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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

VALUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

School budgets

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

Network

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

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

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

Get coached/learn from Heads

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

Know your own strengths and weaknesses

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

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

Get out there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching and Learning in schools when lockdown is over

As someone who oversees Teaching and Learning at work, I have been thinking a lot about what to do once kids return back to school. I can’t wait to have them back and miss my pupils dearly, but also know that school closure during this time of year will pose a series of challenges. I know it’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end but rumours of schools opening up again are popping up in the media and it’s something that requires thought.

Next week I will be holding a Microsoft Teams meeting with my wonderful Middle Leaders (again, who I miss very much!) about how we get ready for those challenges.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I may suggest, I’ve read blogs, asked the wonderful folks on twitter and looked for inspiration. The realisation I have come to is although the situation is unique we don’t actually need to do anything new. I’m a big advocate for embedding things well rather than jumping from one strategy to the other so here’s the advice I’ll be providing my Middle Leaders next week

Challenges per year groups:

We need to accept to that the challenges per year group will vary. For example, depending on when we reopen, Year 6s orthe new Year 7s for Secondary schools will not have been prepped for their SATs. This final push often makes students more confident with reading comprehension and Maths. As a secondary Vice Principal I will be reaching out to the Primary schools in our area to see what we can do to make this transition smoother as it will impact subjects such as Maths and English but also History where we ask students to make inferences and arguments.

For year 10 the challenge will be covering the content in time for the GCSE. The kindest thing the exam boards could do is allow students to pick option questions in the final exam paper, so if they have not covered a topic at the end of year 10 because of the closure they can focus on the others, but I’ve not heard any whispers of this happening therefore we may just need to plough through the content as quick as possible.

Teachers need to ensure they are familiar with these nuances and the challenges to each year group so that where possible they can address these issues. On that note, we need to recognise that all students will be out of school routines, so this will be a big push for us when we get back.

Its’ not all bad

I’m also not a big one for doom and gloom. Yes we will face challenges and yes the chances are that those from the most deprived homes will have a very different experience from others. However, we have to recognise that it will be a mixed picture. Yes kids will have been out of a routine and engaged to different levels with home learning materials but they are also likely to be rested, have possibly watched a documentary on TV that can be explored, read beyond the syllabus, gone for walks and we have to make the most of that and explore it. Many of our children will be excited about learning with staff again and crave routine and structure (even if they don’t admit it) so a return to school will be exciting for them. Again we have to make the most of that.

Lots of low stakes testing

Kids will be nervous, we know they have an acute understanding of how they are performing compared to their peers and what I don’t want is for the kids to come back to a barrage of tests. We know a child who has had limited access to home learning will be nervous returning to the classroom. I have asked my teachers to be mindful of language when completing low stakes testing. For example, rather than saying ‘let’s see what you’ve learnt’, saying ‘seeing as we haven’t done as much online learning before let’s see what the resources taught you and then we can fill in the gaps’ or ‘lets see what you thought of the resources and what I need to add to them to make things stick by doing a quick question round.’ This takes the pressure off and opens the classroom up for exploring where the gaps in knowledge have occurred.

If you’re anything like me I can get into a rut where I like certain activities and do them repeatedly. In the Middle Leaders session next week me and the HODs will be exploring different ways of completing low stakes testing such as Do it now tasks, Connect 3 (where students have to get across a noughts and crosses style grid by answering three Qs with varying levels of difficulty), Quizzes and others to ensure students don’t come back to a diet of 10 Multiple Choice tests every lesson.

Keep using the tech

I’m not sure about you but we have not used the technology we are currently using during lock down so rigorously. I will be urging staff to continue doing so in order to fill gaps in knowledge. This may be by uploading materials to enhance knowledge based on needs identified in class or by setting the quizzes online as homework to then pitch lessons appropriately. On the plus side even the most tech nervous of my teachers are now embracing the systems we have set up so students can expect consistency in approach (like I said silver lining and all that!)

Teach to the top

We must continue to be aspirational for our young people. I really believe this. I honestly believe our children are resilient and will thrive at the other end of this with the right attitude and support. In this paper Hattie argues that school closures will have a relatively minimal impact, but the real impact will come from home resources.  As teachers we know this.

To me this requires teaching to the top and ensuring we have careful scaffolding for our children. What do I mean by teaching to the top? Ensuring students have the same stimulus but adapting the way they may approach it. Some of the strategies we already use in school but will become ever more important are:

Posing a big question at the start of the lesson that helps tie some disparate parts of the content together. A challenging question that you keep coming back to and which students feel they have chipped away at together throughout it.

Best of three (particularly for year 10 if we need to get through content swiftly but want to develop deep understanding). This is where three sample answers to a big question are given to students (grade 9/5/3 for example) and depending on their confidence with the topic they are asked to discuss the pros and cons of one of them and then as a group compare the answers.

Role reversal asking students to explain elements of the content being covered to quickly understand their level of comprehension through a series of follow up questions.

The two things that tie all of these strategies are cold calling and strong knowledge organisers. These help us gauge where students are at in their learning. I think these will be incredibly powerful tools when we return.

You will notice none of these techniques are new or revolutionary, none of them require me to retrain staff, but I think they need to be done incredibly well and need focus when our students return. I believe that the work teachers do day in day out with students is incredible and that we must continue to do these well rather than adopt a range of new strategies out of fear.

Modelling

Read any of the work into Cognitive Learning and the importance of Modelling will become apparent. But what do we mean by modelling?

Im’ writing this post as a result of a Faculty CPD session on which we focused on Modelling.

Read any of the work into Cognitive Learning and the importance of Modelling will become apparent. But what do we mean by modelling? It is a term that can be used in several contexts. We can, and do, model behaviour as teachers, we model attitudes but we also need to ensure we are clearly modelling thinking processes and literacy.

Some teachers argue they model by showing sample answers. There is also research to suggest that sample answers too perfect can scare or disengage students and critically I believe, miss the magic of modelling which is the thinking process. As David Didau puts it “Sometimes it’s enough for students just to see a model but an essential part of the teaching sequence for writing is the process of modelling: talking through the decisions a writer makes at the point of writing.”

So how do we Model? This was the focus of the session.

Using the ‘Making every Lesson Count’ series. We broke modelling down into a series of smaller tasks.

1.Select what you want to model in detail and its purpose: Are you modelling the answer to an exam question? Perhaps just a clear introduction or conclusion. The process of a tackling a problem (such as the scientific method). Get clear about what you want students to get out of it.

2.Plan to model your thinking. This means talking out loud to your students about your thinking process. When you look at a question which words do you unpick first? Which bits are difficult to unravel? (I think this is important because students need to see even you as an expert classify some things as challenging, and then take them head on). How many times have you heard the words ‘I don’t know how to start’ as a child sits there with a blank bit of paper 10 mins into a question being set? So we need to show them how to start.

3.Think through your evidence/support. Once you have decided your main argument(s) what could students use that they have learnt that will support it? How have you selected the evidence you will use? Why did you pick some over others? How have you picked your main arguments? You may choose to include some class participation here. But if you do what is important is that you are completely transparent why you go with some suggestions and not others. The students need to see you (or in this case hear you) make those choices.

4.Get writing: At this stage you can either go for it with the class and write the whole thing out or you can write the key parts of your answer and get them fill in the rest. Depending on where your students are in their writing journey.

5.Flaunt it. Share the answers. Obviously you will share yours if you are writing on the board but if students are creating their own versions then get them to read it out, share it with the person sitting next to them.

6.Steal. This is the bit where you ask students to steal what they like from others. I always say to students the difference between a grade 4 and a grade 9 is often the Grade 4 students knows what they think and can get it down on paper. A grade 9 student knows what they think and what others think so can effectively articulate different perspectives. This means to hit those higher grades students and myself have to create a safe space for each other to share thoughts in.

Now I’m sure for many of you this may be something that you do day in and day out but what I see and do over and over again is often miss step 2. I think this is easy to do when you have taught how to tackle an exam question over and over again and jump straight into it. But the students need to hear the cognitive process behind it. So we will all be practicing this, this afternoon.

I went to see the wonderful Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) at ResearchEd last year and her talk on modelling was excellent at considering how all the things students are trying to process at any one time. So I can’t finish this blog without highlighting the importance of giving time to modelling. Many times I have wanted to do a question but come away with just an introduction and a debate with what evidence to use. This is a good thing because rushing through modelling means students often have too much to process and can end up more confused.

So 7. Ask yourself what you want students to do at each stage. Listen? Write? Have you built in enough time for them to focus on one thing at a time? This ensures the students don’t walk away with a written answer that they have copied but not grasped the process.