Does the current school system allow us to solve complicated problems?

Deep work is the ability to focus, without distraction, on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.“

When talking about Deep Work in this blog I’ll be referring to the above definition by Cal Newport as mentioned in his wonderful book of the same name. 

Honestly, I was sceptical about his book when it first came out. ‘He’s obviously never worked in a school’ was my immediate reaction. But during this challenging year when we have gone from one teams meeting to another, I have had to start questioning whether there is a better way to organise and use time whilst at school. My first thoughts around this came when the PISA 2012 report was published and then, when a few years later a colleague had got funding to see how maths was taught in China. Both the report and feedback from the visit mentioned the critical role of co-planning and thinking time for teachers as a key element in enabling effective classroom delivery.

Why is it necessary in schools?

Schools are often reaction zones, overseeing hundreds if not 1000s of student needs a day.  Safeguarding concerns can’t wait, poor behaviour in the classroom must be dealt with immediately rather than allowing it to affect others etc..

However, education is not short of big challenging questions!  

  • How do we equip students for a workplace that is consistently shifting?
  • How do we close attainment gaps between groups of students?
  • How do we make our curriculum more representative and diverse?

These are just a few.

Even if many of these are addressed in the run up to an academic year they often need to be monitored to see if actions are having the desired affect and more often than not tweaked.

Staff, from senior through to classroom staff rarely get the time needed for deep work to solve big problems such as these. 

What does Cal Newport suggest

There are different ways to accomplish deep work – whereas some people consistently avoid distractions by refusing to engage in email for instance, others may block out a few days to do this. Bill Gates famously would take a bag of books to a cabin for two weeks a year to just think through problems. Most in education don’t have this luxury so I started looking at other methods. The bimodal method (1 day of uninterrupted deep work) or rhythmic (90 minutes) seemed more reasonable. But seriously when was the last time you had 90 minutes of uninterrupted time at work?

What does this mean?

If teaching staff or leadership want to think deeply about problems it is often in their own time, weekends or holidays. The downside of this, besides the obvious that they are eating into what should be their down time (another element Newport suggests is very important to schedule in so people can think clearly) is that they cannot do this with colleagues, so often solving a problem collectively is a no go, which later creates issues with buy in. A lack of opportunity for deep work in education often leads to quick solutions being implemented that have an equally quick life span.

Some ways in which schools have tried to find time for deep work

  • Involving planning in CPD – so longer but fewer CPD sessions (90 to 120 mins) that deliver information but allow depts to apply immediately within faculty areas.
  • Depts days covered by other staff – allowing a whole department to take a day to solve a problem and create a solution e.g. if their EAL students are not performing well to rework resources
  • Strict email policies – to avoid emails eating into blocks of time and creating a distraction rather than a smooth flow of communication
  • Extension of school days containing a mandatory hour of planning each day.

The fact of the matter is, the government is not about to hand over a chunk of money so we can employ more teachers allowing us more periods in which to allocate deep work. We will need to carve it out ourselves. Unfortunately, so far this has meant for many eating into their weekends which is something that needs to be addressed. However, I’m excited about the creative ways in which schools are finding time to solve the big questions.

To get a copy of Cal Newports book Deep work, which I’d highly recommend, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.