call all the companies and see what I can do in terms of reducing my costs, after that I call it a day.

Calculate what you can live on

Taking all of the above into consideration calculate how many hours of work you can live on and whether you need to be working full time in the job that you are in. Could you make that money doing something else? You may not be able to make any changes straight away such as go part time or switch jobs, but you will be clear about what it will take to change and that is powerful to identify when you are ready to switch things up.

Some good reading when looking at saving money

Mr Money Mustache This is a great blog with some sound practical advice and also takes you on his money saving journey.

The Minimalists Less Marie Kondo and more sage life advice. These are great at giving a little perspective about the things that are important.

David Bach’s Smart Women Finish Rich – has some exercises in it that make you do some digging around in your finance to get a clearer picture of where you stand.

I don’t know what else I could do? Now what?

Leadership or teaching for that matter is hectic and doesn’t leave you a lot of time to explore what else you might want to pursue on the side or have as a passion project. So it’s not a surprise that when I stepped down from Leadership my mind said “I don’t what else I want to do now I don’t want to be a Head.’

This question has been going round in my head for years now. I love teaching and after 8 years I wasn’t sure what else I could do. I’m still not, to be frank, but I’m working on it. These are some of the things I’ve been doing that have provided the most benefit…

Get exploring

Just over a year ago I came across a brilliant book called ‘Creative Calling’ by Chase Jarvis. I’d stumbled across his podcast a month earlier and liked it so thought I’d give the book a go and bought it on Audible. The premise of the book is you are creative all the time. When you are cooking and you adapt a recipe, when you take different routes to work, our mind craves creativity so we shouldn’t try and bolt this part of us away. I also liked the fact that it realistic. It wasn’t telling me to quit my job, or go to an ashram in India to find myself first (something I wouldn’t mind checking out by the way!) but it spoke about the importance of side projects as creative outlets and then once you stumble across a few of those then building on the ones that bring you most joy and you see yourself being able to develop on. I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves a little lost on what else they could do outside teaching.

Look out for ideas everywhere

The other thing I would highly recommend is listening to podcasts. You’d be amazed what people are doing out there and making a decent amount of money from as a side hustle. I stumbled across Side Hustle School through a podcast (Yes I love podcasts) which is run by Chris Guillebeau and this really opened my eyes to the number of people who are investing time in these tiny niches to have several sources of income. Check out the website sidehustleschool.com The podcasts are quite short too and introduce to a range of ideas.

Learn some new skills

This could be painting, writing, singing, cooking, anything you want. The quickest and surest way to make sure you commit is join a course or group. I did a short story course in the evenings over 3 months to learn to write better (I’m still not sure I’m there yet, but met some great people!). I’m currently signed up to an online fashion course. Do I think I’m going to be the next Vivienne Westwood or George Orwell. No, that was not the intention to signing up to either courses, it was just to get better, learn and have some fun and then see where it goes. I’m still working on it…This is exactly why you can’t quit your day job. You are not going to fall into a new industry and own it in a month. This is going to be work. Make peace with that. But if you do stuff you enjoy you’ll find the pleasure of just doing it enough to keep you going.

Broaden your circle

This is something I need to work on. People make a living doing all sorts of wonderful things. I heard of a science teacher who went and lived in Rome for two years and worked in an art gallery before returning to teaching and I thought ‘Why the hell can’t I do that?’ Broaden your circle and find out what other people do, the more off the beaten track the better. Social media has made this so much easier. I know lockdown has posed some limitations to this but we have online courses you can join, interest groups online, do it!

These are just the few of the things I have done to explore what I might be passionate about.

Why I’m leaving School Leadership

I’m going to say this from the start

I have the uttermost respect for anyone working in School Leadership.

Having said that I don’t think it should be seen as the only sign of a successful career in education. I have been incredibly lucky in my career in teaching, I’ve had some phenomenal managers and mentors who I cannot speak of highly enough and I their support and encouragement taking me towards what I considered to be success, Headship.

Yet I realised over a period of time that the further up the leadership ladder I went the less joy I felt at work.

I love being in the classroom. There is a sheer joy to taking a group of students on a journey of learning whilst they are with you.

I haven’t felt this level of joy during many tasks I’ve completed for leadership. I know that as a leader you get to impact the lives of more young people. I however, felt that I was having a lesser impact. As a teacher I could have up to 150 students in my classroom in a day, as a leader I sometimes found myself going round in circles with the same 5. Maybe in hindsight I will be able to articulate my reasons in a better way, for now however I can only tell you that it didn’t bring me joy, nothing like the joy teaching in the classroom does.

Another niggling feeling was I wanted to explore life the way I was encouraging my students to.

I teach Business and Economics and am forever encouraging students to explore the heap of opportunities available to them in the world. But I felt like a fraud because the last time I had done that was in my 20s when I left Marketing for a career in education. That was the last time I felt fully alive, like I’d made a conscious decision and was steering my life in a way I wanted. As a result of this I’ve decided to teach part time and explore once again what the world has to offer. To figure out what I’m passionate about, to give things a go and see where life takes me. To have an adventure.

So let’s see what happens, this my just turn into a bit of a sabbatical where I explore life outside of school, I may well get my butt kicked or I may well fly. Either way, I’ll have lived a life of choice.

You can read about my exploration of other paths on my page ‘Side Hustles’

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.