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.