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.

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.